Holding space for anger

Jim Finley has huge experience in helping people recover from trauma. He claims that a person cannot heal unless they have allowed themselves to feel their anger. This certainly rings true for me.

This is not to say that the person must be allowed to express that anger in any way they fancy. Violence and displaced anger are not useful. I’m not talking here about condoning any behaviour that is violent, aggressive or intimidating. Sometimes it is enough just to feel the anger and to own the angry feelings in the presence of another.

Too many of us are uncomfortable with anger. We avoid it at any cost, and the result is not pretty. Deep wounding never gets a chance to heal.

As we see the anger and violence boiling up around us, it occurs to me that maybe we need to pay attention to ‘holding space for anger’. The expression ‘holding space’ is one I use in a spiritual direction context. As I sit with another I see myself as holding the space to allow for encounter with God. It is an active, conscious process which provides a safe containment for the exploration.

What if we focus on ‘holding space for anger’? What if we dare to stop soothing, pacifying and attempting to fix, and simply let the person express their anger?

I know that we fear that we will be overwhelmed and that we won’t be able to contain the pain. But I think we can begin in small manageable ways. I can begin to own my own anger. And I can begin to simply allow those around me to express their anger when they need to, or perhaps even to vent (again this does not mean allowing yourself to be a punching bag either in an emotional or a physical sense!).

I suppose the challenge really lies here. If anger comes from a sense of powerlessness, in order to hold this space for another, we must be at ease with own powerlessness.

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