Uncovering our deepest felt needs can start with examining anger. As counterintuitive as it may seem, anger is a map we can trace toward what is most urgently missing.
Having fun is not a diversion from a successful life; it is the pathway to it.Martha Beck
Jan and I tucked into a side table at the local coffee shop and waited for our cappuccinos. The line at the counter stretched almost to the door, but no one seemed to mind. Pockets of animated conversations punctuated by laughter filled the room.
My immediate thought: everyone is glad to be out of the house.
Jan began peeling the bright white paper away from a straw and said, “So, the holidays.”
“Did you all have a fun time?” I asked.
Jan made a noise between a grunt and a scoff. “I didn’t kill anyone, so I’m calling it a win,” she said.
I swallowed a chuckle. Jan was focused on shredding microscopic bits of paper into a tiny pile of white dust. For a minute, I was in the same trance as she, watching her hands and the paper.
“What happened?” I asked.
Jan opened her napkin into a large square and placed all the paper bits on top. She folded and folded the napkin onto itself into an origami purse before wadding it up into a ball and setting it aside. She finally looked up.
“Around Day 5, I just wanted everyone out,” she said. “I have never felt so claustrophobic in my own house. I worked like a dog to make sure everybody had a beautiful Christmas…cooking, wrapping, cleaning, more cooking. When I finally had a chance to catch my breath, I was mad as hell. Why did all the work always fall on me?”
Jan paused and reached for the napkin ball. She continued, “I just wanted some peace and quiet, ya know? I wanted to relax, read, and go on walks. Be alone! I didn’t want all those people around. I tried to hide and claim some space for myself, but no matter how much I tried, I had the suffocating feeling of being under siege.”
“Have you been able to reset and have some time to relax and hear yourself think?” I asked.
“A bit,” Jan said. “Honestly, I feel I have PTSD. I’m agitated and restless. It’s like there’s a massive debt of energy depletion inside of me that I can’t ever seem to pay off. Kinda like how someone feels who can’t ever get a full night of sleep.”
“Let’s start with your anger and work backward,” I said. “As unpleasant as it feels right now, it is gold for making the changes you seek.”
I encouraged Jan to share everything that was rolling around in her mind. Every point of irritation, resentment. I took pages of notes, capturing every bitter detail, because her anger is a map, one that will lead to long-hidden roots.
Viewing Anger as a Map
After an hour or so, I spread the notes out onto the table and scanned for patterns and clues. Applying the principle that anger is a map, I circled words that jumped out at me and pretty quickly saw the tenor cords of Jan’s ire.
- Jan was not having any fun in any area of her life.
- She was routinely focused on taking care of everyone else, but never herself.
- She craved alone time, at least a couple of hours a day, but rarely got even 30 minutes.
- She had several creative projects she was trying to get going, but felt too tired, distracted, and fuzzy-headed to concentrate for any length of time.
- She had an overwhelming sense of duty and responsibility that overshadowed all of her choices and decisions.
When I pointed out each of these patterns, Jan squirmed a bit but nodded in agreement. She was desperate to feel better which gave her the courage for making changes. I assigned her some playful homework: go out and do something fun, frivolous, and seemingly irresponsible every day for the next week—embrace the opportunity to freely be herself.
Drawing Your Map
Are you carrying any resentment or anger right now? If so, take out your journal and take yourself through the same process I took Jan through. Give yourself the opportunity to see that your anger is a map.
1. Write down every detail of what has you by the tail.
Every instance of frustration, irritation. What you wished you had done or said. What you are craving. What boils your blood.
2. Next, go back through your notes and scan for roots.
What is underneath your anger? Can you spot the headwaters of why you feel the way you do?
3. Finally, write down three small changes you can make today.
Is there a conversation you have been avoiding? How can you transmute your cravings into a fun adventure? What do you need to stop doing in order to take care of yourself?
Our anger is a map.
Let it point you to where you really want to reside inside your own skin and what you dream of doing. Let it fuel your creativity and fire up your resolve to interrupt the patterns that have held you hostage.
Give yourself permission to do the thing that feels a bit out of character, not at all like yourself. Giddy delight and fun are perfect tonics for getting off the bitter bus and surfacing paths to success.