Transforming Anger Through Sound And Silence


Sarah Kay


Anger is a force to be reckoned with. It has been described as a volcano erupting
. Americans use the word “mad” instead of angry because “in the heat of the
 uncontrolled moment” a person can be irrational and insane. Anger is hot and fiery.
 We talk about “seeing red”. The root chakra in the Hindu energy system is red. It
 is our primary chakra related to grounding, pow er and anger. In a balanced energy 
system, anger is transformed into a manageable emotion. E-motion being energy
 and feeling naturally flowing and moving out through the body. Rage has been
 defined as out of control anger usually resulting in violent actions including
 shouting and screaming. In this article I am going to stick with anger which 
includes rage. Anger is a little more sophisticated – a ‘civilized’ or conditioned rage.

In a behavioural sense I understand anger to be both a defence against fear, terror 
and hurt and also fury at not getting my own way. When thwarted or defensive our
f ear and anger may be aggressively projected on to others (all violent actions come
 from fearful thoughts). In our outward struggle we might start a mini war or a
 world war and annihilate the ‘opposition.’ A more passive person retroflects the 
emotion and carries their resentment through gritted teeth and clenched jaw, poisoning the atmosphere around them with sarcasm or cold silence.

Ken Wilber (1) talks about a frustration which is deeper, darker and more powerful
 because the struggle involves recognizing and releasing the trapped daemon 
within. This daemon is our true self, our potential, our godhead, Buddha nature,
 creative force, whatever name you want to put on it. It it is never released it 
becomes a “demon”, a destructive force forever gnawing at the soul. The world’s
 greatest tragedies reflect this dramatic straggle, Medea’s daemon turned into
 revenge and murder. Othello’s sexual jealousy destroyed his love and Macbeth
 brought about his own downfall through ambition.

All religions or spiritual practice emphasize the destructive nature of anger and
 how it causes so much suffering. This is true and we do have to find a way to take
 responsibility for this strong emotion. I do think, however, that organized religions
 have been somewhat naive in their handling of anger. I’ve sat through many
 funerals (feeling angry) and listening to well intentioned clergy saying that we
 shouldn’t feel angry with God or even sad, because the loved one is in a better
 place. This is of little comfort to those left behind who are naturally feeling pain 
and anger. If we do believe in a God then surely he/she can cope with our anger
 just as a good parent can cope with a two-year old having a tantrum.

I believe through psychotherapy and spiritual practice we cm gain a real
 understanding of the nature of anger and have the power to transform this powerful
 emotion into a creative rather than destructive force. There is a process to be gone through, however, and as a Gestalt therapist I would be more naturally inclined 
towards a homeopathic approach than an allopathic, i.e. to find the cause and
 encourage emotion rather than suppress the symptoms. This requires going 
through a process of risk, recognition, release and realization.

Risk

Developing the courage to stay with an emerging feeling. Many of us are terrified 
of our feelings, particularly strong ones like excitement (sexual, joy), sadness and
 of course anger. The emotion can seem overwhelming. Early childhood 
recognition of emotions and their expression is a crucial development in the
 management of strong feelings.

“….a parent is faced early in a child’s life with the full intensity of the child’s 
ruthless pursuit of her/his own needs. Children have a single-minded and 
aggressive desire for contact that can often feel overwhelming to a parent who is 
expecting sweetness and light. A parent’s duty, in the face of this emotional assault,
 is not to withdraw or to retaliate. It is to survive. This survival sends a message to 
a young child that her/his emotions are not scary or destructive.”(2).

I can remember being sent to my room as a child and demolishing it in a rage.
 Finally exhausted I started to tidy up and put things back, to make order out of the 
chaos. It was the space needed work through the fury. There is pain and frustration 
sharing the universe with others, in letting go of omnipotence. The benefits of
 course are in making friends and having relationships rather than existing in 
glorious isolation.

Recognition

Giving the feeling a name. We need to be able to not just tolerate the strong surges 
of emotions but be able to identify what they are and give them a context. If anger 
is a defence against fear, then what or who am I afraid of? If I feel pain then what 
is the hurt and who inflicted it? If my needs are not being met, what are they and
 who is not meeting them? What can I do for myself? How do I start to take
 responsibility for my anger? What is my ability-to-respond in different situations?

There are families who suppress feelings, families where emotions are not talked 
about and families with no boundaries where feelings are acted out all over the
 place. This can lead to emotional confusion. For example, women often burst into 
tears when they are in fact angry because they have been told that women don’t get 
angry (it’s not nice). Men often rage when they feel sad because it’s macho to be 
brooding and sullen and they have been told that “big boys don’t cry”. So when we
 are working with anger in a therapeutic context we will often uncover layers of
 different feelings and it is important to name them as they emerge.

Release


Psychotherapy provides a place and space for recognizing, naming and releasing
 emotions. Ken Wilber has outlined a 9-tier structure of different pathologies with a corresponding treatment. (3) Different strokes for different folks. In combining
 Gestalt therapy with my voice and drama training I am able to work comfortably 
with people at a cathartic level – I realize this type of work does not suit everyone.

There is nothing new about cathartic work. The Ancient Greeks recognized the
 need for purging negativity and held group festivals or orgies to rid themselves of 
tension and angst. They took hallucinatory drugs, danced into trances and remained 
in an altered state for days at a time.

Gestalt therapy has always encouraged the release of trapped feelings at a physical
 level. It would see both the swallowing down (or introjected) anger and the out of
 control use of violent behaviour (whether verbal or physical) as an interruption to
 the natural flow of aggression in making good contact with the environment and 
other people. A violent and abusive person alienates others and is always fearful.
 The person who is “never angry” remains scared and isolated, rarely gets their 
needs met and often ends up in a confluential relationship (usually with an
 aggressive person) where they will do anything for “peace and quiet”.

I am particularly interested in going back to the body to discover through 
movement and sound ways of releasing emotion and energy. I feel it essential to
 the therapeutic process to encourage the use of sound because it is one of the first
 things to be suppressed in our early development. The word ‘personality’ comes 
from the Latin “per sona” meaning “from sound” – it implies that our identity is
 linked with our voice. In the same way that we have a unique fingerprint so do we
 have a unique voice print. If you listen to voices they are unique – they may be 
similar, particularly in families, but if you listen closely no two people sound the 
same.

Children who are not encouraged to express themselves and find their own way 
with language may develop a stammer and their frustration and fury get locked into 
their body structure. Just as there is body armouring (Reich) so there is voice
 armouring. A choked off voice is often struggling to keep down repressed anger
 and possibly sadness. A thin reedy voice coming from the throat often implies 
sexual dysfunction. Sexual identity and development is closely related to vocal 
development – this is particularly true for men who undergo a change in pitch 
during puberty. Along with many physical changes there is a whole new voice to
 adjust to. For a full surrender in orgasm there needs to be a release of sound. Joy,
 anger, pain and sadness all have their sounds.

We are inhibited as a society with sound. Our civilization has become sophisticated in
 its use of shaping sound into language and language codes are structured and 
have set rules. Sound like everything else is going the way of technology- muzak, 
sound bites, minimalist use of words and devoid of passion.

I encourage clients or groups to first get in touch with their bodies and movement 
before launching into sound. An easy way to start is to imagine yourself as an animal – preferably a powerful one – and be this animal. This gives people 
permission to physically let go of the civilized human form and become an animal,
 prowling on all fours, using their bodies in a much freer way – a hunting animal or
a playful animal or an angry animal. Then gradually give this animal sound. People
 often get in touch with sounds and depths of pitch they never knew they had -
 wonderful growls and squeals and purrs and grunts. What is fascinating is that 
people often start off in their private animal world – territorial and aggressive and 
eventually move into socializing – play then develops and the sounds change. An 
interaction takes place and people communicate and devise their own responses.

If I am dealing with anger then I encourage a physical release but there are some 
rules. There needs to be a safe target for the wrath. Large cushions on the floor or
 up against me act as protection and give the client something concrete to push
 against. This is both invigorating and empowering. I always encourage the sound. 
Often the verbal is abandoned and early sounds of frustration are released. These
 include growling and roaring or biting into a towel or cushion. Hurt and pain is 
often expressed with a scream that can only be described as coming from the 
bowels of the earth. The release of years of accumulated terror can be released in 
one scream. Exhausted rage often softens into deep sobbing where early hurts can 
be acknowledged. Once anger has been named and the rage dispelled I get clients
 to ground themselves in their anger and feel the strength of their feeling. By this 
stage they can put a context to their feelings and coherently express themselves.
 Gradually they gain control and mastery over a feeling that may have appeared 
overwhelming.

There are some people who are stuck in rage and use their violence and anger as a
 defence against the pain of their sadness. This defence covers fear and terror. The 
catharsis here needs to be the underlying fear or the cycle of violence just goes on
 getting repeated. The fear has to be uncovered and this may take time and of course 
trust. Grounding and supporting people in their fear brings the terror to light. The
 client may physically shake for a long period of time. Their teeth will chatter in
 the grip of fear and again sounds can be encouraged using a soft reassuring voice. 
Often a person has been in a terrifying place where they have had to stay silent to 
survive. They have literally lost their voice.

Realization


Transforming anger through sound and silence. People come to therapy and to
 voice workshops not just to exorcise their demons but to release and discover their 
daemons. This is always exciting and rewarding work. Much anger is related to
 feelings of limitation and inhibition. A sense of failure, disappointment or time 
wasted. Many people have never felt able to express joy through movement or 
dance. Many people feel they can’t draw or paint and many people have been told 
they cannot sing. Everyone can sing if they allow their voice to do it.

In order for transformation to occur we have to go through the process of pain in 
order to unblock the vocal armour brought about by a conditioning which prefers children to be seen and not heard, which encourages the use of language but not 
sound, which trains voices for singing but doesn’t allow noise.

I suggest people choose a musical instrument they resonate with and then be that 
instrument, making the appropriate sounds and movements. Then we get brave and
 form an orchestra. Then we might add vocals. I remember a member of the clergy 
at the end of a workshop feeling that he had a big voice deep inside of him, He had 
been trained to sing hymns which didn’t really fit his soul. He had always wanted
 to do Negro Gospel music. I suggested he closed his eyes, put two feet firm on the 
ground (sound always comes up through the ground – it is never just stuck in your 
vocal chords) and think “black”. Well, the sound was amazing Paul Robeson come 
to life.

How can we transform anger? Through meditation. Many people come to a point 
where they know themselves pretty well and their quest in psychotherapy is more
 than just an emotional healing – they are looking for spiritual answers and ways of
 working on their own. I know myself that I got bored and tired of bashing cushions, 
blaming my parents and my therapists! And that there were ways I could support 
myself and take responsibility for my feelings.

After years of working with drama, mime, dance and voice I found meditation 
which requires sitting in stillness, pacifying an active mind and learning to tolerate 
uncertainty and states of anxiety. The paradox is that by sitting in stillness I became 
aware of my movement. By becoming an observer of my emotions rather than 
getting swept up into them I realize how fickle they are. Anger, sadness, 
excitement, boredom, elation, depression and worry can hurtle through my mind in
 the space of half an hour. Exhausting. If I were to pay attention to each feeling and
 get deeply involved I’d have a busy day. Which of course is what I was doing. I’m
 not saying the feelings have all vanished. They are still there and they still plague 
me but I have more choice. I can actively go with the flow or choose to let go. I
 can move and release tension and anger. I can sit still and let the anger move off on its own.

So I incorporate meditation and relaxation in my workshops. After the noise and 
the movement there is stillness and silence. It is important to become aware of the 
body as a living, breathing entity. Then we experiment with different sounds to
 express peace and quiet. Humming and chanting is very powerful and over time
 softens the vocal armouring.

Relax

Somewhere between the sound and the fury and emptiness is a middle path where 
we can take charge of our powerful feelings and put our daemons to good use. Even 
if you start with peace and quiet you will at some point meet the demons and go
 through the storm. Jack Kornfield describes going into the woods and hurling rocks 
after experiencing his anger in meditation (4). Others, exhausted and battered by a 
life time of storm are surprised and delighted to come home to the quiet.

Notes:

1. Going to Pieces without Falling Apart, by Dr. Mark Epstein talking about Winnicott. 1998

2. Grace and Grit, by Ken Wilber 1991

3. Transformations of Consciousness: Conventional Contemplative Perspective on
 Development, by Ken Wilber. 1986

4. A Path with Heart, Jack Kornfield, 1993

Sarah Krzeczunowicz (Kay) is a Gestalt therapist and member of IAHIP. She is 
also an Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto where she taught
 Speech and Drama.