Anger Management 101

charlesglassmanMany people struggle with handling their anger in healthy ways. Did you ever have an altercation with someone, and let them know you could see they were angry, only to have them yell, “I’m NOT ANGRY!!!”? Have you ever been that person?

Sometimes we deny our anger because what we’re really feeling is so much more complex. Underneath anger, there’s always pain. We might feel vulnerable or threatened. We might feel deeply hurt. We might be afraid that some of our most raw and unhealed places have been exposed. Maybe we feel disrespected, unseen, or unheard. So when we’re angry and we say we aren’t, sometimes it’s because we’re trying to express there’s so much more to it, and sometimes it’s because we don’t want to admit our vulnerability in the moment when we’re feeling the most unsafe.

When the nervous system is overwhelmed and we’re in a state of “fight or flight”, the chances are slim for constructive conversation about what’s happening. If your heart is racing and your hands are shaking and you have that shallow chest-breathing happening, you’re probably not going to be in a position to identify the nuances of what you’re feeling. Also, anger is a perfectly natural, human emotion we’ll all experience, but sometimes people push it down, and other times they lash out. Learning to manage our anger in healthy ways so we don’t deny the truth of what we’re feeling, nor do we do or say things we might regret, is a skill worth working on.

We don’t have to be afraid of our own anger, nor do we have to be afraid of anyone else’s, assuming they aren’t going to become so overwhelmed by it that they’re dangerous. Recently, I had the unfortunate and heartbreaking experience of watching a man pull his car over to the side of the road and punch the woman in the passenger seat, who was screaming and yelling, “Don’t hit me!” He took off before I could get his license plate, and by the time the police arrived (just two minutes later), he was long gone. If you’re in a situation like that, you need support, and you need to leave. We can love people who don’t yet know how to manage their anger, but we can’t stay with them. Living in fear is not living, and you are not here to be a punching bag for anyone. Your physical safety is not something you can compromise, and someone who hits you, and then apologizes and promises it will never happen again, only to hit you a short time later, needs serious help. The cycle isn’t going to end just because you love her or him, or because you want it to.

A lot of people are never taught the tools that help when we’re in the midst of intense sensation in the body. Any strong emotion—rage, jealousy, insecurity, anxiety, fear, depression, longing, grief, shame—creates incredible, visceral sensations. The body does not lie, so if you’re angry, it will show on your face, in your hands, in the way you’re moving, breathing, standing. Sometimes we’re so upset, we want to let it out, and that is okay. In order for people to know us and see us, they have to be willing to enter the fire with us. If you’re going to be close to someone, if you’re going to work on real trust and intimacy, you’re also going to have to share your deepest fears. This is why it’s so important to take your time. It takes quite a while to really know another person, but if you’re on that path, then you’re going to have to give that family member, close friend or romantic partner access to your interior world. And if you’re like most people, not all of it is going to be pretty and full of sunshine and flowers.

When anger erupts, it’s like a volcano in the body. You have to let the heat out, or you’ll scorch and burn from the inside, but how you let it out is the thing. Words can be like daggers, and certain things can never be unsaid or forgotten. The body is full of wisdom and it’s full of information. The next time you feel overwhelmed, trapped, cornered, or attacked, try to pause and notice your breath. Notice what’s happening in your body. See if you can slow down your breathing. The breath is the only involuntary system in the body that we can affect with our minds, and it’s powerful. If you can calm your nervous system in the midst of a storm, you give yourself some power over how you’re feeling, and what you do about it. You give yourself some room to choose your response, and that’s a gift you give to yourself, and everyone in your life. If you want to work on this, you can get started with me right now, here.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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