There’s a question that often comes up for both myself and some of my clients, which goes something like: “Are we supposed to just “let go” of our anger triggers? What if the other person is actually being disrespectful to us? Isn’t our anger serving a purpose by not allowing other people to disrespect us or treat us unfairly?”. To be honest, I don’t have a definitive answer to that, but here are my current thoughts:
According to the book The Language of Emotions, by Karla McLaren, one of the reasons why anger emerges is when our boundaries have been disrespected in some way or some sort of injustice has been committed (either to us or to someone/something we care about).
There are basically 3 ways to deal with that anger. One is to pretend nothing happened and we just “let it slide”, sweeping it under the rug. This can lead to several problems, such as harboring resentment towards ourselves and others. Another way is to lash out aggressively and disrespectfully at the other person. While this expression of anger can feel good at first, it often leads to an escalation of conflicts. People end up increasingly hurting each other more and more. “An eye for an eye and we all end up blind”.
The third way has to do with honorably and respectfully expressing our anger in such a way that it energizes our boundaries. It’s like we channel our anger into “firing or powering up” our boundaries so we neither pretend that nothing happened nor do we lash out aggressively at the other person. The way to go about doing this will probably vary according to the different situations we might be in.
So, where does EFT fit into this? Let’s say that you recently had an argument with your spouse or romantic partner. They said or did something that you considered to be wrong or disrespectful in some way and it made you angry.
Again, the question comes up: Are you supposed to just “tap away” that anger and pretend like nothing happened? Or even “let them get away with it”?
Here’s the thing: What triggers our emotions has to do in part with what’s going on right now in the present moment, but it also has to do in part with “open/unhealed wounds from our past”. That’s why it can be useful to start tapping on the memory of this recent argument with your partner, not necessarily with the goal of “tapping the anger away”, but to see what else shows up when you start tapping on it.
As we know, it’s not uncommon for other memories and/or mental images to come up when we start tapping on something. Or even asking ourselves: “Does this situation remind me of something else?” can be a helpful avenue to explore. Another useful question can be: “What do I believe this means about myself, the other person and our relationship?”.
If we are willing and able to bring some attention (and tapping) to some of those “open wounds from the past”, we’ll be in a better head space to then determine how we want to deal with our present circumstances around this person.
These “open wounds from the past” are of course other specific events, whether they involve the same person we had an argument with or someone else, such as a parent, friend, ex romantic partner or family member.
Sometimes we might become aware of a belief about ourselves or about life, such as “I’m alone”, “I’m always misunderstood”, “my feelings don’t matter”, “people always betray you”. These beliefs add an “extra layer of hurt” to the recent argument with our partner.
That’s why, if we can diminish or release the unpleasant emotional charge around those “open wounds from the past” that support those emotionally painful beliefs, chances are, we’ll find it easier to feel more empowered with our anger in the present moment. So that we neither sweep it under the rug, pretending that nothing happened, nor do we lash out aggressively at the other person, unnecessarily escalating the conflict.
Sometimes we might even perceive the situation and/or the other person in a new light, with a bit more understanding and compassion.
So, to recap, are we supposed to just let go of our current anger triggers? Not necessarily so. But if we tap on them and keep an eye out for any related memories and beliefs that show up, they can provide an opportunity to bring some healing or resolution to our past.
So that we can then look at the present situation not so much through the lens of those “open wounds from our past”, but from a more empowered present-moment perspective.