At HorseBack, we know all about difficult emotions. Let’s take one of the most gnarly: anger. Anger can be exceptionally destructive: it can wreck relationships, it can divide families, it can ruin friendships. If bottled up and unexpressed, it can go inwards and lead to a depressed state, or acts of self-sabotage. Nobody wants to be around an angry person. Anger is exhausting and debilitating.
But at HorseBack, we always like to turn things round. We’ve learned to look at anger a little differently. Good, clean anger is an energy. And it carries some valuable information with it: it tells you what you care about. You don’t get angry about things to which you are indifferent. You get furious about unfairness, or injustice, or unkindness. You may feel rage when you encounter bullying, or neglect, or unfounded accusations.
Those are things you should mind about. It would be odd not to get angry, in those cases. What we have found is that anger is only a negative emotion when it is misdirected. If you learn to channel it towards something useful, then it can hurl you forward, down the track. With all uncomfortable and difficult emotions, you have a choice. You can – almost literally – use them for good or use them for evil. One of our veterans came to us with a lot of simmering rage in him. He told us, ‘I saw at once that I couldn’t be angry around the horses.’ This imperative was so strong that he found the motivation to put his anger away. Once he saw that he could do that, that he did have a choice, this transformed how he felt about the old, familiar feelings of fury.
So, if you work out that you can’t take out your anger on the people or the animals around you, what do you do with it? There are a few simple techniques that we love. First, and most basic, is you can dump it. Get it out of you. Write it down, in a place where no-one will ever read it. Let that fury go, as hard and fast as you can. Curse and swear and be irrational. This kind of writing does not need you to be Tolstoy. You just need to be as honest and as raw as you can. Anger can get stuck in the body. We know one woman who stamps and stomps and dances her anger out. She’ll go out into the Scottish hills and yell at the sky. She’ll pogo round her kitchen with the music up loud. She resets her nervous system so that she is no longer stuck in fight or flight.
If you’ve got a trusted friend, you can take your anger to that safe space. Ring up and ask whether you can have a rant. This almost always ends in laughter, because anger often has an element of the absurd in it. Laughter releases dopamine, which counters the cortisol the body produces when it feels rage.
Another brilliant technique is to get to know your anger. What is it really about? It is not your enemy. It is, in fact, on your side. It’s part of your ancient survival mechanism. If you can learn to decipher the important things it is telling you, then you can do something about those things.
How can you use it, so that it does not go to waste? All the great revolutionary thinkers and civil rights leaders were angry about something. They could have sat at home and driven their family mad with their gripes and rages, but they chose to go out and change the world. They channelled their anger, to the places where it could do the most good.
Listen to your anger; hear what it is saying. Write it down; talk it out; find its meaning. Then you don’t have to take it out, pointlessly, on yourself or the people you love. You can direct it to where it has a use. You can transform it into passion, and you can use that passion to make a difference. This is positive anger instead of negative anger. It’s anger that knows it has a job to do.