Relationships Spirituality

What do you do when you’re angry?

As someone who had a “rageaholic” father, I’ve been dealing with thoughts and feelings about anger for a long time, and it really pisses me off!

Most of us “use” one of two main strategies when we’re angry – we’re repress or suppress our anger, or we release it directly at the person or thing which triggered the feeling of anger.  Reminder – suppressing is consciously “stuffing” a feeling, repressing it is something that has become so familiar and habitual that we are no longer conscious of doing it at all.

Neither of these two strategies works particularly well.  The most common, “socially acceptable” strategy is either suppression or repression.  This will have two negative effects – first it will be debilitating, both emotionally and physically, for the one experiencing the anger.  Second, it will tend to “leak” out in ways of which we are not conscious – little snide “digs” at the other person, or, more subtly, just a feeling that we project and which poisons the atmosphere.   We all feel anger coming at us, whether it’s overtly expressed or not.

Plus, anger unreleased and unexpressed becomes resentment, and to quote Carrie Fisher, “Holding resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die”.  So, we poison ourselves with anger which is inwardly held.

This strategy can also lead to something a therapist friend of mine calls “gunnysacking”.  That’s where we carry a large, imaginary emotional gunnysack around with us, and into which we put every little bit of anger we experience, while showing no outward sign of it.  When the gunnysack is full, we will then use the whole thing to bludgeon the other person.  This is the source of those explosions from “out of the blue” that we sometimes experience from people.

Releasing our anger without restraint is the other common response – for example, yelling at the object of our anger, or perhaps even physically lashing out. While this is often seen as “healthier” for the person who is angry, it can be extremely unpleasant and traumatic for the recipient, and even lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.  This is something I’m still dealing with, as a legacy of the many abusive exchanges I engaged in with my father when growing up.

Ever since the late sixties, there has been a movement within the psychological profession that has held that “getting the anger out” is helpful.  But more recent research has shown this not to be true.  Techniques such as deep breathing, or tensing and relaxing muscles, have been proven to be much more effective in calming angry feelings than things like primal scream therapy, or hitting a pillow.

This has always made intuitive sense to me, and now, with my study of “new thought”, it makes even more sense.  I believe that one of the metaphysical laws is “what you focus on expands”.  So, if you keep focusing on your anger, it’s going to keep expanding…

So, next time you get really angry, take several long, slow, deep breaths before doing anything else.  I’ll be breathing along with you…