I had a tantrum the other day. A full blown, toddler style, rolling on the floor tantrum. I woke up in a funk, reluctantly did yoga, forced myself to meditate and STILL felt grumpy, angry and gross. So I lay down and kicked my legs, pounded my fists into the ground, wiggled around and gave it all I had. And it felt GOOD. I highly recommend a toddler-style tantrum to every adult in need of shifting stuck energies or releasing some anger.
There is an old saying that “our issues are in our tissues” and I feel there is so much truth to this. So much emotion and energy gets stuck in our bodies when we fail to express it or have no idea how to express it even if we wanted to. This energy needs to go somewhere! Squashing it down inside doesn’t make it go away. It merely stores it elsewhere in the body. And in doing so, we feel heavy, stuck, stagnant rather than light, joyful and spacious.
Who doesn’t want to swap heaviness for light, joyful feeling?
But before I go any further with how to have your very own adult tantrum – perhaps some background on my own personal experience and journey with tantrums should come first. Perhaps some of you will relate?
Good little girls don’t throw tantrums
I have not experienced many tantrums in my life, even as a kid. My Mum raised me on her own after my Dad died and tantrums felt very much off limits. I distinctly remember a couple of time times I threw tantrums and the consequences were not great. One in the supermarket where she threatened to leave the whole trolley at the checkout and take me home if I didn’t stop (I didn’t and she did) and another where I had the mother of all creative melt downs trying to write a letter to the Easter bunny (I kid you not) and I got sent to my room for a long time out.
My need for love, approval and safety was far greater than my need for expression so from a very young age I learned that tantrums weren’t that great. They didn’t get me what I wanted anyway and were not worth the risking of love and approval. But in some ways, those experiences left me with an aspect of myself put “in my bag”.
Putting things into our “bag”
We all do it as we grow up, we slowly put more and more parts of ourselves in our “bag”. In his book “A Little Book on the Shadow” Robert Bly beautifully explains how as children we start out as whole, radiant balls of energy and then gradually learn to hide aspects of ourselves in an attempt to keep the love of our parents and caregivers (you can read a wonderful excerpt here).
We stuff down aspects (both those that serve and limit us) of our creativity, personality, expression and emotions all the while becoming less radiant, less whole. A parent says “nice little girls don’t get angry” and suddenly that part gets stuffed down to that we’ll still be accepted and loved as a nice girl. We’re taught that certain behaviours are not deemed appropriate by the adults around us, parents, teachers, elders and then as we grow older, we put even more in our bags to avoid rejection of our peers and to appear cool. We believe it is safer to just stifle these unwanted parts down – deep down – inside us. These however become shadow aspects of us which can lay dormant for most of our lives, or they can become behaviours or reactions that, when we are provoked, come screaming out of the blue to scare the living daylights out of not only those around us but ourselves as well. Often these outbursts leave us scratching our heads over such “out of character” behaviour.
My anger has always felt foreign to me like an unwanted guest, and yet it is there inside me, a normal part of being a human. Any work we do on discovering who we really are, digging deep into the truth of our souls, will need to include facing some of these shadow aspects that are in our bags.
Its important to note that just because something has been suppressed its not necessarily a bad thing. Often there is a healthy dose of serve and limit involved. Yes, it is fantastic that I am a level headed, calm woman who doesn’t fly off the handle and have a melt down when I don’t get my way. My non tantrum throwing is a serve. But the limiting aspect of my tantrums being stuffed down is that my anger can take me by surprise or I am often unable to express ANY emotions that feel more in the negative category. And lets face it, in life there are times when we do need to express outrage, displeasure, boundaries being crossed, or simply our preference. These are aspects I find incredibly hard to express. I smile, I agree, I go with the flow (and secretly stuff down things I should be expressing). I work hard to find healthy ways to express myself and face the emotions that get my knees knocking in fear.
This lack of expressing evolved into my teenage years. I didn’t slam doors, I didn’t express my anger, never pulled the usual teenage classic of telling my parent I hated them while I stormed off out of a room, I didn’t yell. All these behaviours were not even in the realm of possibility in our household. Anger was not expressed and not very welcome.
Over the years I’ve explored these parts of myself through my yoga, meditation, yoga therapy training, counseling, Non Violent Communication, Enneagram types and Imago Couples Training. What I have had to face head on is a woman who while calm, agreeable and easy going on the outside is actually full of anger and rage inside. Deeply suppressed anger and rage. And that can’t just sit there. It must be expressed in healthy ways. I have found out the hard way that it won’t just stay bottled up, it will be triggered (unfortunately often by a partner), bursting out of me at the worst possible time and leaving me devoid of dignity and respect after the mother of all meltdowns.
My first adult tantrum
So in the midst of these revelations of what was suppressed deep within me, I discovered what it felt like to have an adult tantrum during a Kundalini yoga class. One of the kriyas we performed that night was lying on our backs and kicking our heels into our buttocks for a full three minutes. I started out apprehensive, then got a feel for how great this felt, totally surrendering to the incredible experience of kicking my legs and by the end of three minutes was sweaty, worn out, but surprisingly refreshed.
Its an ongoing experiment tuning into my anger and working with it. I often don’t even realise I’m angry at first. I feel a foreign, uncomfortable sensation in my body that doesn’t fit into any of the boxes of my list of acceptable emotions. It takes a while for me to notice that the tension in my shoulders, boiling of my blood, feeling of wanting to yell at someone is actually anger! Perhaps you can relate? But I can share that embracing myself as a full person, anger as well as joy, sadness as well as happiness, really helps me live my life more fully.
Try a tantrum yourself
So time for some practical tips on getting out this anger? I have a few tried and tested ways to get it out safely. And trust me, these aren’t just for deeply suppressed, dark kinds of anger. Use these any time you’re feeling angry, grumpy, on edge or even just a bit stuck in an emotional state (sad, flat, bored).
1 – Sit with it
Oooh I know, nobody wants to do this one first. But set your timer on your phone for 3 minutes, sit comfortably and breath deeply into your belly. Try to tune into feeling angry and then let the anger be there. Yep, just let anger be present. Often our first instinct is to run away from an uncomfortable emotion or feeling, or to want to change it. Just trust that it’s only for a few minutes out of your very long life. See if you can feel it as a sensation in your body. Does anger sit in your belly, your shoulders, your chest? Is it heavy, burning, jumping around? Focus on breathing deeply with an even inhale and exhale. Does the feeling change? Perhaps under the anger is sadness, anxiousness, fear?
Sometimes this step is enough to help us see what is truly going on underneath our anger. It can be the tip of the iceberg of what is going on beneath. Afterwards journal, meditate, go for a walk and see what comes to you.
2 – Chop some wood
Nope, no need to don some lumberjack boots, check shirt and grab an axe. This fantastic yoga asana, Kashtha Takshanasana, is always a hit with the ladies in my classes. Excellent for helping us with expression and freeing up stuck energy at Vishuddhi (throat) chakra. Sometimes all we need to shift anger is to express it in a wordless way. Getting it expressed is the main thing.
Traditionally this pose is performed squatting, but with so many people experiencing knee problems and sciatica, I’ve found a standing squat is just as effective but kinder to the body.
- Stand with feet hip width apart.
- Clasp the hands together in front of you, straighten the arms (keeping them straight throughout the practice).
- Imagine the action of chopping wood as you inhale, raising your clasped hands above the head, stretching your spine upwards.
- As you exhale, make a downward stroke with the arms towards the ground, as if chopping wood. Use the exhalation to expel the breath with a loud “ha” sound. Bend the knees as much as comfortable to come down into a low, standing squat.
- On the inhalation, straighten legs and raise arms back to their starting position.
- This is one round. Continue for 10 – 15 rounds. Don’t be afraid to be vocal. Get it all OUT!
3 – Punch some pillows
Both my husband Michael and I do this one if something is really pissing us off and we need to express the anger in a healthy way. Discharging that stuck, agitated energy through moving the body is powerful and far better than sitting still and letting it fester away.
I have personally struggled with this activity in the past. I felt very guilty expressing anger and being “violent”. But hey, its so much better out than in and punching a few pillows is far better than losing our cool and saying hurtful things we don’t mean or moving towards physical violence involving another person! I guarantee you’ll feel lighter afterwards.
A few tips:
- Explain to family members that you need to have some time out for 5mins so they’re not caught off guard by your outburst or can interrupt you.
- Play some loud, angry music! It helps you get into the mood, feel less self conscious and will muffle your expression so you won’t scare your family members!
- Keep yourself safe. Don’t kick things (that ends up with a fractured toe as I discovered). Punch pillows on a bed or couch rather than the floor (it hurts a lot as Michael discovered). Be careful to not knock over lamps or break ornaments as you whack the pillows.
Then just LET GO! Punch the pillows. Thrash them into the bed. Jump up and down. Grunt and roar while you do it. Let it all out. Swear, curse, ramble like a crazy person. LET IT OUT!
4 – Have a full blown tantrum
Again, follow the tips above to keep yourself safe and have space for expression. I like to lie on the bed or my yoga mat. I lay down on my back and I let go. I kick my heels into my bottom, pound my fists, roll and thrash around, make whatever sounds needed to express my anger, guttural roaaaaaaaars, cry, grunt – enjoy being completely free to express.
Afterwards lie quietly on your back for a few minutes in shavasana (corpse pose) with arms away from the body, legs hip width apart and body completely relaxed. Breath into you belly and see if anything has shifted in your internal landscape. Feelings, sensations, emotions.
Next time you’re feeling really angry and don’t know what to do with yourself, give one of these a try.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below how you get on with trying out a tantrum.
Or any techniques you use to safely express anger.