Angry Eyes
Thursday, September 1, 2016
by: Lavinia Plonka, GCFP

Section: Vision

Anyone who knows me well will tell you I don’t hide my anger. I’d like to be all zen about situations, but something in my body possesses me if I perceive injustice, selfishness or just plain stupidity and a monster, kind of like the alien Sigourney Weaver had to battle in several movies, comes roaring out of my mouth.
I knew long ago that this sharp and volatile side of me was the result of growing up with sharp and volatile parents, one of whom had a very highly tuned sense of paranoia. But knowing the circumstances of my childhood would not rid me of the nuclear reactor in my nervous system.
In The Potent Self, Moshe Feldenkrais says,
The need for attention, affection, approval, reward, and punishment are cultivated thanks to the fundamental situation of dependence. Body tensions make the child act so as to provoke a response from the adult, and the way the adult reacts toward the child fixes the emotional patterns of the child. Out of physical dependence grows the mode of reaction, the attitude or behavior patterns, assuring one’s existence and subsistence, one’s emotional and social security. The need for security is directly related to dependence. It is not surprising, therefore, to find dependence and the craving for independence in the background of all human activity. In every habit of thought, in every action, it is possible to trace the effects of this factor.
So how to free oneself from something that was programmed so long ago? Is there a way I can escape the prison of reacting in anger when moderation and perspicacity are called for? The answer, one could say, is the Elusive Obvious (another of Feldenkrais’ book titles). Anger is also movement. So using Awareness Through Movement principles I can begin to study the physiology of the anger reaction and learn how to make friends with my inner demon.
Anger causes constriction: of the blood vessels, the nasal passages, the eyes. There is tension in the jaw and in the upper chest. You can feel your own body inadvertently tensing in the presence of someone’s anger. Of course, anger is an important survival skill. Standing up for yourself, sticking to your guns, not taking it lying down, all need some anger. And while rage can be physically destructive, anger at low levels is needed for courage, defiance, and even concentration.
Every emotion is a physiological event. Posture, breath, facial expression and voice come together to create the experiences we call happiness, fear, sadness, etc. Each one of these can be studied. While an article that explores every part of the physical manifestations of anger could be a bit daunting, we can begin with one part. It’s a part of ourselves we rarely attend to, except to think that it is our vehicle for seeing: the eyes.
In their book, Healing Developmental Trauma, authors Laurence Heller and Aline La Pierre say, “The eyes reflect a person’s emotional state. It is said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. This may or may not be true, but they are definitely windows into the nervous system: in the eyes we can see aliveness, absence, distance, dullness, depression or disconnection.”
Our language even supports the idea of angry eyes: “her eyes narrowed,” “his eyes flashed in anger,” “her eyes sent daggers across the room.” (You can probably think of a few more.)
Here’s a short Awareness Through Movement® exploration. As you do it, don’t try to label your experience. Instead, notice what changes in your sense of ease. Recognizing your own habitual use of the face, and how that affects the rest of yourself is a fascinating and endless study!

Lavinia Plonka, GCFP, is the director of Asheville Movement Center in Asheville, NC, and the author of several books and audio programs on the Feldenkrais Method. She has taught internationally for over 25 year years. Find out more about Lavinia at:

Image of eyes by Bjorguin Gudmundsson
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