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Duncan Trussell once said that when you meet him, you’re meeting his bodyguard, and that has stuck with me. Couldn’t we visualize our defense mechanisms as our bodyguards? When we have conflict with one another, isn’t it really our bodyguards fighting?

If anger is like a bodyguard, we can extend compassion towards it as a good thing. Its purpose is to protect our vulnerable self, and that reframing changes how we interact with it.

I’ve been trying to acknowledge anger, or any defensive emotion, thank it, and then lean in and ask the real question, something I heard from Tara Brach: what am I afraid of feeling right now?

I’ve done this a few times recently, both with anger and avoidance. One time, deep embarrassment was behind the anger. Another time, deep grief and loss was behind the avoidance. I was afraid to feel pain, regret, failure. I was afraid to feel embarrassment, to feel laughable, small. Another was fear and lack of control.

We can misplace our focus by fretting over the presence of anger, or l on what we do or don’t do with the anger, or we talk about how to avoid or release the anger; we deal with the anger as though it’s a problem, when really it is much like a person within us who is guarding something. Be gentle with your person and curious, so that you can find out what it’s protecting. That is the heart of the situation: not the anger, but what it is guarding. That’s where you’ll find the answers to recurring conflict and the motivations and fears that guide your decisions and beliefs and reactions.

Brach also has a quote about when you see a dog running violently towards you, whistle for it: when you’re overwhelmed by emotional reactivity, lean into it. Practice curiosity towards it. Observe it.

Much of our internal and interpersonal conflict comes from resistance and fear. I think she goes on to say, find the line, the edge, and then soften. Find the boundaries of your heart, and soften them. Keep moving the line. Lean in. Get curious. Be the one observing your emotions: they are intelligent and useful and they belong in our bodies.

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