Welcome to this week’s instalment of In Therapy.
I have written a mini-series on working through anger, as I find this is an emotion that we as humans find difficult to understand, express and work through.
Anger needs attention, and not just as the bad or naughty step-sister of the emotional world. There is a lot of positive to be said about anger, and in these two posts I’d like to show you what these things are.
What is anger?
The medical dictionary online defines anger as a feeling of tension and hostility, usually caused by anxiety aroused by a perceived threat to one’s self, posessions, rights, or values.
Anger, therefore is a response to a perceived threat. If someone insults us, hits us, breaks our things or something worse, we will probably not be the happiest and react accordingly. This would be understandable and acceptable, depending on how you decide to respond – with aggression or trying to talk to someone after a cooling off period, or taking the matter to the authorities.
Anger is the emotion that people find the most difficult to manage, express and work through. In my practice, I like (for lack of a better word) to see people get angry when they have been wronged instead of blaming themselves or letting it eat at them from the inside.
It frees up that space and energy that has been taken over by the pent-up and unprocessed anger. It allows them to see things in a different light, and to see themselves and others with more compassion, understanding, and place responsibility where it belongs – whether some of it is theirs’ or totally someone else’s.
Sometimes anger is the only response!
We could be angry because we feel oppressed by an abusive family member or a work situation, or a change in circumstances (there are lots of examples of this – Rent goes up, Brexit, The Rohingha refugee crisis, the list goes on). We could be angry because we are trying to make a point or to ask for our needs to be met and our boundaries respected, and people are just not listening! Or we could be angry because someone cut in front of us in the queue, or there’s too much traffic and you are going to be late!
Whatever the reason for our anger, it is reassuring to know that we can apply the same rule we apply with other emotions: it is valid and we should honour the presence of anger when it bubbles up.
Anger is telling us something. Yes, it is not a nice feeling but it is not there at random or for no real reason.
In my care job I have learned that behaviour is a communication – especially with non-verbal people and children, but it can be applied to everyone. Sometimes a child will lash out and hit, kick, scream, break things, because they are angry or upset about something and this is the only way they know how to communicate.
Anger works in a similar way to that: it is telling us something that we have no other way of processing. This is the way the discomfort with someone or something is coming out and paying attention to it is important if we want to move on with our day and lives.
Anger can be scary, especially because of negative models – for example a father that got angry and hit furniture or family members shows a child that anger is a bad thing that is scary and shouldn’t be expressed because it hurts others.
Anger can also scare people because they might feel like they are going to lose control and do something they might regret. Even when there is no proof that this is the case – they’ve never been angry and lost control. In fact quite the opposite or it has just not been as bad as they imagine.
It’s ok to express anger. And here are some reasons why:
It helps your physical health, in that it prevents a range of medical conditions that could be triggered by anger (heart attacks, high blood pressure, etc.)
Expressing anger in a positive way (no aggression or vengeance), talking things through with those who we feel wronged by, will keep our relationships safe and increase the honesty and openness with the person or persons involved.
Expressing and figuring out what anger is telling us will help us process those things that aren’t quite right in our lives and relationships.
We will not accumulate anger and therefore won’t blow up down the line. Working things out in the here and now allows us to keep revenge and rage at bay.
Expressing our anger might allow us to figure out what other emotions anger is actually masking – for example children might seem irritable and angry but they might actually be feeling sad or upset.
In next week’s installment of this mini-series on anger, I want to talk about what channelling our anger can do for us, as well as how to work through our anger when it does show up.