What is your relationship with anger?
Updated: Apr 19, 2021
We all have a relationship with anger, whether we like it or think it's an issue for us or not.
There's certainly been some things on social media that have provoked me to anger this week and brought out surprising reactions in me. There's also been some deeper stuff too.
Many people see anger as something negative that they should not have. It gets muddled up with certain destructive expressions of it, like violence, which gives the emotion a bad name. Actually anger serves an important function.
What image comes into your mind when you think of the word anger? What associations does the word have? Do you consider it an acceptable emotion to feel and/or display? How do you express anger?
Early experiences' of anger
Anger is one of our core emotions that appear in early development, along with joy, fear, sadness, surprise and disgust. It doesn't rely on self-consciousness or introspection. Babies and little children express these emotions freely.
Later our secondary emotions appear as we compare our actions against our standards and beliefs and become more self conscious. These are emotions like shame, embarrassment, guilt, jealousy, and envy.
These may come in as you get a sense of what is acceptable and appropriate from others around you.
And this may vary from household to household depending on your parent's experience and view of anger.
How was anger expressed in your home?
If anger was expressed it may have been in the form of shouting; crying; swearing; breaking things; being verbally abusive; insulting; offensive; hurtful words; hostility; a with-holding of something; being given the silent treatment; aggression; violence; revengeful; short-temperedness or a multitude of other ways. Some of these ways are quite destructive and damaging.
This can lead people have negative associations with anger and so they rather suppress it and view it as something we shouldn't have or show, trying to block it as an emotion. It may be something that is a cause of fear.
Maybe expressed anger was punished and so it was soon learned to suppress it.
Was it denied? 'I'm not angry!' they shouted.
It could have been dismissed: 'Oh lighten up, don't make such a fuss over nothing.'
Was it strongly discouraged?: 'No-one will like you if you go round behaving like that.'
If anger was blocked it may be hidden underneath the face of any of these pictured below. It doesn't feel safe or acceptable to show it, so it is suppressed, denied and hidden.
If anger was suppressed it most likely leaked out in others ways through: sarcasm; sniping; gossip; belittling; nit-picking; apathy; sabotage or non-participation. Ways that are not so obvious.
It can come out in physical ways in your body too, like headaches for example.
Freud said: 'Unexpressed emotions will never die. They will come forth later in uglier ways.'
Can you think back to whether anger was an acceptable emotion as a child?
The alternative to anger
To never allow anger is to block your feelings.
It is numbness.
You stop caring.
This leads to disconnection.
It also means you miss out on other emotions at the same time, the ones that feel great: love; joy; intimacy and spontaneity.
It seems a high price to pay.
What is anger all about?
Whatever your view of how acceptable it is to express anger it is important to know that it is ok to feel angry. It is a perfectly acceptable and appropriate reaction and response to many awful things that happen.
If you hear of or experience injustice; bullying; physical, sexual or emotional abuse; or of any other terrible things, then why shouldn't you feel angry? They are wrong, they've cause pain and they shouldn't have happened.
And also awful things that are out of our control as humans: natural disaster; losing a loved one; disease; tragedy.
It is ok to feel angry. They are awful things.
Lisa Pamer said 'Anger is sad's bodyguard'.
Anger has a sort of protective element to it. It wants to keep you safe, prevent terrible things from happening (in the first place or again).
I've heard it said that anger is 'a great servant but a terrible master'.
Your anger may stir you into action to stand against things that are wrong, to stop them happening again. If done in the right way, this is a very important part of survival.
Alternatively though, certain expressions of anger may add to the damage done.
Identify what your anger is more specifically
If you can get to a place where you recognise you are angry then that is an amazing starting point.
And it's very brave. It can be very hard to accept and admit we are angry, especially if it is an emotion that comes with lots of negative associations or if it was not 'allowed' when you were younger, or even now.
Anger is a great umbrella term, it identifies that core emotion you are feeling.
Next it can be helpful to break that down a bit, to try and describe more specifically what that anger is about. Here are some possible options: annoyed; agitated; fed up; irritated; mad; critical; resentful; disgusted; repulsed; outraged; raging; furious; livid; bitter; frustrated; offended or defensive.
So you may be angry because you are disgusted by something, or you may be angry because you are frustrated, but they are two quite different things although they both cause the emotion of anger.
Your anger may tell you you've been wounded, you can identify where that wound came from.
Be curious about the anger, explore it.
What are helpful ways to express anger?
I have a great visual resource created by Pauline Andrews at Deep Release. This looks at different ways people express anger and alternative ways they can channel it.
I'll give a few examples. If you're angry about how you've been treated badly, maybe an option would be to practice a bit of self-protection by stepping away from abusive relationships, or by being assertive and setting boundaries.
Maybe forgiving yourself or others is what is needed.
Could you remove yourself from a heated situation to gain perspective, find alternative ways to work something through and resolve the conflict? Could you try respecting and understanding the point of view of the other.
I don't know why I've been using the word 'you', 'we' would be far more appropriate as I obviously have the same challenges as everyone else on how I deal with my anger. How often I feel the disappointment and have that horrible feeling in my gut when I realise I didn't handle something in a great way.
We get to choose what we want our anger style to be, how we express it. I guess it will be different for each of us.
But for example: I may decide I don't want my anger to show itself by being violent, aggressive, out of control, unfair, manipulative or not being willing to listen.
But I am happy with it coming out in tears; having a non-productive day; taking the time I need, off-loading to a friend I trust; being fair; communicating it calmly; removing myself from a situation, setting a boundary; or going for a long walk.
We get to choose.
One of my favorite quotes is from Victor Frankl: 'The last of human freedoms: to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.'
Is it really ok to feel angry?
It may be hard to shake off the feeling that it is wrong to feel angry.
There can sometimes be guilt attached.
'How can I admit that I am angry with my parents/ partner/ friend when they have been so great in so many other ways?'
'Surely I should just focus on the good things.'
'Entertaining this anger will just make things worse.'
'I'm scared of what might come out of me if I admit I'm angry. Or of how they'll respond.'
Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting you go and smash up something or someone, or have a screaming match with someone who has hurt you. But it really is ok to acknowledge how you feel.
I've been on a journey of realising there's some anger in me left from past things, towards people and things I love. Anger that I wasn't aware of at the time, but looking back I feel. It almost feels unfair to admit it. Unfair when they've also been so good to me and an amazing part of my life. I've been learning that I can see it for what it is: the part that causes my anger is justified; and also I can acknowledge that it is just one part and not the whole. My love for them remains. My gratitude remains. My sense of perspective remains. and my acknowledgement that that part I found hurtful is there. I've had to decide what I do with it: do I bring it up; forgive it; try and understand it?; and know that if I were to turn back time I would deal with it differently.
In my previous blog I talked about the importance of listening to what our emotions have to tell us. Check it out here: https://www.thehoperoom.co.uk/post/our-emotions-have-a-lot-to-say-to-us. Here's a little exert: 'If we're willing to put up with the discomfort of not pushing the emotion away we can find out a lot about ourselves. What our deep longings are, what we care about, our values, what we want or need deep down. When we're familiar with what these things are, we're in a better place to do something about them or get the support we need if we can't. We can let them guide us in how we spend our time; what we need to invest in; what we need to seek or to avoid.'
What does our anger have to say?
It may tell us that something is not right, or that we need to be careful.
It may show us what is important to us, highlighting what our values are.
It may reveal that there is an action you need to take.
It may be there to guide you away from, or towards, certain people, situations or attitudes.
It may teach you about yourself and how you felt about things that have happened to you, maybe highlighting a need to work some things through.
Anger is a core emotion.
Our view of it largely comes for our main care-givers in childhood.
Some block it.
Some express it in destructive ways.
It's ok to feel anger. It's an appropriate response to pain.
It serves a function. It aims to protect and keep safe and prevent bad things.
There's often a lot underneath the anger. Can you identify what that is?
What does your anger have to tell you? What can you do about it?
You get to choose what ways you show your anger. There are many ways to express it. Choose ones that feel right for you, wont cause extra damage and that you wont later regret.
Anger is a great servant but a terrible master.
What is your view of anger? What expressions of anger do you think are healthy or not? Any tips you can share on how you deal with anger? I'd love to hear any thoughts in the comments.
If you’d like to explore this more feel free to contact me on 07561 047349 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.