Anger is an OK Feeling

There is a marvelous little book for children called Liking Myself by Pat Palmer that teaches many skills concerning how to interact with others, skills that most of us were not taught as children. One of the wonderful things this book says is that it is okay to be angry when someone stomps on your flowers. So, our first anger tool involves giving ourselves permission to express our anger. When we are expressing our anger toward others, this permission only extends to the anger that is expressed appropriately using healthy anger tools.

It is especially important for us to give ourselves permission to feel our anger when we have distanced ourselves from it for a long time. While it may be difficult to admit that we are angry, we need to pay attention to the feedback we get from others around us, especially our loved ones. We tend to dump more anger on our loved ones than on strangers or acquaintances because we know they are in a committed relationship with us and will not easily leave us. When our loved ones tell us that they feel abused by our anger, we need to pay attention to this feedback. We need to take responsibility not only for our behavior but for the harm it causes others.

Our second anger tool is giving ourselves permission NOT to express our anger. Not expressing our anger when it is appropriate is also called detachment. When we feel someone is trying to “get our goat” we can simply “move our goat,” or detach from the anger feeling. We do not have to get angry just because someone sets out to get us angry. We need to learn to control when and why we choose to feel angry, and we do not have to give up that control to anyone else.

Separating Toxic Anger from Anger in the Present

When you feel angry, ask yourself the following question: “Is the anger I am feeling in proportion to the act that created the anger?” If we are in the victim mindset, our tendency will be to answer “yes” to this question. So, right off we see that a “yes” answer really means, “look a little further.” Are we feeling victimized by something the person with whom we are angry has done? Are we feeling backed into a corner in a lose-lose’ situation? Are we feeling righteous in our anger? Are we feeling as though “we control the truth and the light, and how dare this person not understand this?” These are clues that we are in the victim mindset, and we first have to deal with that before we can honestly answer our original question well enough to separate out the toxic anger from the anger in the moment.

Put another way, “what belongs to the person with whom we are angry, and what belongs to our unresolved toxic anger? Once we have separated out the anger in the moment, we can use our anger tools to process it, express it, or release it. Then we can decide when and how we will deal with the toxic portion.

Resolve not to turn your anger inward

As a child, many of us were not allowed to display any anger. If anger problems ran in our family, we might have been told that if we showed our anger, we would be ‘just like’ our father,, brother, mother, uncle, aunt or other rageful relative. This rageful person might have been either verbally or physically violent and abusive. The voice in which ‘just like your father (or whoever)’ was intoned left us in no doubt that our anger was something that was inherently BAD, and that we were inherently BAD for having anger at all.

Wanting to please our family desperately, we worked hard to submerge our anger. So, what happened to all of our anger at the injustices of our childhood? We turned it inward, becoming depressed and suicidal. Or we turned it outward, becoming a rageaholic.

We may have tried suicide many times and failed, never telling my anyone, because suicide was really a manifestation of our anger, and of course, we couldn’t let anyone know about our anger. We had thoughts like, “I’ll show them. They’ll be sorry they were so mean to me after I’m dead.” In our child’s mind we probably imagined ourselves somehow be floating above watching our family realizing why we had killed ourselves and being sorry about being mean to us.

We may have turned our anger into sadness, since sadness is an acceptable feeling for children to have. In some families where anger is not permitted to be expressed, sadness is allowed to be processed. In these families, children learn to cry when they are angry rather than directly processing their anger. Many times their anger extends from ordinary sadness into depression.

Another way of turning anger inward is harming oneself. ‘Accident prone’ people are venting their anger (or fear) with their continuing accidents in which they ‘accidentally’ harm themselves physically. People who were molested physically or sexually as children frequently use this method of dealing with anger because they do not have a strong sense of awareness of their own bodies. Many people also turn their anger inward by overeating or using drugs and/or alcohol to subtly harm themselves.

Major clues that we have unresolved anger issues include: cutting ourselves (accidentally or on purpose), bruising ourselves (unless we have deficiencies of vitamins C, E, K, bioflavonoids, or zinc), hitting our elbows on something, or running into things. When we find ourselves injuring ourselves in this manner, we can be sure that there are issues going on with us that I need to face and process. These occurrences are not mere ‘accidents.’

After resolving not to turn our anger inward on ourselves, we need to also accept that we learned these unhealthy habits over a period of several years, and that we will need time to unlearn them. If we get suicidal, or depressed, or if we have accidents,’ we need to be gentle with ourselves as we work our way toward change. Meanwhile, there are several other tools we can use to safeguard ourselves as we learn how to change.

If you find yourself tending to become suicidal, make a “Suicide Pact” with a counselor or special friend. In your pact, agree to call that person (if the person is willing) any time of the day or night if you become suicidal. The person you choose needs to agree to either help you through the suicidal feelings (counselor) or find help for you (friend). Your counselor or friend needs to have a full understanding of your tendency to turn anger into suicidal feelings, so that he or she can probe for the root of your suicidal thoughts.

You may even form a similar “Depression Pact” with a special friend for those times when your anger becomes sadness, and your sadness becomes depression. Finally, you can use ‘accidents’ as clues that there is something going on with you that you need to bring out and process.

It is okay to feel, process, and express our anger in healthy ways.

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