Anger. What is it, why does it happen, and what is the healthiest way to deal with it?
These questions have been coming up as I have carried anger for the past three days. That doesn’t feel good in my body or heart, so I decided to really examine what was happening.
I came up with these key things: four ways to diffuse and heal the anger.
1) Name it.
What am I REALLY feeling? Anger is a secondary emotion – there will be something underneath it. So go through, list the things you feel out loud. “I feel angry because ________.” Keep going until you run out of reasons. Then, dig deeper.
“I feel minimized because _________.”
“I feel used because _________.”
“I feel threatened because _________.”
“I feel betrayed because _________”
“I feel afraid because _______” whatever comes up, name it. For each one, list reasons until you run out of things to say. Let yourself cry if you need to. purge it.
When you have done this, sit silently with your heart and give yourself love. Give yourself approval. Remind yourself that you are safe. No one can harm you or detract from you without your permission.
2) Reach Out.
Connect with other people who remind you how loved and how incredible you are – not necessarily with words, but simply with the way they are happy to be around you.
When we interact with others, the way we relate to them is a reflection of ourselves. We are creatures who project — and that’s why if we find ourselves continually saying negative things about others, if certain words/phrases keep repeating/patterns keep repeating with every relationship, it’s time to examine ourselves. For example, if people say their ex is “crazy,” (they’re likely to say that about all of them), it’s time to take a hard look at their own issues. Or If we are continually suspicious of others, it’s time to do some counseling to heal whatever it is in us that is living in a lack / fear of loss mentality.
So : go interact with the people you have good things to say about. The people you love. The people who make your heart smile. The people who know, love, and bring out the best you.
3) Take Personal Responsibility.
After a time, if the anger cycles and re-cycles, it’s time to examine what it’s trying to tell you. Anger is a signal. I was told once by an incredibly brilliant person that “Anger is a sign that we need more self-care.”
It can also be a signal that our boundaries have been crossed in some way. It can be a signal that we aren’t being true to ourselves.
In my case, I betrayed myself in a huge way. I kept silent. I fell into old people-pleasing behavior and did not speak what I wanted or what I didn’t want; I didn’t speak what I was feeling — I did something that was NOT o.k. with me in that moment.
It was a very horrible, difficult experience, and the rage aftermath was nearly crippling. Apparently I have healed so much that my subconscious is telling me in no uncertain terms, it is NOT ok with self-betrayal anymore.
This anger is mine, I own it, it belongs to me. When you say that, you stop putting it on others. You stop saying “He did ….x,y,z” and listing the actions and circumstances that triggered you into reaction, that were a catalyst for the anger response. We can waste years of life if we continually justify our anger with someone else’s actions — because the focus will always be on something we cannot control. We will be in reaction, telling the harmful actions and choices over like rosary beads, re-opening the wound and reacting again as though it just happened. The stress hormones will flood the body anew. I can feel them come up even now, if I play over in my head the circumstances that led to my anger. This is not healthy for the body or soul, and it keeps us stuck. Stuck in old circumstances that no longer exist (the past does not exist except in our own head, since everyone’s experience of a moment is different!) stuck in reaction, basically — it keeps us a victim.
So. Owning the anger is an empowering thing. I KNOW people can do absolutely horrible things, and depending on the degree of the harm, there may need to be years of processing anger. This is a healing step. But once the healing has occurred and enough time has passed, there is a time to own it all, take responsibility for our emotions, and know that we can make choices. We can’t choose what others do. Sometimes we are truly helpless and someone else’s behavior is deeply violating. What we can choose is how we heal, how we walk forward, how we honor ourselves – how we talk to ourselves from that moment on. We don’t have to take any responsibility for what someone else chooses to do – if they treat us badly, we don’t have to choose to say “They treated me badly because something in me is not worthy of respect,” or “I invited that,” or any other variation of taking blame for someone else’s shitty behavior. No…what we can instead choose is “I love myself/I am incredible/ if they can’t see it, their problem,” and so on. This is owning our anger, owning our response, and knowing that we deserve better and can walk away faster next time.
I uncovered that the person I was truly angry with was myself. I was livid with myself for staying silent, for freezing and complying, falling into a very long-ago established abused-victim behavior. I was furious with myself for being afraid to speak up. Underneath that, I was deadly afraid. If I had betrayed myself again, when would it stop? When would I finally learn my own worth, stop caring so much what others think, and SPEAK UP when something wasn’t ok with me, or when a boundary had been crossed?
This was a harmless, innocent situation, (albeit thoughtless and rude-) and yet the old harms came up due to a chance dynamic. What, I wondered, would teach me to believe in myself and know that I was valuable and speak UP?
The answer is : the anger. The anger is teaching me. The anger is there TO teach me. I just had to stop ratcheting around the room like a burning ping-pong ball, and create stillness. I had to stop running from the anger, I had to stop reaching out to try to communicate with the person I had been angry with, I had to look within and tell it, “Ok, anger, I am listening.”
Every human being is going to experience anger. If we could stop putting shame and fear around it and start listening to what it’s trying to tell us, we might all be healthier with it. Anger in itself is not a bad thing. It’s natural and it’s vital to our survival. What is important is how we use it – if we can create some stillness and listen to it, if our subconscious feels heard and honored, it won’t try so VERY hard to get our attention.
4) Self Care.
Now it’s time to remind ourselves that we are loved — and that we are accepted and whole just as we are, anger and all. When something happens that triggers anger, there is a great vulnerability afterward, and the self-esteem will take a big dip.
We need to feel some solidarity and safety, and the awesome thing is, we don’t need anyone else to give that. We always have that available, because we can give it to ourselves!
A good start to rebuilding self-esteem and feelings of security & being loved is to do some self-care practices. Cook a healthy, delicious meal, or take yourself out on a date! Take a bubble bath, or do some self-massage with oils or scents that soothe you. Take a walk in beautiful surroundings. Write a gratitude list, and really ask your heart to feel the goodness of these things in your life. Exercise – do something that isn’t a punishing chore, but fun and playful! Something you enjoy. Write yourself notes about why you are awesome. Write affirmations (short and sweet!) and say them to yourself while meditating, or while taking a walk.
Do the things that empower you, do the things that make you feel most YOU.
If we feel empowered and safe, we will experience less anger. If we feel loved, we will experience less anger. The constant work is to give these things to ourselves.
I wish everyone healing in this continual process… I know I feel a lot better 🙂