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People are frequently surprised when they hear that the number 1 reason my clients schedule an appointment is because they are tired of being so angry. Ironically if you were to meet these clients, they are the sweetest, kindest people you will meet. But inside they are seething, and frequently it is those closest to them who bear the brunt of the anger. It is a hidden epidemic because most people in their lives don’t know it exists.
Anger is one of the most misunderstood emotions. We are taught that ‘good girls’ don’t have anger and in response to that teaching we tend to have 2 reactions to anger. Stuff it or take it out on someone else.
Stuff it: A client from a few years ago, had just found out her husband had cheated on her, and she came in to deal with it. After she had told me the story, filled with sacrifices she had made and the countless ways he had treated her poorly, I asked, how she felt hearing the story. And she replied, “I am just hurt.” “Hurt,” I said, “that is understandable. I for one am pretty angry,” and she looked at me completely startled “Angry?” she asked. And I said, “Yes, in hearing this story I am angry at your husband for treating you this way.” She immediately started crying and in a small, meek voice said, “Me too, I am just not comfortable saying it.”
We spent a large chunk of our time together helping her learn how to feel and express anger in a healthy way. Learning how to find her voice. Speak up for herself. Recognize what anger felt like and how to share it in healthy productive ways.
Spread it: Or maybe you are ok with your anger. A former client of mine was very comfortable with her anger. She would yell at her kids, belittle her husband and tell anyone she knew how she was feeling about them. She didn’t enjoy expressing herself in this way, but she had vowed to herself after watching her mother be so meek and mild to her father that she wasn’t going to walk through life without expressing herself. She and I spent much of our time together working on healthy ways to express her anger. Her work was spent on figuring out what was at the root of her anger. Frequently what we THINK we are angry about is merely a trigger to what is happening in the present moment. We might be yelling at our child for missing the bus, but we are frustrated because by them missing the bus we are feeling like less of a parent. There are a number of inappropriate ways of expressing anger: Passive aggressive, talking behind someone’s back, yelling at someone, hitting someone, or belittling someone.
How to deal with anger productively.
Own it. Anger is as much a part of life as joy and sadness. The more we try to avoid our anger the more it pops up.
Express it. If you are filled with rage, let it out in a safe way. Throw dishes, throw eggs, hit a pillow, scream at the sky, write a nasty letter and burn it, turn up the music and dance your ass off. Do something physical that is not directed at another person to release it from your body.
Share it calmly. Share it with a friend, partner or loved one. Sharing can help you get to the cause of the anger, the source. It is important to do this AFTER you have expressed it. During the conversation, if you realize that you are taking the anger out on the person you are talking to–repeat step 1.
Take steps to heal it. If it is an unexpressed need, express the need and work toward getting it filled. If it is an injustice, share the injustice and work to resolve it. If it is a shame trigger, work to heal your past. Take PRODUCTIVE action. (Yes, I know WAY easier said than done.)
Common causes of anger: people-pleasing, perfectionism, jealousy, shame, feeling powerless, frustration, loss, overwhelm, exhaustion.
Anger doesn’t need to be feared. Anger is a healthy, normal, part of life. Anger shows us when we are feeling wronged, and when we express it productively, we can change ourselves and the world.