Do you struggle with anger? It’s one of the hardest and most misunderstood emotions for many people. Maybe you feel so uncomfortable when you get angry that you suppress your anger. Or maybe you have a hard time controlling your anger and it’s a destructive force in your life. Either way, you are not truly in control of your anger. Anger in our culture and in many cultures is seen as a “bad” emotion. People often grow up with the message that it’s wrong to be angry. Women in particular are given the message that they are not “nice” if they are angry.
And it is not without reason that people are taught to fear their anger. If you think about the powerful feeling of anger itself, when it is misdirected or not wisely in check, we know that it can fuel extremely destructive behavior that can cause harm to others.
So how do you make sense of anger? And how do you work in a healthy way with your own anger?
Let’s look at some ways people commonly relate to their anger.
What is my relationship with my anger?
Perhaps you learned early on to suppress your anger and that has become your characteristic way of handling your anger as an adult. When you feel degrees of anger-annoyance, irritation, frustration, indignation, fury, rage-all of it gets stuffed. You might tell yourself at the slightest sign of anger that it’s not okay to feel that way, it’s not safe to let yourself feel anger, people may not like you, or you might lose your relationships. If you’re someone who suppresses your anger, it can feel very threatening to think about allowing yourself feel angry.
The problem is suppressed anger has some very detrimental effects. It’s related to depression, it can contribute to physical illness, and it causes chronic difficulties in relationships. People who suppress their anger have a hard time setting boundaries and asserting their needs in their relationships.
Or you might be someone who has a fiery temper and becomes easily enraged at the slightest provocation. This might cause conflict in your relationships, people might become hurt by your words and actions, you might find yourself losing jobs because you cannot keep your anger in check. If you struggle with anger in this way, you might feel a lot of regret or guilt after your temper dies down. So you have the added problem of dealing with those emotions too.
The effects of uninhibited expressions of anger are clear: destructiveness and the cycle of guilt and shame.
How can I understand my anger?
Let’s first make a distinction between the feeling of anger and the action you take as a result of it. When we talk about anger, we’re talking about the feeling and not the expression of the feeling. People often merge the two, which might cause you to shut down the emotion because you’re afraid you will act destructively. But let’s talk about just the feeling itself.
The emotion of anger is not good or bad. It is a neutral emotion just like any other. It provides information about the world around you that is valuable. For example, when you feel angry, it might indicate to you that someone has violated a personal boundary of yours. It might indicate that an injustice has occurred or that something is happening that is not okay for you. When you ignore your anger, you shut out a vital source of information that is crucial in helping you navigate the world.
You have to be able to feel anger before you can know if and how you want to take action on it.
Can I have a healthy relationship with my anger?
It is possible to have a healthy relationship with your anger. It usually takes time and a lot of work because our patterns are deeply ingrained, but consider these ideas to start to orient yourself in a healthy way towards your own anger:
You anger can help fuel progressive and productive action in your life. When you can feel your anger and have the ability to decide how you want to channel it, it is a source of powerful momentum in your life. It propels you towards constructive and even creative action. You might start to ask for what you want in your relationships, you might set better boundaries with unhealthy people in your life, you might speak out and use your voice more, you might use it to work towards causes that matter to you.
In order to do this, you must allow yourself to feel your anger within a safe place. Therapy, particularly group therapy, is a fantastic way to work on feeling and understanding anger. It provides an interpersonal space that allows experimentation with anger and its expression. It’s important to understand that you can allow yourself to feel the emotion without taking action on it.
Once you understand your anger and have control of it, you can learn healthy expressions of it that work in your life. You will no longer carry toxic anger in your body that affects your health. You might notice your depressive and anxious symptoms improve. You might even learn to enjoy this powerful emotion!
To learn more about how understanding your anger in group therapy, click here.