Understanding our Anger
Understanding our anger can help us accept and validate our emotions without being reactive to them in ways that are not in line with our goals and values. Choose a few of these questions or activities for journaling and/or meditation.
What do you imagine will happen if you started feeling your angry feelings?
How do people in your current family deal with anger, how did your mother, father, siblings deal with anger?
What did you learn about anger from your culture?
How have you dealt with angry feelings in the past? Do you see any patterns? How do they compare to those of your family and culture?
If you don’t like to let yourself feel angry, but you have bubbling resentment or hidden anger, write about it. Get a journal notebook or open a document and devote it to all the things you feel angry about.
Write an angry letter you don't intend to send. Ask, "if I could feel angry about anything, no one would ever know, and it wasn’t wrong to feel this way, I would be angry about this . . . ."
If you are finding anger rising up frequently, keep a pen and pad available or a journal app on your phone and take notes throughout the day as the anger rises up in you. Where do you feel it in your body, what other feelings rise with it? What thoughts come before, during, after?
Types of Anger - write about when have you felt them
Grief/loss anger. “How dare he die!” “I’m so enraged that I lost my job!”
Protective anger, from unfairness, abuse, pain. “She hurt me! That’s not okay!”
Anger from persecution stage of rescuing/caretaking behaviors (being a martyr) “Nobody appreciates me!”
Unreasonable anger caused by reactive disastrous thinking. (shoulds, have-to, awful, always). ”Everyone blames me for everything!”
Anger that covers hurt and fear. Sad and scared turns into anger to protect us from vulnerability. “I’ll make her regret rejecting me!”
Anger that comes from feeling ashamed or guilty (or not wanting to feel ashamed or guilty) “What I did wasn’t that bad, they deserved it!”
Reactive anger: I get angry when someone else is angry, then they get angrier then we all get angrier. “Don’t yell at me, I’m going to yell at you!”
Review "Myths about Anger" and ask yourself: What do you believe deep inside about anger, what myths of anger have you subscribed to? Challenge the myths you still (sorta/mostly) believe. Think through possible new beliefs about anger.
Myths about anger:
It’s not okay to feel anger.
Anger is a waste of time/energy.
Good/nice people don’t feel anger.
Anger will “make me” lose control and go crazy.
People will go away if I get angry.
Others should not feel anger toward me.
If others feel anger toward me, I “made them” feel angry and it’s my job to fix it.
Someone else can “make me” feel angry and they are responsible for fixing my feelings.
If I feel angry, the relationship is over.
If I feel angry I should punish the person who "made me" feel angry.
If I feel angry, that person has to change so I won’t feel angry anymore.
I have to hit or break things.
I need to shout or holler.
I don’t love the people I’m angry with
I’m not loved by people who are angry with me.
Anger is a sin.
Anger is only okay if I can justify it.
Ideas for dealing with anger: 1. Address myths you’ve believed about anger.
2. Give yourself permission to feel anger, it’s only energy, not right or wrong.
3. Notice where anger shows up in your body, sit with it quietly if it gets overwhelming focus on a one physical aspect (tight jaw, fist, shoulder) go deep into that one tiny spot, or imagine yourself watching your angry self from a distance.
4. If you experience a lot of fear around "letting yourself" feel anger, get a friend/therapist to sit with you. Make a safe grounded space to return to (create internal refuge through creative visualization or meditation) , breathe.
5. Notice judgement, rationalization, justifications that come with angry thoughts.
6. Feel the other emotions that come with/under anger: sad, scared, shame.
7. Acknowledge thoughts that come with anger, say thoughts aloud, or write them out.
8. Examine thinking that goes with feeling, hold it to the light, look for flaws, patterns, repetitive situations.
9. List things you can learn about yourself, and your situation from the insights above. Re-frame from “contamination” story to “growth” or “triumph” story. “This was painful and unfair, but I learned this valuable thing.”
10. Mindfulness toward accepting what is, letting go or letting be of things outside of your control. (Other’s actions. Loss & Death. Life’s basic unfairness.)
11. If you’ve been reactive to anger in the past (have a temper), identify the situations where you become reactive and practice new ways of responding. We can’t think of better options when we are activated (fight, flight, freeze) so it’s important to have a plan and practice the plan ahead of time. This is the same reason why we have fire drills.
12. Take responsibility for decisions toward taking action (if any) you want to take, what is your anger telling you, does it show you a problem that can be fixed? Do you need a change in your life to remove something or do you need to add something?
Feel free to share with me your thoughts about this exercise.
Lisa Butterworth, LPC, NCC has a masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Idaho State University, primarily working with issues of relational health, faith transitions and journeys, women's issues and sexuality. She is the founder of the popular Feminist Mormon Housewives website and support group.