WHAT’S HIDING UNDER OUR ANGER?
Anger, like any emotion, has value and a valid point. However, when it is our ‘go-to’ emotion, it can destroy relationships. Anger could be telling us something needs to be addressed or the anger is hiding something we would rather not feel.
Generally, as children, it was not acceptable or welcomed to express anger. Often, we were shamed when we did express it; usually accompanied by the underlying message that it was bad to do it. As a result, we adults can stuff our anger or develop an unhealthy relationship with it, based on childhood experiences.
Our bodies tense up when we get angry. We shut down and, lose peripheral vision (tunnel vision) and release neurotransmitter chemicals called “catecholamines” that cause a burst of energy that can last up to several minutes. Behind this burst of energy is the desire or need to take immediate protective action.
From unmet needs, a violation, rage, desire to feel powerful, or need for protection, we are going to explore the many colors of anger as a substitute emotion for less desirable feelings.
All emotions have a purpose, including anger. If we feel violated or threatened anger comes up to protect us. Then, once we are safe, the emotion passes. When the emotion lingers or bubbles up with no obvious cause, then it is time to look under the surface to see what may be hiding underneath the anger.
“Every criticism, judgment, diagnosis, and expression of anger is the tragic expression of an unmet need.”
~ Marshall Rosenberg
Anger as Action Candy
Want to get something done? Get angry. We use anger to get stuff done. However, that usually results in a path of emotional destruction. It separates us from our loved ones, and we tend to focus on the result, rather than enjoying the process or journey along the way. When we discover the possibility of accomplishing things using the energy of inspiration and love, instead of anger, we cultivate a closer connection with others.
Anger as an Unmet Need
As a culture we are taught that it is better to give than to receive, resulting in fulfilling everyone’s needs before our own. By continuing to put the needs of others before our own, we become resentful. As resentment builds up, we get angry and speak out, shouting what we need.
After the anger has been blurted out, we feel bad and start the cycle again – not expressing needs while accommodating everyone else’s. On the flip side, when we get clear and express our needs in a less charged fashion the resentment doesn’t have a place anymore and is replaced with life-enriching connections with others.
Anger is an appropriate response to protect ourselves when we feel violated. We rely on the surge of power to fight against or fight back against whatever is coming at us.
When we have been emotionally or physically violated in the past and carry that wound today, we may feel perpetually threatened or in a state of high alert. We may feel violated and taken advantage of with a low capacity to speak up or stand up for ourselves.
Protect our Heart
Anger can be used as a shield to keep people at an arm’s length. Know someone where you just can’t get in or feel them? Perhaps there is someone in your life that you want a deeper connection with but feel there is a ‘do not disturb’ sign on their heart. Maybe that someone is you?
In many cases, when we have been hurt, abandoned, or experienced loss, we don’t ever want to feel that again and put a barrier between the heart and the world to protect ourselves from being hurt. There are only so many beatings a heart can take in a lifetime. By letting go of the pain that lies under the anger, that anger dissipates, and the protective wall begins to come down.
Reservoir of Rage
If we have been violated, treated unfairly, or had a traumatic event in the past that we have not made peace with or addressed, then we may have unresolved anger. Like an iceberg, rage pops up and lets us know there is more below the surface than what the world sees. Triggered by a situation or person, it shows up as an overreaction that is not considered an appropriate response.
Desire to be Powerful
Let’s face it. Sometimes it just feels good to be angry. Why is that?
It makes us feel powerful. If I had grown up with an overbearing or abusive parent that made me feel helpless, weak, and powerless, I compensate by holding onto anger that makes me feel strong and powerful.
I can use this anger to silently bully my way or openly and aggressively voice what I want, creating a disconnect with others. Often, my experience has shown me that under a rough and tough exterior, is a little child’s bruised heart that has the desire to be noticed.
Feels better than Sadness and Loss
Emotional pain associated with loss can be unbearable, such as a death or an ended relationship. It feels as if there is a hole in your heart that can never be healed.
We may express anger as unfairness and, even when we don’t express it outwardly, it may creep along under the surface showing up as withdrawing and checking out of life - a way to numb ourselves to avoid feeling anything. Unfortunately, the tradeoff of not wanting to feel pain is that we inadvertently suppress our joy and love. The more anger you let go of makes room for more joy and love.
Depression can be a symptom of anger toward someone or something that we don’t feel can be expressed or have a right to feel - anger directed at the self. Take an unfair situation in the past and, when expressed, the person was told it was their fault. This cruel dynamic causes them to beat themselves up by self-blaming and punishing.
Begin Resolving it. Begin Feeling Better.
If you are unresolved with any aspect of your feelings or actions of anger, then see if you can identify where it comes from. Ask yourself what you’re feeling and what may be behind it. A healthy expression of anger is the capacity to take care of yourself and other people when threatened.
Expressing less healthy anger out in the open or under the surface keeps us separated from each other and dampens deep connection. When we let go or process unresolved situations of the past or present, it creates space for more love, compassion, happiness, and empathy.
Once these channels are opened we can embrace the differences between our family and community by honoring their uniqueness, rather than fighting for sameness.