Anger and the Enneagram

Uncategorized Jul 16, 2020

In the Enneagram we categorize each of the triads as identifying with a primary emotion. 

The heart triad (types 2, 3, 4) correlates to SHAME. 
The head triad (types 5, 6, 7) correlates to FEAR.
The gut triad (types 8, 9, 1) correlates to ANGER. 

Anger seems like the black sheep of the family. As soon as it's expressed or verbalized, most of us experience the instinct to shut it down. Tell it to be quiet. Lock it up. Throw it in out of sight. There seems to be less compassion. Less understanding. Less room for sitting with and understanding anger. This is never more apparent than how we treat children who express anger (especially compared to how we treat children who feel ashamed or afraid).

I think asking why we feel the way we do, around anger is an important conversation  to have. Especially as we are all navigating life experiences that stretch us beyond anything we have lived through before - and anger (along with shame and fear) are popping up. I am nervous that if we try to suppress this basic emotion, we will only add to the trauma of an already traumatic time period. I think we need do some work around how we view and handle anger. 

So, let's get into it...and by get into it, I always mean - let's ask some GOOD questions. I won't answer these questions for you...I will provide some thoughts after these questions, but I want these questions to sit with you. I want you to let them run through your mind and see what surfaces. 

Why does anger bother me?

Have I been conditioned to see anger as always being negative?

How was my anger as a child handled?

What messages were given to me as a child when I got angry, or someone else got angry?

Do I recognize the difference between the emotion of anger and the expression of anger? 

If I have been conditioned to repress anger, do I even notice it anymore? What are my physical "tells" when I feel anger? Can I recognize them?

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Ok - now on to some thoughts. 

What is anger?

Anger happens when we feel wronged, it is an emotion rooted in justice. 
It's an emotion that responds to an initial offense. Which differentiates itself from fear, which can bubble up from the anticipation of something that hasn't actually happened yet, or shame, which can start to grow from an internal feeling of lack. Anger is much more of an externally triggered emotion.

It's also an emotion that fuels action. 

Fear can paralyze. 
Shame is often held within. 
Anger by comparison is typically a catalyst for an action. 

I think it's also worth noting that anger is not the same as aggression.
Aggression can follow anger, but they are not the same. 
Anger is a base emotion, aggression (or any other number of actions) is the external manifestation of the anger. You don't DO anger, but you can do something FROM anger. 

Why is anger important?
Should we NOT try to "get rid of anger" but work with it instead? 
What would that look like?

Actions taken FROM anger can be incredibly harmful to others.
We need to handle anger properly so that it is not fueling destructive behavior. 

I have to give credit to the brilliant Dr. David Daniels and he puts it so beautifully: "Anger is an emotional alarm system that tells us about personal violation. It alerts us when our sense of inherit worth comes under attack."

Anger is often how we short cut our way of dealing with complicated issues when we don't exactly know HOW to deal with them, we default to anger. It's apparent in children, it's apparent when an individual feels trapped or confused or deeply wounded. These things are TOO complex, beyond cognition and so they are express through anger. 

Anger is also a way to exhale the hate and violation swirling around us in an OUTWARD direction, rather than internalizing it all or moving into self-hatred or self-destruction. Shame goes in, anger goes out. 

My final thoughts on anger is that it is the quickest emotion. It is the most instinctual. If we want to handle it properly - feel it INTENTIONALLY and process it in such a way that honors it and gives us the possibility of navigating it without inflicting pain on others, we will have to notice the anger, get curious about it and slow down so that the time between feeling and ACTING upon anger grows longer and longer. 

I'd love to hear from you - what are your thoughts on anger? Do you think it's the most mis-understood of the three base emotions in the Enneagram? Do you think treating it properly will allow us to use anger productively rather than destructively? 

(Also I highly recommend reading the full blog post by Dr. Daniels, you can find it HERE)

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