Being Angry is like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die.
Yet sometimes being angry feels so good.
Imagine you’re commuting to work, minding your own business, sipping coffee, listening to music, and thinking about what to make for dinner. Suddenly some $#*& cuts you off or runs a red light and almost hits you. Your mind sharpens, heart races, blood pressure increases. Without thinking you swerve to avoid a collision, and as he passes you give him the finger. Shaken, you feel alive and awake like you’ve just downed a Starbucks Venti with a double express kicker.
Anger and its amplified cousin rage feel good because they help you feel powerful, strong, and back in control. After your rights have been violated and you’re filled with pent up energy from excess adrenaline, losing your temper makes you feel like you’ve taken back your rights.
The up side of anger
Anger isn’t always negative. It’s a normal, adaptive response to an attack or threat that enabled our ancestors to survive.
When used properly it can boost motivation – your desire to get things done. Research shows that you actually want things more when you are angry, and so are more likely to take act.
Scared to move forward? Anger can help you overcome fear and push past obstacles and barriers so that you can accomplish your goals. Plus, while fear is associated with pessimism anger makes you optimistic.
Tuning into all your feelings, including difficult ones like anger, increases intuition and insight. Noticing who and what upsets you can help you avoid people and situations that don’t serve your highest good. By listening to your gut and noticing discomfort you can change your behavior and transform your life so you are happier and more fulfilled.
Understanding and appropriately expressing anger can also improve relationships. When someone hurts you, rather than swallowing or hiding your anger, you can share your feelings and discuss what can be done to right the wrong. Doing so will strengthen your bond and decrease resentment. You may even get your needs met. Letting friends and partners know when you’re justifiably angry can also help you avoid a potentially damaging, violent outburst.
Blocking anger and other difficult emotions also decreases your ability to feel positive emotions like joy, exhilaration, and excitement. Girls and women are often taught not to be angry, which can hurt our mental health. Repressing, rather than expressing or caring for anger, takes a tremendous amount of energy and can leave you feeling drained, depressed, and stuck.
The down side of anger
When you’re angry your adrenal glands pump out cortisol, a hormone that alters mood and drive. It’s Mother Nature’s alarm system, triggering fight-or-flight and preparing you for battle.
Problem is when your buzzer is stuck in overdrive your body and brain start to break down leading to adrenal fatigue, chronic stress, and burnout. Chronic stress and excess cortisol production can trigger health conditions including: heart diseases, insomnia, headaches, anxiety, depression, brain fog, weight gain (especially around the middle), and digestive issues.
Adrenal fatigue is something I see in the women I work with all the time especially people pleasers who have been taught to swallow their anger. It can get so bad that even getting out of bed in the morning becomes difficult.
Lately, I’ve been angry and pissed off, which is very challenging. I’m going through a messy divorce. Almost everyday my X sends me nasty e-mails accusing me of something I didn’t do or demanding that I do something I haven’t. Enraged and out of control himself, he’s baiting me with anger bombs hoping to hook me. It’s a familiar pattern that exhausted me for years. (Click HERE to read about How I Empowered Myself at Midlife and Broke the Cycle)
I don’t want to open them, but my divorce isn’t finalized yet, and there are obligations that need addressing. For example, the other day I received an e-mail from X marked with a big red exclamation mark:
What did you do? You know what the settlement agreement says about the bank accounts, right? I will be calling my lawyer in the morning. Is there an explanation?
What did I do? I opened a bank account to manage my the retirement counts I received from the divorce and redeemed points prior to closing a credit card that X keeps using and expects me to pay for. That’s it. I didn’t rob a bank or attempt to swindle him.
As I write this, my legs are wobbly and my stomach is churning. I want to call him and scream,
Change the credit card number on your Netflick’s account you $(^%#!
How do I process these ugly emotions and take my life back?
Outrage and antagonism are my first response. However, I know that anger harms body, mind, heart, and spirit. Plotting revenge is keeping me up at night. Plus, I’m a Reiki Master and following the five Reiki precepts is part of my spiritual practice. The first is: “Just for today I will not be angry.”
So how do I and how can you handle anger when you know that both suppressing it and expressing it will make things worse for yourself and others? Here are some ideas.
Pause and be patient
How many times have you acted out when you’re angry and regretted it? Avoid that mistake by giving yourself a time out. Take some deep breaths. Relax your body and do something enjoyable that will shift your mood so that you can think clearly.
Please don’t stuff your feelings by eating emotionally. You’ll feel worse after the binge is over. Know that your suffering and painful feelings will pass if you let them flow through you.
When anger shows up, rather than pushing it away get curious. What is this? Why am I feeling this way? Where do I feel rage in my body? What is anger trying to tell or teach me? What are the feelings behind the anger, i.e. if you stripped away the anger and resentment what do you have left? Are you scared, lonely, sad? Now dig deeper. What needs are not being met that is below the softer feelings. The need to be seen, heard, validated, safe, connected, to feel special or loved? How can I direct my anger? What is it teaching me?
The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction. –William Blake
Be completely honest with yourself about the fact that you are furious. Accept and take care of your feelings. Throw out all the garbage that says women shouldn’t be angry. Whatever you are feeling or experiencing is perfectly acceptable.
Figure out what if anything needs and can be addressed. If it’s a relationship issue can you set firmer boundaries? Is it possible, once you calm down, to talk with the individual who hurt you and make sure that your needs are met? Is there someone else you can talk with like a good friend, therapist or coach who can validate you, help you blow off steam or understand and protect your rights? Can you use your outrage to motivate you to change a situation or behavior?
Outraged? Rather than acting out, use that potentially corrosive energy to move your body. Studies show that exercise, even one bout, can help to reduce anger. Going for a run prior to being part of a situation that may make you angry is also smart. Not only will it give you time to think, it will also burn stress and nervous energy so you can stay calm.
My man, Beau – a six-degree black belt and former boxer – is teaching me how to fight. Forget being told “Sugar and spice and everything nice; that’s what little girls are made of.” (Okay keep the spice and change “made” to “mad.”)
At midlife I’m writing a new script and changing my beliefs. Learning to punch and kick is fun and empowering. When I’m angry I do a round or two with Bob, Beau’s punching dummy. Afterwards I feel better, stronger, and empowered, amazed at just how lethal I can be.
Writing is one of the most powerful ways to deal with your difficult emotions. Expressing yourself is cathartic. Not only will you feel better but you will gain insight about your emotions and may even feel empowered.
You may also want to write a litter to the person who has hurt, abused or neglected you. No you don’t need to send it and probably shouldn’t.
Use this template:
I don’t like it when you…
I hate it when you…
I am tired of…
Love/thank you/FU, _____
P.S. What I need to hear from you is…
I know I sound like a broken record, but practicing self-compassion (essentially treating yourself like a good friend) is always a powerful option. No matter how hurt or angry you feel there is always something you can do to feel better.
Start by making a list of how you would like to are for yourself. Then when you are angry choose an item on the list and do it.
Letting to let go is often necessary, but boy is it tough. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not there yet.
A year and a half (and what now feels like decades) ago I wrote a post, “Learn to Let Go” about the topic. I describe yet another fight with my X, and my struggles to let go. At that time I was all about reigning in my “Shadow Self,” the dark part of my psyche that needed healing and wanted to keep fighting.
Like most couples, we had the same fight over and over and over again. Unable to EVER win or even be heard, resentful, and invisible; I swallowed my rage again and again until I couldn’t take it anymore. I mustered the courage and left.
I now realize: Anger is not the enemy. Anger is nothing to suppress or be ashamed of. She’s like a crying baby that needs food, changing, or a hug. Listen and take care of her. By addressing your needs you will grow, glow and find peace.