Pretty often, I have clients who are surprised when I tell them it’s not only OK but actually even good and necessary for them to express their anger.
Some of them feel that it isn’t safe to express anger. Many think it’s not even OK to feel it internally, much less have any outlet for it. Many have been told that it isn’t “spiritual” or “evolved” to express anger.
No matter whether you feel it isn’t safe or it isn’t right to express it, anger is energy trapped inside you, and it needs an outlet.
Specifically, anger is a form of what I call Learned Distress, the feeling we all absorbed early in life that there is something wrong with us being just the way that we are. Learned Distress can take many pathways out, including sadness, depression, obsession, physical ailments, and many more. You may experience these other pathways more than anger, or you might be like me, and have a fairly high percentage of your Learned Distress expel itself as anger.
What I have seen in myself and my clients is that most of the time, anger is tied to the feelings of “I don’t matter,” or, “I’m not good enough.” Many of us bury these feelings, because it’s just not safe to feel or express them. Whether these forms of Learned Distress are buried or not, they are like the water in a tea kettle, and time and experience are the burner heating it. The heat builds, the water begins to boil, and at the critical point, the superheated water molecules escape as steam. That’s all that anger is—your brain blowing off some of this built up steam. We keep it contained as long as we can, but feeling that we matter and that we are good enough is at the core of being human, so when the intensity gets high enough, we blow some of that energy off as anger.
In the personal transformation work I do with clients, they’re actually blowing off layers of Learned Distress permanently. So each time they reach the whistling tea kettle point, I get excited for them. I know that they’re removing layers of negative feeling, so their natural well-being can take its rightful place as the automatic, generating force in their lives. But, they’re usually not as excited as I am about the tea kettle moments, and they can find it downright scary, especially if they’ve carefully kept their anger inside.
Because I know this is just a natural part of the change cycle they’re going through, I encourage them to find a way to safely blow that steam off by themselves. Screaming into a pillow, beating on a bean bag chair with plastic baseball bat, or hitting a punching bag are all really effective ways of letting some of this steam off. Just like it can be cathartic let yourself cry, letting off this anger can lead to a much more peaceful and joyful feeling.
Of course, I never recommend taking one’s anger out on another person or living being. Even when it seems like anger is caused by the actions of another person, they’re really just triggering our own feeling that “there’s something wrong with me.” If they’ve behaved badly, this doesn’t excuse their actions, but Learned Distress is something that is our own responsibility, and when anger is triggered by another person, we’re still better off letting off that burst of energy on our own. If we need to, then, we can come back and have a calmer interaction with the person who triggered the anger, which will always be a more effective conversation than when we are in the heat of the moment. If you often find yourself triggered by someone else, it can be really helpful to sit down and journal or talk with a friend about what Learned Distress is being triggered by that other person.
Do you find yourself feeling angry often? Or, does it come in infrequent but frightening bursts for you? Or, is it so scary to express your anger that you don’t let yourself feel it at all? In my opinion, anger trapped inside is much worse than anger expelled, especially if you find a safe way to express it on your own, instead of directed at someone else. Anger is just a form of energy that is trying to escape, so that you can feel better.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel