Embracing Anger Helps With Coping
Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
Anger has always had such a bad rap. We’re told, from an early age, to suppress it, manage it, let it go. We’ve been punished as toddlers for our tantrums. We see it as destructive, dangerous, and uncivilized. It doesn’t feel good physically. We become afraid of anger from others, and from ourselves.
But anger is energy. It illustrates what’s important. No one has ever gotten angry about something they didn’t care about. It lets you – and the rest of the world – know what matters to you most in the moment; and well directed, is a catalyst for change.
It’s also protective. By nature, anger is a secondary emotion, usually in response to fear, stress, hurt, an unmet need, or a boundary violation. Peek underneath the anger and you’ll find one or more of these. That’s the thing to deal with. We make the mistake, often, of addressing the anger itself, and forgetting about the issue that has triggered it.
And here’s another thing: you can’t selectively bury emotions. You can’t decide to suppress your anger, or any other so-called negative emotion, and still have the capacity to feel the things you want to feel. It’s been said that anger, turned inwards, is depression (along with depression’s soulmate, anxiety). This doesn’t mean you being angry at yourself. It means you’ve absorbed it, and in its unfelt and unexpressed state, it has become a black hole where your natural vitality and joy will be trapped. Not to mention, that no one, including yourself, will have the opportunity to know what your anger is pointing to, and therefore, that need will continue to be unsatisfied. A vicious cycle.
But let’s say that’s not your problem. You have no trouble flying into a rage. How do other people respond? Because we’ve become socialized to make nice, it may not be apparent to anyone, including yourself, that you’re about to explode. But there’s that iceberg tip. All of a sudden, you’re at a 10, raging at your roommate for leaving a towel on the floor. And now she thinks you’re crazy. So what happened on the road from 1 to 9? The buildup that she didn’t see, and that even you might not have been aware of? Learning to check in as you swallow those not-so-minor frustrations and annoyances will go a long way in helping you regulate those rages, and also provide valuable information as to what you’re not getting.
Another thing to notice is how your anger shows up. It can take the form of a slow burn or a quick flare-up, be mild or intense, last for minutes, hours, or days. It might show up in your dreams or seemingly for no reason at all. There may be a hormonal component that slows it down or jacks it up. How comfortable you are with its contours, force, and duration will help you manage it.
Okay, so now you are okay with feeling angry, and you have a better understanding of what makes you so mad, and all the underlying issues you want to address, and so on. How do you want to express your anger so that it is productive, unthreatening, and gets you where you want to be?
As a first step, try to determine the source. If your brother has pissed you off, do you find yourself snapping at a friend? Would snapping instead at your brother lead to a bigger fight, or can he take it? How about punching a pillow until you can say, with a modicum of composure, what he did to set you off and how you want him to make amends? This is, of course, no guarantee that you’ll get what you’re after in the moment. But you will have put your feelings out there, so they don’t have to stay bottled up inside you.
Use your anger as information, express it constructively, and enjoy the rewards.
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