“Anger is nothing more than an outward expression of fear, hurt and frustration.” ~ Dr. Phil
As I write this article, I can admit I’m angry.
I’m angry at the way some of the events in my life have played out recently. I’m angry at the person who judged the way I’ve chosen to handle my pain. I’m angry that the more vulnerable and open I’m willing to be in relationships, the less I seem to be getting, and I’m angry at myself for the tears I shed and the hurt I feel over a guy who bruised my ego and my heart.
But I have been taught that anger isn’t really lady-like and doesn’t make you likable, so I work hard to suppress the anger. Pretend it’s not there. And as anyone knows who has ever boiled water in a teapot, you can keep a lid on it all you’d like, but eventually that pot is going to boil hot and mercilessly, and it will have no alternative but to start screeching like a banshee.
Because anger needs a place to go.
And normally, it goes off in a display of explosive fireworks that creates a whole lot of noise, hurt feelings and irreparable damage.
At least that’s been my experience.
Anger comes up for us almost daily. And since we can’t spend our days going off on people and spouting off every angry thought that comes into our heads, we need to find healthy ways to express it and let it go.
These are some of the tried and true ways that have worked for me and many of my clients who struggle with anger, forgiveness and letting things go:
1) Break it Down. A therapist I worked with used to have me break down my anger into pieces until I could get at the root of what was behind the anger. Nine times out of ten, the anger wasn’t even about what the other person had said or done, but about my own perceptions and how it made me feel about myself. These were the questions she had me answer:
>> What did the person do to make you angry?
>> Where do you feel it in the body?
>> What other feelings are present besides the anger? (Often it’s hurt, shame and guilt.)
>> Regarding what that person said or did—what are you making that mean about you?
>> Are you willing to consider that what they said or did was because they were feeling hurt, shame or guilt?
>> Can you have compassion for them and for yourself?
If you can write the answers down, it helps. And although you may still feel angry, the process of delving deeper into the reasons you’re so peeved can help diffuse the intensity of it.
2) Write a letter or email to the person. This works every time. There’s nothing better than unleashing every bitter, accusatory, over-the-top thought you have about what the person did even if it’s bordering on bullsh*t. Nobody is going to see this thing unless you accidentally hit the “Send” button, which is why I highly recommend writing it in a notebook and not typing it with the person’s name in the “To” box from your email account.
Write it, and read it. Add to it if you need to. Read it again. And again. And again. Are you sick of yourself already? If not, read it again until you are. Eventually, unleashing all that sh*t will diffuse what you’re feeling. Just getting it out and realizing it’s just your story about what happened and what you’re making it mean helps in letting it go.
3) Burn, Baby, Burn. Nothing diffuses aggression, sadness and anger like a good workout. The more intense the burn, the better. Boxing, lifting weights, taking a dance class or Bikram yoga where you sweat out all the toxins are all great ways to get the body in a more relaxed state and bring the boiling emotions back to neutral. I have never left a workout feeling anything close to the emotions I was feeling when I started, which is why exercise is the best remedy for blowing off steam.
4) Cry it out. Behind all anger is hurt. How could this person do this? How could that person say that to me? If you pay close attention to your body, you’ll notice that anger often starts in your heart/chest area and radiates throughout your body. When I get really angry, I cry every time, because the person has tapped into some wound in my heart and my way to protect myself is through the anger. Once the anger surfaces, the tears always follow.
Crying is a great way to let go of the intense feelings of anger and rage. It allows us to feel the pain of something another person said or did to us that was hurtful and to grieve it.
5) Prayer, Breath and Meditation. Even if you don’t believe in God, Buddha or a higher power, praying for someone or something (even if it’s the chair you’re sitting on) to take it from you so you don’t have to carry it alone is helpful. I don’t have any one particular person I pray to anymore…I just meditate and ask “anyone or anything out there” to take what I’m feeling and carry it for me because I can’t carry it alone. The act of deep breathing alone creates space in the lungs and calms the body so the charge of the anger becomes lessened. And a meditation practice often brings awareness to what’s behind the anger, so you can process it and release it.
Even if you do all five of these, you may still lose your sh*t from time to time. That’s part of being human. And sometimes it feels good to let off a little steam. But letting go of anger is always more about being kind to ourselves, than to the other person.
“It’s better to cry than to be angry. For anger hurts others, while tears flow silently through the soul and cleanses the heart. ~ Pope John Paul II
Author: Dina Strada
Editor: Catherine Monkman; Yoli Ramazzina