At some point in time anger became a dirty word. Instead of acknowledging that something has made us upset and working through it, we’ve been shamed for feeling provoked. Shame is a powerful feeling that we are flawed, and it can manipulate one into suppressing ‘negative’ emotions to move away from possibly creating conflict. Even though anger can be a primary emotion when our fundamental needs are not being met, such as getting irritated when we’re sleep deprived or hungry, it tends to be a secondary emotion. This means that if you start to unpack the feelings underneath your anger, you are likely to find that you may actually be sad or anxious. Acknowledging that you are sad or anxious can feel overwhelming and lead to you feeling vulnerable. Anger is an emotion that can help turn down that vulnerability and increase your sense of control. But if you struggle against your anger and punish yourself for feeling ‘this way, you miss out on the opportunity to address the underlying causes of your anger, creating a cycle of frustration.
So, how do you break this cycle and learn to truly understand your anger and transform your relationship with it?
Step one: PAUSE.
When we are angry our bodies release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are identical to the one’s that are released when we perceive a threat. If you continue to avoid acknowledging anger, these high levels of adrenaline and cortisol influence your wellbeing. When you notice that you are upset and pause instead of suppress or react, you are teaching your brain to simply observe what is happening in your body and mind instead of engage with it. Naturally, your chemical reactions move toward homeostasis instead of threat.
Step two: IDENTIFY
Ask yourself, “What’s got me so angry?” and “What am I feeling and why?” This is an important step to self awareness. By identifying what is going on you can access your primary emotions more directly and acknowledge the true issue at hand. For example, instead of “I’m pissed and that’s that,” saying, “my partner decided to go out to dinner with his coworkers tonight, and I am feeling lonely.” Now, you have a clearer understanding that your need for connection is not being met and you have the insight into what to address on a deeper level.
Step three: CHOOSE
Consider your options. Create a list of three solutions. This process alone helps foster self control and healthily manages anger. From the example above, you can 1) Ignore your partner when they come home, 2) Send passive aggressive text messages to your partner in the hopes that they will feel guilty and come home 3) Think about what has been making you feel lonely and share your frustration and desire to be supported with your partner.
In summary, anger is not a ‘dirty’ emotion. It is a multidimensional feeling, and looking deeper into it can help give you the clarity and insight you’ve been craving. By following the steps above you can start the process of addressing the underlying emotions of anger and facilitate thoughtful action. It’s time to lean into anger and start listening!