Recovery Messages & News

Exploring Your Relationship with Anger

Are you mad? Exploring your relationship with anger
By Paige Abbott, Registered Psychologist
For many, emotions are tricky business. For people with Addiction, they are something to be minimized, avoided, exaggerated, or compartmentalized at the expense of self and health. While there are many emotions, today I choose to focus on Anger.

What is anger? It is a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, frustration, or hostility. It is also a valuable source of information. Anger tells us when our needs are not being met or when we are being violated or hurt in some way. Anger is a primary emotion, as evidenced well in the Disney movie ‘Inside Out’ where  Anger is one of five primary emotions that we experience (the others being joy, sadness, fear, and disgust). Many people shy away from anger, worried of where it will take them. Ironically, it is the avoidance or repression of anger that is most likely to generate these outcomes. Only when we ignore our anger (or when we are being violated) do people tend to lash out later, whether through physical or emotional outbursts that can create more harm for self as well as others. Anger tells us when we are not having needs met and it can also provide information to other feelings we are experiencing as well. I like the analogy of anger as an iceberg-meaning the initial feeling of being angry is obviously on the surface, but below the surface are a whole bunch of other feelings that have fed into or been generated by that anger. Examples may include shame, fear, sadness, rejection, abandonment, loneliness, isolation, disappointment, hurt, disgust.

How do you get more comfortable with anger? As we say a lot around the HUM office, you have to let the feelings come before you can let them go. This is also true of anger. Feeling anger does not mean going around in a rage and acting out towards others, it can mean using the same tools and strategies that you use with other feelings to cope. Taking a time out, or time to sit, breathe, walk around, and let some time pass before revisiting the situation or feeling can be helpful if it seems like the anger will prompt you in an acting out direction. It is essential that you come back to the feeling, however, rather than ignore it. Journalling about the feeling-what other feelings are connected to the anger, how it feels in your body, how you are feeling right at that moment-is very helpful in allowing you to develop a connection with this feeling. Dealing with anger may also involve setting boundaries and taking action to remove yourself from unhealthy people or situations where you are being violated or needs are not being met. Sometimes it is only in creating this space that we can safely and truly feel the feelings. Talking with others to process anger and the related feelings is also very helpful. If anger is particularly scary to you, start with less threatening situations (for example when you are cut off in traffic or someone takes your seat in the movie theatre) rather than trying to immediately deal with higher threat (or perceived higher threat) situations, which usually involve loved ones and people we are immediately close to.

This is a start to exploring your relationship with the essential feeling of anger. It will provide you valuable information about yourself and your relationships if you are open and willing.

All the best in your feelings journey. Keep talking-it does work!