It hurts and makes us suffer but trying to let go of our anger is like trying to let go of our liver or kidney. We simply can’t remove integral parts of ourselves.
Our anger will always be there as it is a core emotion responsible for getting us to mobilize our energies to get what we need in life, to right a wrong or to defend ourselves.
So even if we could we wouldn’t want to let it go as it is vital to our well-being. Nor do we want to repress it, shut it down or turn it inwards (swallow it). That only hurts us.
Instead we want to see that it’s there and learn to work with it. Our anger is information and is always telling us that something important in our lives needs our attention.
Maybe you choose the wrong career and you don’t know why you are so moody. In that case your anger is there to tell you to examine your decision again and reconsider your career path.
Maybe you have a difficult time standing up to your spouse and you wonder why you have migraines every evening. Especially if you’ve been “taking him/her” for years. Your anger is beneath the surface but still shut down so it stews in your jaw and temples and causes you pain and unnecessary stress.
Maybe your best friend of 15 years hasn’t been treating you all that well during your time together and you worry if you say something the relationship will be at risk. You feel trapped and so your anger is there to tell you that your situation is unacceptable and that you need to do something.
The solution to all of the above situations is to manage your anger, and not to let it go.
To let it go would mean to try to forget all about it and focus on the positive aspects of your relationship with your friend. To continue on “as is” with them would mean you would have your anger buried deeper than it was before, even more out of sight.
You would feel some relief letting it go at first as you would avoid the uncomfortable confrontation that would occur, but the anger wouldn’t go anywhere just because you let it go. It’s still there, always stressing you out in some way, manifesting as some symptom or stress.
How to Manage your Anger
Most people don’t know how to manage their anger because our society usually frowns upon that emotion. It’s scary and uncomfortable and so we tend to try to distract from it or find ways of making it “go away” like taking up gratitude journals.
We associate anger with being violent or destructive and so we label the emotion of anger as “bad” when really it is the most helpful emotion we have. Now if we take our anger and get violent with it then we are not managing it properly – unless we are defending ourselves from an attack, in which case using our anger to be violent is healthy.
But generally anger is not an emotion that we use to hurt other people. Usually we turn it inward and hurt ourselves.
That’s why we feel trapped by it.
The first step in managing our anger is to learn to feel and become aware of it. Most of the time it’s unconscious and we only really know there’s a problem when we have that migraine or sore back we can’t explain.
To get in touch with it we can:
– Ask ourselves open ended questions such as, “What’s bothering me today?” Sit with something like that and see what comes up. If nothing is then ask, “Who’s bothering me today? What about them is bothering me? At what point did I become angry with them?”
– Sit with your body. Ask yourself what usually happens with your body when you become angry. What behaviors do you adopt, if you tend to overeat (emotional eating) or start cleaning or snap at your family members. Look for the signs your body gives you that indicate you have anger you’re doing nothing with.
– Think about what you need to do (or say) that you’re not doing. If you know you’re mad at your mother or boss for example, think about all of the things you are not doing and not saying. Are you not saying “no” when you need to? Afraid to ask for a raise?
Those are just some starter ideas to help you become more in touch with your anger. You can also go to therapy, group therapy, journal and talk about this with trusted family members and friends.
Talking to friends is free and easily available. You don’t have to share intimate details about your life but just saying something to the effect of, “I’ve recently realized that whenever my mother comes over I have a headache that lasts an hour. Does that happen to you?”
You’d be surprised at how people will take to a conversation like that and how much they’ll share about themselves. Engaging with them like that allows you to see how they deal with their anger and perhaps it will give you insights into things you never knew you did. By seeing them you start to wonder if you do the same.
And if you don’t get anything from their experience at least you are spending time thinking about and feeling your anger a bit more which will eventually get you to the place where you will want to start to do something about it.
All that can happen simply by talking with others.
Using your Anger Productively
To use your anger productively means that you do something with it that is good for you. Usually it’s good for the other person or people too. They may not like you becoming assertive but it’s generally going to be good for them (more on that below.)
Once you’re in touch with your anger and what it’s telling you to do the next step is to go forth and make it happen.
That’s assuming you’ve had time to examine your anger and understand what it really is telling you. For example if you get in touch with your anger around your father and want to push him off a cliff that’s understandable, but not what your anger really is telling you about what you need to do or say.
In that case you may need to have a talk with your father and tell him you’ve been angry with him for awhile and that it’s been “bugging you” for so long now that you need to “get it off your chest.”
That’s a more productive way to deal with your anger. You are taking your anger and instead of keeping it all inside like you usually do, you’re bringing it out and letting him know how you feel. Using it to communicate whatever is on your mind.
Maybe he hurt you when you were younger or maybe he doesn’t respect your friends when they are around and you’ve been livid for a good chunk of time.
Saying what you need to say (mobilizing your anger) is good for you both. It’s good for you to let him know how you feel and what you want him to stop doing. And although your father may not like it, it’s good for him also to hear what his adult child has to say and work out any issues between you.
Now if you have a father who is too immature for an exchange like that and acts like a child after hearing you speak then it’s still good for him. He needs to be told that his behavior is not acceptable and the more he hears it the better it is for him. And you.
It may make things more tense between you from then on but that’s the growth. You need to learn to tolerate that discomfort as you continue to use your anger to communicate what you need and what you want to say to others.
The alternative is to keep it all inside for the sake of “peace” for 20 years while your body aches and you slowly slip into a depression. I’d rather take the discomfort now. Be vulnerable and feel uncomfortable now and save a lot of pain later.
Another thing that might happen after communicating with your father is that he may end up explaining to you that your friends (in the example above) are disrespectful and really not that pleasant or polite around others.
If so then he may be right in his behavior toward them and the result is that you become more aware of how badly behaved your friends are. You may want to change your group of friends for a better one or you may want to stay with them but relate with them somewhat differently than you used to.
So even if you are wrong and your dad is right, expressing your anger to your dad is good for you both. Your benefit is that you don’t carry your tension around and direct it toward your father undeservedly and he gets to let you know his honest feelings toward your friends.
Resulting in a better connection with him.
After an honest conversation like that you keep going daily. You never stop. You continually get used to feeling your anger, figuring out what it’s telling you to do or say and taking action. They don’t have to be big confrontations all the time. Even asking for an extra napkin at a restaurant when the waiter looks annoyed is good.
These things are uncomfortable which is why most people don’t do them but the alternative of keeping it all inside is worse. Also, once you get used to it you find it’s not so bad and much easier to tolerate than you thought. You’ll get closer to some people for it and some will want nothing to do with you.
That is a reality but after you learn to become this new person you won’t care and will have deeper, more meaningful relationships with others and most importantly yourself. That’s pretty much what we’re all after.
So no, don’t try to let go of your anger. It’s your most valuable inner resource and one that you can use to give yourself and those around you the best, most fulfilling life.
Don’t waste it.
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