Anger – in my opinion, one of the most important and yet sadly most misunderstood emotions. I’ve written quite a bit about anger here on the blog, and will no doubt continue to do so. Almost every client I’ve ever had needed to go through some type of anger release at one time or another during their healing journey, and it’s a topic that seems to be coming up more and more lately. I firmly believe that more problems are caused by suppressed anger than by any other limiting belief. Our prisons are full of people with anger issues. So are our schools, our workplaces, our roads, our sports stadiums, our hospitals, and just about any place you find unhappy people. Let me be clear about this: Anger isn’t the problem. It’s the solution. Suppressed anger is the problem.
What is anger?
If you’d like to get a better understanding of what anger is and why it’s important, you can check out these blog posts:
For those of you who don’t want to go to all that trouble, here’s a quick recap of what anger actually is:
Anger is the emotional state that pulls you out of powerlessness. It’s not a pretty emotion, but it’s a vital one. When you’re feeling like you have no control over your life, when you feel that bad things just happen to you and there’s nothing you can do about it, when you feel that other people have all the power for some reason you can’t control, you’re going to very naturally begin to feel resentful and angry. Anger isn’t powerless. Anger feels powerful. It’s the emotion that causes you to finally begin to turn the negative focus from yourself outward toward someone or something else.
Now, while the angry state isn’t one in which we’ll want to stay forever, it’s an absolutely vital part of our healing process. Or, to put it more accurately, an inability or unwillingness to experience and express anger in a constructive way keeps us stuck in powerlessness and pain. Anger is healthy and necessary, if you ever want to feel truly better. Again, if you want to know more, please read the blog posts I mentioned above.
Releasing anger requires that we feel it. We have to actually allow ourselves to experience anger in order to let it out. This is where most people lose the plot: they have such strong negative associations with what they think anger is, that they’re absolutely unwilling to let any of it out. The second they have a natural and necessary anger response, they shut it down. They’ve been taught that anger is a bad thing, and they avoid it at all costs. But this is a HUGE mistake.
Anger doesn’t just go away. It’s the body and energy body’s way of pulling us out of pain, out of powerlessness. The longer you stay in powerlessness, the more anger will build up, until one day there’s an uncontrolled explosion. THIS is what most people think anger looks like. But they’re wrong. THIS is what an uncontrolled, DEstructive anger release looks like. And yes, I’ll admit – those are scary as hell.
What we’re after is a CONstructive, controlled and healing anger release.
The three rules of constructive anger
In order for an anger release to be healing, it must follow three important rules:
- Direct the anger OUTWARD. You can direct the anger at anything or anyone you like, EXCEPT yourself. Turning anger on yourself will shut it down. As will feelings of guilt about the anger. A truly CONstructive anger release will not cause guilt. Make sure you keep your focus firmly directed outwards.
- Anything goes. No matter how ugly your thoughts get, not matter how petty, or mean, or hateful, allow them. Entertaining these thoughts will not suddenly turn you into a psycho killer. That’s not how that works. And thinking “I hate him!” will not negate the love you generally feel for him. Using someone you love to help you release anger is not disloyal (no, not even when they’re dead) or damaging to them. This is about you shifting how you feel. A well-executed, constructive anger release will leave you feeling MUCH, MUCH better than you may have ever thought possible.
- Do it alone, if at all possible. This rule exists for two reasons:
- There’s no good reason to spew your anger all over someone. This will, in fact, make it much harder for you to have a healing anger release. You might start off letting out a bunch of angry words, but the second you lose a little bit of steam, you’ll begin to feel guilty for having hurt the other person and you’ll shut yourself down.
- Most people will not be able to handle your anger. They won’t understand it. They’ll think the anger is about them and they’ll do their best to shut you down. And, if you’re like most people, you’ll let them.
Of course, there are going to be situations in which you’re going to get angry in someone’s presence. If it’s a stranger, you can always just walk away from them and go have your anger release in private. But, what about when your partner or parent or child makes you angry? What if you’re right in the middle of an anger release before you even notice what happened? What if you simply can’t walk away? Can you still save the moment and make it constructive, or is it better to just soothe the other person and deal with it later?
When others shut your anger down
It’s very, very rare for someone to have grown up in a family where anger was not only allowed, but encouraged. Most parents squashed any sign of anger, thinking it was harmful or inappropriate. My own mother used to squash our anger when I was little. Whenever my sister or I got mad, she’d get even madder, intimidating us into not being angry anymore.
A few years ago, when we all got together in the same city for a family wedding, we were all sitting around one afternoon, catching up. My sister and I started teasing each other, but as is so often the case with siblings, our teasing had a bit of an edge to it. Her words were triggering me just a bit. I was actually much more annoyed than angry, but that was close enough for my mom to interfere (keep in mind we were all well into adulthood at this point) and try to shut the anger down. And in that moment something wonderful happened, something that changed our little family’s relationship forever.
I exploded. And then I had an epiphany. The two events were only seconds apart, and in fact, I had my epiphany by listening to what was coming out of my mouth.
I turned to my mom and yelled at/pleased with her: “You never let me be angry! Why won’t you let me be angry? You always just shut us down! I need you to let me be angry. This has nothing to do with you. Why are you making this about you? Why are you getting involved at all? WE were having a discussion between the two of us (my sister and I). Why are you making this about you?”
My mom looked at me with stunned silence. But then, as she thought about it, she realized that she never allowed herself to be angry, either. She’d grown up with an angry father who had explosive outbursts, and would take his anger out on anyone in proximity, whether they deserved it or not. And, she’d always associated anger with pain and suffering. In her mind, she’d been trying to protect us from that suffering by shutting down our anger. My little outburst had brought this thought process to the surface. It opened the door to have one of the most authentic conversations we’d ever had. Not only that, but it led to some massive healing for all of us.
This realization was all it took for my mom to be able to allow anger in her presence and not personalize it. But it was also incredibly important for me to have expressed my frustration at not being allowed to be angry. It gave me a whole different understanding of why I’d suppressed and internalized so much of my anger over the years, not just with my family, but with everyone. If my mom wasn’t there to shut down my anger, I ended up doing it myself. Did I HAVE TO allow someone to squash my anger? No. But I hadn’t known that. And of course, neither had the rest of my family. But now we did, and with that knowledge came power.
Anger isn’t supposed to build up
My mom was sort of right about one thing: Anger can feel painful. But it’s not the anger that causes the pain, it’s the suppression of anger that causes all the problems. If all goes well, we have an experience that makes us feel a little bit powerless, we get angry, throw a little tantrum, feel better and move on. In a perfect world, anger releases would be immediate and last for seconds. But that’s not how we normally roll, is it? By squashing our anger, we put a lid on a pressure cooker that’s sitting on a flame. The pressure’s just going to build and build until one day it has no choice but to explode. When we constructively release anger, however, it’s like we’re doing a controlled release – we’re slowly letting the steam out, so that it doesn’t have to explode. The pressure decreases and we feel a lot better.
When you understand how to vent anger in a healthy way, you never have to let it build up again. Not only that, but you can get rid of old, suppressed anger without doing any damage.
Releasing anger in front of others
While anger releasing is best done in private, it is absolutely possible to have a constructive experience with another person present. The key is to provide all involved parties with a clear understanding of what anger is all about. Remember that no one is shutting down your anger on purpose. There are merely reacting from their own misunderstanding about what anger is. Here are the rules:
- Keep in mind that if you’ve attracted someone into your experience who won’t “allow” you to be angry, it’s almost certainly a sign that you’re not comfortable with releasing anger.
- Do your best to talk about how YOU feel, not what they’ve done wrong. If you want to accuse them of hurting you, do this alone. You cannot expect anyone to just sit there while you make them responsible for how you feel. This isn’t about them. They may have triggered you, but the thing you’re REALLY angry about has nothing to do with them. It’s all about you and how you’re looking at them, at yourself or the world. Remember that anger is a healing reaction to powerlessness. What is it you’re feeling so powerless about?
- Request permission to get angry in their presence. You’re never really angry at someone, you’re merely angry in their presence. If you’re living with someone who shuts down your anger the second you show any signs of allowing it, have a chat with them when both of you are calm and open to hearing the other. Explain to them that you do need to be angry, that everyone does, and that even if you’re angry while in the same room as them, it’s never going to truly have anything to do with them. Also explain that if they make it about them by trying to make you feel guilty or by getting insecure, you’re not going to react well. Of course, you’ll want to return the favor and not make their anger about you.
- Respect what they can handle. If you have a partner or loved one who simply cannot detach from your anger, even once they understand that it’s not about them and that this is a healing process, then do your best not to be angry in their presence. Go for a walk. Go to the other room. Explain to them that you’re going off to be angry and that you’ll be back when you’re calmer. If they follow you and try to squash your anger, give them the speech I shared with you above.
- Stand up for your right to be angry. Your partner or anyone who spends a lot of time with you needs to allow you to be angry. They don’t need to put up with you yelling at them or taking that anger out on them. They get to set their own boundaries. But they don’t get to just jump in and squash your anger. The key here is not to force someone to be your anger release buddy. It’s to send the message to yourself that you are absolutely allowed to be angry. You are allowed to FEEL anger and, in fact, you must if you ever want to be truly happy. You have to allow your emotions.
When you truly recognize that you get to be angry, and you adopt this realization to the point where you won’t allow the discomfort or lack of understanding of others to stop your anger release, you’ll often find that something miraculous happens: the people in your reality will become much more allowing of you in general. Communication between you will improve. Honestly, I’ve seen this one realization save several relationships and greatly improve countless more. I’ve witnessed people letting go of years of guilt, shame, unworthiness, grief, self-blame and a whole host of other emotions in just a couple of hours (Best. Job. Ever.). In fact, I’ve NEVER seen any process as powerful as and with a greater potential to affect positive change in less time than a well-executed anger release.
Remember: Releasing anger is healing. Just make sure it’s a constructive release. If you’re spewing your rage all over someone and they don’t like it, that doesn’t mean you should shut down the anger. Just stop releasing it all over them. Go off by yourself and be angry. Journal angry words. Write angry letters that you’ll never send. Indulge in fantasies of flinging your arch nemesis out of a bar window. There is never anything wrong or inappropriate about anger. Not all methods of expressing it will be acceptable, but the anger itself is healthy. Practice releasing it in a constructive way, and I promise you, it will change your life.
Need an anger release buddy? I just opened up my June coaching schedule and have several spots free. If you’ve been considering a coaching session contact me for further information.