Anger! Just the very word can create a negative impact on us emotionally. Humans are taught to control the natural expression of anger from an early age and for most of us it is a more or less successful effort for the rest of our lives. We try and avoid things that will make us feel angry, and when we feel angry we suppress or deny it, or blame it on the thing that made us angry in the first place. But have you ever asked yourself, what anger is? From where does it arise? If it is so bad why does it exist in the first place?
Anger is natural, one of a range of emotions that all mammals are capable of feeling, it is necessary to our very survival, healthy anger will keep you secure within your boundaries and ensure that you get your share of food, but like all things it is a question of balance. Emotions are transitory, and as long as they are experienced and expressed they move on; one emotion leads to another and if we let them flow without judgment we pass through them all in one day. To understand this just look at a two year old human who can pass from anger to joy to fear and back again in front of your eyes with no residue of one emotion mixed into the other.
For humans, a problem arises because we are taught that some emotions are good and some are bad, so we try to be happy and kind all the time and avoid anger, fear and sadness. We push so called ‘negative’ feelings down into the basement of our consciousness, but once in a while they escape because nothing can be contained forever, and by then fear has turned into terror and anger into rage and it comes charging up the stairs, knife between its teeth, ready for battle.
In the Chinese system of the 5 Elements or Phases, emotions are seen as an integral part of our bio-system, in fact a dominant emotion is used as an indicator of imbalance in the diagnosis of a Chinese medical practitioner. If someone talks loudly, and views the world with anger and resentment it would indicate an imbalance in his Liver meridian or the Wood Phase and the patient would be given acupuncture and herbs to balance the liver meridian.
Anger tends to be the default emotion for others that we do not want to feel, fear leads to anger, as does worry or anxiety, or sadness. Anger makes us feel bigger and more in control, less vulnerable. This is why you see people getting angry with their horse after they have fallen off, or otherwise been made to feel afraid.
Horse people often have an issue with fear, horses being big and powerful yet so easy to dominate, help people feel strong but because underneath the feel weak or fearful they become aggressive when they feel vulnerable.
So, emotions become out of balance when they are suppressed. Another thing that affects emotional balance is if the reaction is not effective in removing the stimulus. For instance, if someone repeatedly walks into your space uninvited, disrespecting your boundaries, your response may start as a polite request for them to leave, then become an angry screaming, and if that doesn’t work you may reach for your shotgun!
Anger keeps us safe within our boundaries and stops others pushing us off vital resources, it helps us hold our own space and earn the respect of others. Healthy anger is also known as assertiveness, an ability to say clearly, with as much or as little force as is appropriate for the situation, ‘”This is my space, please stay out of it,” or “Excuse me that belongs to me”. An excess of anger makes you act aggressively, repressed anger makes you feel resentful as you continuously give up your boundaries. The more secure a person (or animal) feels within him/herself the less anger he/she needs to display to get what he/she wants.
In a natural environment horses do not display what we would recognise as anger, such as aggressive displays of dominance or resentful simmering. Horses are grazing animals with a constant supply of food and do not need to compete or hunt to survive so they have a low dominance drive, and herd hierarchy is quite fluid, unlike canids who depend on displays of aggression to maintain order in the pack.
Horses in herds, who have enough space and resources use their anger appropriately to set boundaries and get what they want, this is done through body language and there is little direct aggression. Horses avoid aggression by yielding physical space to the dominant horse. Horses display ‘anger’ as we recognise it, i.e. aggressive self-protection, when they are confined together and cannot yield space or they must compete for resources.
Horses who look angry to humans, biting, tail swishing, pinning ears back are trying to communicate something, they probably tried to say it kindly and politely but because no-one was listening they started to shout. Humans don’t recognise, ignore, or down right suppress the horse’s natural expression of displeasure, responding with anger if a horse moves away when being groomed, or pins its ears back when being saddled. Most horses learn to tolerate this behaviour from humans (one of the key words for a balanced Wood phase is tolerance); others become quietly resentful and turn their anger into illness, for instance tendon and ligament damage or laminitis; while the most spirited or sensitive express themselves aggressively and start to kick and bite humans.
The most common reason for ‘angry’ behaviour in horses is pain, nine times out of ten when I am asked to see a ‘problem’ horse I discover back pain, foot soreness or problems with their teeth. The second most common reason, and this is most often seen in mares, is repeated violation of their space. Horses have a very clear boundary at the edge of their ‘personal space’, about a humans arm length away from their physical body and in horse language it is very impolite to come closer than that without permission. Humans constantly walk into this space without respect, acknowledgment or consciousness; lack of awareness when we handle horses is also a source of irritation for them.
Frustration also leads to anger, and in the Chinese view arises from qi stagnation (blocked energy). Some horses can feel frustrated and resentful because of being confined, which is blocked energy on a physical level.
Humans can learn a lot from horses about how to maintain clear boundaries and respond with appropriate force. Horses reflect our moods and emotions absolutely truly and can help us to become aware of what we are actually feeling, and how to express ourselves clearly, aligning body, mind and soul to one purpose.
I recently helped a three year old quarter horse mare who was developing a reputation for being difficult, she had recently refused to load into the trailer (and been forced in after a three hour battle), kicked horses and people, become tense and anxious when being ridden and resisted having her hind legs picked up.
There were several factors involved in her behaviour:
• She was teething
• She had started to come into season
• Her hip was out of alignment
• Her owner was unclear about her boundaries and too emotionally identified with the horse
This was a sensitive and intelligent mare with a high degree of self-protectiveness, the sort of horse who needs a partner to work with and will not tolerate disrespect so the solution was multi-layered. First I offered her essential oils; (German Chamomile (matricaria recutica)) to help with the discomfort of teething and her tantrums; Rose (Rosa damascena) which balances hormones and eases feelings of resentful anger, and vetivert (zizanoides vetiveria) known as the oil of tranquillity it is cooling and calming and brings awareness to the feet.
Once she had her oils, we called the chiropractor to work on her back, during which I saw the full range of her self-defensive behaviour, walking over people and cow kicking. Because the horse had been uncomfortable in her back through the misalignment and the seasons she was very protective of the lumbar area and reacted angrily to the slightest touch, not because of pain, but because she was disturbed by the changes happening in her body and was trying to block it out, so I did some energy work to help her re-connect with this area
Then I worked with her owner to increase her centered-ness and self-awareness so that she could provide clear safe boundaries for her horse, and worked with the partnership to increase communication, trust and respect. Once we tune in to the subtleties of horse body language and open up a dialog with our horses there is no reason for them to display angry behaviour at all.
Essential oils can help with anger is either by calming the anger or relieving the tension that causes anger, but you must try to remove the source of anger as well. Most essential oils that help with anger have an effect on the Liver, helping to restore it to a state of tolerance and compassion.
When choosing essential oils that can help anger, look at the whole picture and choose an oil that addresses as many issues as possible, e.g. for a mare with hormonal problems rose is an obvious choice, if a horse has been abused in the past then Yarrow might be the answer, offer the oil for the horse to smell has described in previous issues and let the horse be the final judge of what it needs.
Here are a few essential oils that can help anger:
Rose (Rosa damascena), rose is the moody mare’s oil, it increases feelings of self love and self respect and is best for those who harbour resentful anger, or whose emotions have been hurt, it works well in combination with yarrow for past abuse.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) Yarrow suits animals with a traumatic past, who act angry because they are fearful; they are likely to keep their distance and pull faces at you, but will strike out if they feel cornered.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) –this is the best oil for those who are defensive of their space, it is also for those who lack tolerance and flexibility, it helps us “’swallow’ what we may find difficult, and ‘let go’ of stubbornness and fixed resistance” (G,Mojay, Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit)
Everlast (Helichrysum italicum) this is good for deeply bruised emotions and a festering anger that is unexpressed.
Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) soothes and pacifies, particularly good for youngsters and those who have childish tantrums or who have learnt that anger gets them attention.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)- is especially good for pent up annoyance and restless irritability.
Benzoin (Styrax Benzoin): this also releases past trauma and is good for those who react angrily because they are trying to cut themselves off from their body
Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)- this is good for mood swings, sudden outbursts of rage, those who react angrily when challenged and a sense of frustration
Orange (Citrus sinensis) – is also good for explosive anger, which is often the outcome of frustration and a lack of confidence
Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi)– good for those who swallow their anger and close down, often they over eat.