We are given ALL of our emotions for a reason. However, many times people struggle with the idea that anger can be appropriate or reasonable. When people are struggling with anger, they are in one of two places: 1. Anger is the only acceptable emotion, or 2. I shouldn’t feel anger/don’t want to be an angry person (often the root of the second is, “anger is dangerous”).
Emotions help educate us, help tell us things. Even anger.
There are primary and secondary emotions. Primary emotions are emotions that we feel immediately after something happens. Secondary emotions are emotions that cover the primary emotion. At times we subconsciously resort to a secondary emotion because our primary emotion may be more vulnerable to share or express.
Anger is an emotion that can be both primary and secondary. That can be helpful to understand, because sometimes our experience of anger is an immediate response to an event that has happened and other times anger protects a more vulnerable emotion. An example of anger as a primary emotion would be if someone were to cause physical harm, anger would be a natural first emotion. An example of anger as a secondary emotion would be if someone were to neglect to respond to a message for a long period of time, one might first feel ignored or insignificant, and then also feel anger or frustration. When anger stirs inside your body because a boundary has been crossed or a value of yours has been violated, then it is likely that anger is a primary emotion related to that event. Anger helps us by pushing us up and out. It is the “Mama Bear” mode that helps us protect ourselves and our loved ones.
Recognizing when our anger is layered can help us to get to the root cause of distress. As such, anger signals us that there is some need that is not being met, that there is a boundary that has been crossed, or that we are not protected in some way. As with all emotions, anger is neither good nor bad. Emotions are simply one source of information that clues us in to what’s going on internally and externally. If we can hold space for our anger, we can be privy to valuable information about what we need.
In relating to anger then, it’s important to find ways to tune in and calm the sensation of anger enough to be able to hear the message underneath. Anger can be part of our stress response, so before we’re able to be calm, there might be a need to complete the stress cycle by expelling the energy from the body in a healthy way. (See the list below for ideas on how to do that.)
Anger often points to where we have poor boundaries within relationships, and when we can become aware of that anger without judgement, then we can consider how to address those boundaries through conversations with the other person that can be productive and connecting instead of reactive.
When anger goes awry, it can be detrimental to those very loved ones you are trying to protect. So in order to use your anger in a healthy way, ask yourself, “What am I trying to preserve/protect here?” If there isn’t a clear answer to that question, it may be that anger is covering up another more vulnerable emotion. If there is a clear answer, such as, “I want to protect my child’s health.” Then you can sift through your options for preserving and protecting your child’s health.
Sometimes, the anger can be ringing so loudly that it is difficult to get clear on that answer until you have moved your body up and out physically, or, “gotten big” so to speak. This mirrors what we see in nature. Some animals will stand to make themselves look bigger, dogs will raise their hackles to look more threatening, etc. So check out the list below to get some ideas for how to healthily use your anger-energy.
Once you’ve completed the stress cycle with the anger-energy, we can utilize anger as a guide rather than something to be avoided or wielded. It’s helpful to use anger in this way to guide us to what is good for us, to discover what it is we need, as well as what is not good for us. Using the information your anger has given you, you can bring it to the rest of your system (all the parts of you) and make an integrated decision. Remember, the information anger gives is only one part of the puzzle.
Guidelines on this: Safety first! Physical aggression toward another person or ourselves is never okay. Below are some ideas for you to get your anger out in healthy ways.
Kicking a soccer ball
Going to a secluded place and screaming to the sky or into a pillow
Take a kickboxing class
Break some old dishes in a safe environment
Go for a run to let your lungs expand.
Right/left brain integration activities (like binaural beats in headphones, running or walking, etc.)
Engaging the senses
Talking it out in therapy
This is often a natural next step after some of the energy has been spent physically.
What is the anger made of? (Oftentimes anger is a conglomerate of other emotions, including hurt and sadness. As we get to know these emotions in their raw state, anger usually changes or how we see anger changes.)
What is anger trying to do for me? (Oftentimes it is a protector. Can we validate that?)
Where do I feel the anger?
Where is the anger directed?
Is the anger about me? About someone else? Is it directed at yourself, at others, or at a particular person?
Sit down with your anger as a Part (think Inside Out) and talk it out, journal, or draw whatever you feel anger is trying to communicate with you.
Thank the angry part of you. (As we do, anger often tends to step back and let other things in or let the core Self lead again.)
One of the most dangerous things about anger is that it is often the only socially acceptable emotion for a man to show. We wonder why men rage and seem to be “violent”, but we often do not teach our boys that we ALL experience shame, fear, hope, joy, and any number of emotions, in addition to anger. These painful emotions are often feminized (for example, boys are called “wussies” or laughed at for being “like a girl” if they cry, or are told that they need to “be a man.”
Metabolizing anger requires one to accept that anger is a normal human emotion. It is a natural defensive or activating reaction that is there for our protection. Anger is necessary for survival. Maybe you feel more comfortable with the words “annoyed” or “frustrated.” If you don’t think of yourself as ever getting angry, can you consider the patterns of frustration or withdrawal you have in your life and relationships? Perhaps these are clues to where you are angry but feel unable to express that anger.
When we are in relational situations and we misinterpret the level of danger we are in, sometimes we go off on another either verbally or physically and thus harm them either in body or spirit. If you feel angry almost all the time, perhaps this is a clue to spend some time caring for your inner self and addressing areas of depression and anxiety that perhaps you have been unable to confront with kindness in the past. Use some of the ideas above to dig in and get curious about why anger keeps popping up for you, rather than allowing anger to become a problem.
So many times we want to react out of anger, when what we really need is to respond out of anger. Responding involves more thought, wise mindedness, and keeps our integrity intact.
Ultimately, our hope is that we can find meaning in the anger and come to a place where we all feel like we have some choice in our anger.
If you’d like to dive deeper into your anger and want help, don’t hesitate to reach out (contact us). We’d love to walk alongside you through this process.
~The Phoenix Counseling Collective