- What are some of the unhealthy ways that you respond to anger? Which behaviors that are born out of anger do you need to put in check? (e.g. throw things, yell, stuff it, perfectionism, make nice, turn it on yourself, etc.)
- How do you bury, avoid, or stuff your feelings?
- What do you believe will happen if you express your anger?
- How can anger be beneficial?
- If you were to give yourself permission to feel angry, what would you say to yourself?
November 10, 2011
Anger That Sucks You Dry
When it comes to how we treat our feelings, particularly anger, we often spend much of our time burying them, avoiding them, or looking the other way. If we try to approach difficult feelings, we experience another very powerful feeling – anxiety. We fear that we will just explode, like a volcano, if we express these feelings. Also, we may believe we won’t be able to cope or manage if we allow ourselves to really feel these emotions.
Notice, anxiety is not so much the fear of what will happen or the unknown. It is, however, the fear that we will not be able to cope with what might happen! We buy into the false belief that we don’t have the capacity to feel these emotions and survive or respond in ways that are healthy. This keeps us stuck in a cycle of pushing away the feelings that need to be expressed in order to recover or heal from a hurt.
As you explore the anger you feel (particularly if it is tied to past abuse), remember not to judge the feeling. You are quite justified in feeling angry. However, the work to be done here is to explore how you behave as a result of your anger, where your anger is getting in the way of you keeping your word, and what you can do to balance the anger with positive emotions.
I was one angry redhead…
Of all of the emotions that have come up as a result of the abuse I experienced, anger – well, really, rage – has been the thorn in my side.
After my mother discovered what was going on, she and my father were great. They immediately got my grandfather out of the house and got me into counseling. Around week three of counseling, the therapist asked me what it was I thought had caused the abuse. Here I am, a little ten year old girl being asked to explain what I still can’t explain to this day!* I was so angry, I stormed out of the office and refused to go back. My parents were dismayed and tried to get me to see other therapists, but I wasn’t having it. Not really sure how to handle things, my parents, in my view, simply withdrew from the battle.
This left me feeling abandoned and further reinforced my belief that I had to make my way on my own. From that point on, I was on the defensive – ready to attack. I would have outbursts of anger that included slamming doors, breaking things, and even sometimes hurting my own body. It was not a pretty picture.
The raging continued well into my 20s. One day, I sat down and wrote my own “spew” letter. I let fall onto paper all of the fears I had about being alone, being rejected, the hatred I felt for my abuser, the lack of connection I had felt in my life.
Eight pages and lots of tears later, I was met with one very profound realization – my life was being sucked dry by the anger. That day, I decided enough was enough and made a commitment to have peacefulness and joy in my life. My first step was to start saying out loud every day, “I am peaceful and joyful.” When I started, the words felt like steel wool on my tongue. After a month, I could say it and partially believe it. After three months, I felt a sense of ease and comfort that I thought I’d never feel again. After six months, I was no longer filled with rage.
It wasn’t all just about the words. I had to challenge my false beliefs about being abandoned, rejected, and alone, too.
Today, I still “go redhead” from time to time – but I never rage in the way I used to – as if the world is out to get me and I have to fight with everything inside of me to survive. I go for a walk, I read a book, I take a nap until I feel grounded and able to process what’s going on. And, yes, sometimes, I manage perfectly. Other days, not so much. Either way, I know that my feelings are just feelings, and I can choose how I will respond and what I want to give priority to.
*Notice how that moment in the therapist’s office is so filled with story. He asked me a question, and, while perhaps not put very well, I immediately latched on to the idea that he, too, thought it was my fault and just wanted me to admit. Even back then, my stories were in play.
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