Take a moment to reflect on the messages that you have about anger. How are you supposed to feel anger? What are you supposed to be angry about? We often grow up thinking that anger is not an appropriate expression of emotion. Your kid is tantruming, or you were tantruming when you were a kid, and you were told, “don’t be angry.” You were told to stop crying, or not to stomp your feet, or possibly to just deal with it.
At a very early age we, especially women, learn that our anger is not an appropriate response, and that it’s something that should be avoided at all costs. Think about how anger was represented in your life, in your childhood, in your family unit. Most of us have been told to shove anger down and push it away.
Anger is an intense emotion. We feel it in our extremities. We feel it at the top of our head, our hands, and feet. Physically it elicits such a huge reaction, and so it’s important to use that energy and do something with it. No amount of deep breathing is going to get you through really intense anger.
You have to meet anger with the same intensity that you’re feeling it in your body and in your mind.
I always encourage clients and friends to meet anger with intensity. So what does that mean exactly? Go punch something, go hit something, yell, scream, stomp your feet. We have to let go of how we think anger “should look”, or how we’re “supposed to” control it and instead, find outlets to express anger in healthy, mindful ways.
The number one most important thing to remember when it comes to anger is that we can not express it towards someone. Work to find outlets for your anger that don’t affect anyone else. It has to be your own internal process. This is really important to teach kids. Don’t yell and scream at someone, yell and scream in your room or at a tree instead.
Give yourself permission to actually release and explode.
The other thing I like to tell people about anger is to plan for angry outbursts. You have to let it out somehow, so release it instead of shoving it down deep. If you don’t have a punching bag, get it. Other ideas could be working out, yelling, etc. For kids, tearing paper, or using a pen to hit cardboard can be really useful.
What we don’t want, however, is for kids to start hurting themselves. Self harm is a common way in which kids deal with anger and intense emotions in a very intense way. Self harm feels like they are either punishing themselves, or it’s a way to transfer the intensity to a different type of feeling — a physical feeling. So if you can do the same thing through punching a pillow, punching a bag, yelling, screaming, stomping your feet — anything that isn’t hurting yourself or other people — that is ideal.
Remember, losing our cool is an impulse; it’s a reaction.
In moments when you feel yourself getting heated, try to take a breath. Not to avoid the anger, but to create space between the stimulus and the response. Taking that breather gives you time to think about and decide how you’d like to respond. Do I really want to yell at my kid, or can I go into my room and yell at the TV instead? Do I need to go take a walk, or can I just let this one go in this moment, and know that I need to readdress my anger later when I have the time and space to do it in a healthy way? It’s about trying to observe, trying to reflect, and trying to step back from our anger before we take action.
It’s also important for us to take a look at what else may be going on beneath the surface.
A lot of times, anger can be a symptom of depression. The reason for this is because when our needs are consistently not being met, we do not feel healthy, happy, and we are not able to do the things that we wish we could or have done in the past. We start feeling lonely, burnt out, possibly not getting as much good sleep. All of these things lead to irritability.
You have to recognize that sometimes anger in the moment feels like you’re mad at one specific event, but in actuality, it is a reflection of needs not being met. When there is a lot of irritability, and a lot of frustration, and a lot of needs not being met, we have to take a deeper look and notice if we’re feeling sad or angry all of the time. Take your irritability and examine it to see if there’s something more going on here. Could this be depression? If so, do I need to seek support to better work through it?
The other thing with anger is that it can be a chronic condition relating to something that’s happened in your past.
Most of us have experienced some type of trauma. That trauma can build up rage and resentment. There are actually studies out there that show a direct correlation between anger and chronic back pain. If you experience chronic back pain, it could be a somatic experience of repressed rage within the body. Mind blowing, right? If we learn to work on our embedded rage, the stuff that we’ve been holding on to for decades, then we may be able to relieve some of the pain and suffering in our physical and, of course, our mental bodies.
We have to examine anger a little bit further.
We have to be reflective. Either working with someone, or doing it through your own journaling, ask yourself: what am I angry about? If I were really being reflective, am I actually angry about this comment or thing that happened, or could my anger be a reflection of that person I loved treating me a certain way when I was 7, 13, 29 years old? Is there an event, a memory, a trauma that you’re holding on to that you’re angry about? If so, how is it serving you? How does it benefit you to hold on to such anger?
A lot of times anger is there to keep us protected. We use it as a shield; a defense mechanism. We think, if I remain angry about this, I’ll never let my guard down again, therefore, I’ll never trust anyone again in that same way. Again, ask yourself, how does it serve me? How does it benefit me? What do I really gain from staying angry towards this person? Anger often shows up as this constant irritability that can lead you to erupt at any moment. Forgiveness is a whole other topic, but maybe asking yourself, can I forgive? Whomever it is that you’re holding on to rage and anger about…can you forgive them?
So, just to recap:
- Observe, and start to poke holes in, how you’ve understood messages about anger in the past, and how you’ve learned to feel and express it.
- Meet anger with the same intensity that you feel it.
- Identify if your irritability is chronic and exists all the time. Could it be a symptom of depression? Or is it a symptom of not getting your needs met/feeling lonely/being stressed out/burnt out/frustrated?
- Dig a little bit deeper into your anger and notice if it’s related to trauma experiences.
At Reset Brain and Body, we examine anger at a macro level, and through a trauma-centered lens. We know just how important it is to address that underlying rage, even in the moments when you don’t realize that you’re holding onto it! It is important to identify how we may be holding on to generational trauma by paying attention to cues in the body — migraines, low back pain, etc. — that may be resulting in rage, resentment, and bitterness.
Thank you to Kerry Biskelonis, LPC, RYT for providing this valuable information. If you have questions, or would like to talk further, please reach out to Reset Brain and Body via their website, facebook page, or by emailing [email protected].