10 things you should really know about anger
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Matt Fox - Psychosynthesis Counsellor MBACP (Accred)
10th June, 20170 Comments
Anger gets a bad rap a lot of the time. In its worst forms, it can be a channel for aggression or violence. It can create pain and fear in others. So it’s not surprising that you might think of it as a negative emotion.
Culturally, you could also say that anger is frowned upon. Think about a lot of our everyday language and you might get the impression it is something to be avoided. For example: ‘Keep a cool head’; ’don’t overreact’; ‘keep a lid on it.’. These all suggest turning away from anger.
And yet...maybe there might be something important missing in your life if you don’t give anger a healthy outlet.
Why? Well, anger is incredibly important in maintaining boundaries, keeping safe and also - and perhaps most unexpectedly - feeling at your most alive.
Curious about why you need to welcome anger into your life? Here are 10 things you really need to know about anger.
1) Being angry is ok - acting out isn’t
Everyone has a right to be angry. Things happen to us throughout our lives, right across the scale from the trivial to the tragic. Anger is one of the appropriate responses, whether it’s bumping into furniture and stubbing your toe, or something more extreme like being mugged or burgled, hit in an accident or losing someone precious.
What isn’t ok is acting out your anger. If the feeling overwhelms you and you lash out or become excessively aggressive, the anger is ruling you. It also probably means that what is at the heart of your anger isn’t really being heard by others. It’s got lost in the fog of rage.
There are some really simple techniques to help with anger that gets acted out, such as walking away from the situation for a few minutes, counting to 10 or taking a few deep breaths. The key is to create a little bit of space between you and the anger so that you control it, rather than it controlling you.
2) Anger is part of what makes you feel alive
If you are feeling low or down about life, or just distracted, I’m willing to bet that getting angry takes you away from those feelings. Chances are, when you’re in touch with your anger, you feel very alive. In fact, being angry is a great way of connecting with your life force and vitality. Obviously, you can’t feel that way all the time and it wouldn’t be appropriate to, but being able to come into anger is usually a sign you can also feel your aliveness.
3) Anger is a powerful way of saying no
If you feel yourself becoming angry with someone, it might be helpful to think about whether you’re actually setting a boundary. The boundary might be saying a clear ‘no’ to how they are behaving towards you, whether physically or emotionally. At the most basic level, this could be someone jostling you in your personal space; at a more complex level, it could be how people are in relation to you - for example, always taking advantage, treating you as invisible or something else that feels undermining. All this can trigger the anger that says ‘no, this isn’t ok.’
4) Suppressing anger can lead to depression
If you find it difficult to get in touch with anger, you may also have symptoms of depression. One way of seeing depression is the ‘pressing down’ on feelings you find it hard to feel. Constantly tuning out anger and putting a lid on it can be a cause and symptom of depression.
5) Passive aggression is anger by the back door
Prolonged sulks, silences, slamming doors with a smile, muttering under your breath, saying one thing but really wanting or meaning another are all signs of passive aggression. That’s anger that you can’t express directly, probably because you learnt early on in life that it wasn’t safe to say it directly. It’s probably one step up from not feeling it at all, but it’s unlikely to win you friends or get your needs met.
6) Never showing anger isn’t healthy
When someone says, ‘I never get angry’, they may be incredibly laid back, but it would be unusual never to flare up in your life. It’s likely that you’d be putting a lot of energy into not feeling that anger, and your body would be taking a hit with that too: exhaustion, illnesses and low mood can all be the consequence of not giving expression to healthy anger.
7) Managing anger isn’t about not being angry
There’s this myth that, if you do anger management training, it’s about not getting angry. To an extent that’s true: understanding triggers and flashpoints can be helpful for avoiding them in the future. Equally, though, it’s about containment and appropriate expression of anger. Inevitably that means getting to know how your anger is awakened and how it manifests in your body, as well as mind and feelings. But no-one has the right to take away your right to be angry.
8) If you can’t express anger it might be a struggle to experience other feelings too in their full intensity
If you’re adept at dowsing the fires of your anger, then it’s quite possible that you also turn the volume down on other feelings and allow them to be rather muted. We don’t possess selective switching on or off of feelings - they come as a package.
9) Anxiety sometimes masks anger (and sadness and fear)
If your someone who experiences a lot of anxiety, there might be a correlation with not feeling much anger or sadness or even fear. Anxiety is sometimes a masking feeling which blocks out the experience of those deeper more painful feelings. So if you’re feeling anxious, it might be helpful to ask yourself ‘am I feeling anger, sadness or perhaps even fear under my anxiety?’
10) Anger isn’t a ‘bad’ feeling
I quite often hear people talk negatively about anger as if it were a bad feeling or an undesirable one. If you grew up in an environment where you weren’t allowed to be in touch with your anger or you were in the presence of someone whose anger was very scary, you might have internalised the idea that anger is bad. Sorry to spoil the party, but it really isn’t. It might be difficult at times, scary if acted out, but really it isn’t a bad feeling. Like all other feelings, it’s at the heart of feeling alive.
If you find it hard to be in touch with anger, struggle with passive aggressive behaviour or, at the other extreme, find it hard to control your anger appropriately, then counselling can really help with some simple techniques as well as helping you understand why you respond as you do. You can start to change your relationship to your anger, and with that, your relationship to others when you get angry.
About the author
Matt Fox is a BACP accredited psychosynthesis counsellor in private practice. He works with adult men and women, with a particular interest in working with adult children of narcissistic parents and those who've experienced childhood emotional neglect.
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