I want to start by saying: all emotions are good emotions.
Yes, some are more uncomfortable to experience versus others- but each emotion offers us valuable information about how we are responding to our experiences.
It's okay to feel your feelings-all of them.
Anger can be a window into our more vulnerable feelings.
Anger often is referred to like an iceberg: On the surface of the water we are able to see anger clearly. Because what we see is so large and massive- we often forget or can't imagine that there could be more! If we look beneath the surface, we can see just how much of that iceberg has been hidden or unaware to us.
If we stop at anger, and don't explore what is beneath it- we can miss so many other emotions such as sadness, hurt, shame, guilt, etc. that may be co-occurring.
If we allow ourselves to get curious about anger, it can propel us into identifying and healing deeper wounds.
Examples of how anger represents other emotions:
Sadness leaves you feeling vulnerable. When you are angry you feel invincible-like there is nothing that can hurt you.
If we don't feel safe being vulnerable, we lean on the expression of anger to restore a feeling of control.
Anger can also be helpful in asserting our boundaries. We may need to be assertive with people who are violating our rights or treating us poorly. In these situations, anger can help us stand up for ourselves.
According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, shame is defined as: "a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety". When we feel shame-we tend to react defensively. The expression of anger can shift attention from experiencing the discomfort that comes with feeling shame.
Anger alerts us to potential or actual harm. It mobilizes us to take action to defend ourselves or others. It energizes us to do something about whatever appears wrong. When we feel scared often times our nervous system responds by shifting into: fight, flight or freeze. If we are unable to return to our window of tolerance- we may express fear through maladaptive and maybe even aggressive tendencies.
Anxiety is a result of overstimulation from a stressful environment or imagined threat paired with the perceived inability to deal with or manage that threat. When anxiety is left unacknowledged and unexpressed, it can manifest into frustration, which can lead to the expression of anger.
This list is limited to just a few examples...
Can you identify any time(s) in your life that anger appeared as a representation of other deeper emotions?
Anger doesn't have to be destructive.
Feeling and experiencing the emotion of anger does not mean that we are violent. Many people think that anger is bad or wrong emotion to experience. They try to stuff it down, ignore it, or get rid of it any way they can.
Allowing ourselves the space to get angry does not mean that we lack compassion for other people and the things that may contribute to the way they behave(d) toward us.
What if we looked at anger as functional rather than dysfunctional?
Anger is a protective function, not a destructive function.
The constructive way is to use anger as a signal that something is wrong and needs to be addressed.
The destructive way is to let anger take over and do damage to ourselves or our relationships with others.
It's important to learn how to deal with anger in a healthy way. If you don't, it can hurt you and the people around you. When we ignore and bottle up our anger, it can turn into resentment or rage. When we express our anger in an unhealthy way, it can hurt the people around us.
Start getting curious about the roots of your anger.
Some people have a hard time recognizing when they're angry. They may feel tense or irritable, but they don't always realize that this is anger. Other people know they're angry, but they don't know what to do with the anger.
We learn through early observations of the expression of anger in those we are closest to (such as family, friends, media, etc.) beliefs about how to perceive anger. We unconsciously internalize these early beliefs and may have a hard time exploring our feelings of anger from a nonjudgmental perspective.
How to explore anger constructively versus destructively:
Here are some questions that may be helpful the next time you notice yourself feeling angry.
What does it feel like in my body right now as I notice the emotion of anger?
Where am I in relation to my window of tolerance? If I am no longer in my window of tolerance, what do I need to get myself back there?
What is my nervous system telling me? Am I experiencing fight, flight or freeze responses?
Am I allowing myself to feel anger-or am I suppressing it for the sake of others?
Is it safe to feel angry? (In other words...) If I feel it- does that mean that I am going to get out of control?
What resources do I have to express these emotions safely?
What additional (or alternative) emotions do I also notice coming up as I feel anger?
You can find ways to explore, express and honor your anger without having to avoid or minimize it.
Working with a therapist can help you find ways to:
-Identify anger (and other emotions) when they begin to show up
-Choose how you want to respond rather than falling into automatic responses and behaviors.
-Find alternative ways to express anger in ways that will not cause harm to yourself, or others.
Annabella Lipson is a Mental Health Counselor at Peaceful Living Mental Health Counseling in Scarsdale, NY.
She enjoys working with individuals who are dealing with stress, anxiety, trauma, relationship issues and other behavioral challenges.
Annabella uses a variety of therapies, including:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Mindfulness, Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR).
Annabella is available to take new clients!