This is a real question from a real client. The answer that follows is excerpted from my collected questions and answers in I Don’t Need Therapy, but Where Do I Turn for Answers?
In some families, a person who is angry becomes either loud and abusive or silent and destructive. Children learn to dread anger and swear they will never ever allow themselves to be angry. Some indeed find a way to repress almost all angry feelings and are not even aware of their own anger in adulthood. Others learn to keep their angry feelings under control until they feel justified in releasing them.
As a grownup you may now express anger the way one of you parents did. If it didn’t work for them,
it probably is destructive now, too. This gives more weight to your belief that anger is dreadful and should be controlled at all costs.
“You do not have to worry about that person losing his temper! He can always find it at the most inappropriate times.” This bit of sarcasm could be directed at many of us. A seemingly simple inconvenience or annoyance can lead to an unexpected explosion.
These explosions can result from “saving up” unexpressed feelings. We all talk about some incident being “the last straw.” The straw count is just different for different people. Five little upsets can be enough for a door slam or phone hangup. Several hundred (or more) unexpressed feelings can produce a divorce.
As children we learned and created rules about when, how, and to whom we could express anger. We also learned to do whatever resulted in gaining recognitionand it did not matter if that attention was in the form of punishment or praise. We just repeated the behavior that worked. Eventually, we built rules for our behavior. These rules could include:
- Getting angry doesn’t solve anything, so keep your anger to yourself.
- Getting angry is bad.
- Don’t let your boss (spouse, children, friends) know you are angry.
- Don’t express anger until you just cannot stand it anymore.
Anger is Energy for Solving Problems
Logically, we know that repressing or exploding anger rarely solves problems. Doing either one often creates new problems. Instead of criticizing yourself one more time for your behavior, you can learn a new perspective on anger.
Anger is merely pent up energylike a river at the top of a waterfall. You can consciously harness and apply that energy to solve a problem. You can practice thinking about why we are angry. What is the problem you want to solve? What outcome do you want to achieve? Is the goal worth achieving? If so, what are appropriate action steps to reach it. If the goal is really not something you want, you can use all that energy for projects, hobbies, or play.
With each successful expression of your true feelings your vulnerable child self will eventually notice what actually happens when you don’t follow the rules. Breaking your old rules about the expression of anger may be uncomfortable at first, but soon the new process will feel more satisfying. You will notice that you can consciously use the angry energy, even from the small incidents.
Tom was angry because his son had not refilled the gas tank after he used the car. Instead of doing the chore himself and fuming, he asked his son to take care of it immediately or lose driving privileges for a week. His son interrupted a TV show, filled the tank, and washed the windows.
When the anger does not get in your way, you will also find how much easier it is to ask for what you want as soon as you recognize what it is. Getting a lot of the “little things” in life usually results in some great relationships with yourself as well as with others.
Excerpted from I Don’t Need Therapy, but Where Do I Turn for Answers?
[tags]Emotional Problems, Personal Growth, Self-Improvement,Self Help[/tags]