I grew up believing anger was an unhealthy emotion. When I heard my parents fighting I tried to hide somewhere in the house far away from my father's booming voice. But at times it felt like there was no escape from the palpable tension between my parents. Doors slammed shut, belongings were thrown down stairways, and I saw my mother collapse in tired tears into her bed all too often.
My mom held on to anger after their divorce. She was the only one affected by it; my dad had moved on and created a new life.
When my husband decided he didn't want to be married anymore, I had an overwhelming fear of allowing any anger to percolate. I didn't want to end up being the bitter divorcé.
It took me a long time to feel anger toward my ex for his cheating and lying. And by the time I was ready to express it, no one cared. I missed the expiration date on feeling angry for a separation that happened 20 months earlier.
Have you had any of these thoughts?
- Anger is unhealthy.
- Anger is destructive.
- Anger isn't civilized.
- I'm afraid to get angry.
My personal journey with anger has shown me it's a valuable emotion like all the others and it needs to be acknowledged, expressed, and released.
Anger is a natural response to behavior that isn’t consistent with our values.
If we believe we are worthy of being treated with respect, honesty, kindness and common decency, we have a right to feel angry when our spouse shuts us down, lies, acts mean, and seems to lose all civility.
There is nothing wrong with anger, just as there is nothing wrong with a carving knife. It's how those instruments are used that defines them. If I yell at someone and demean him or her in an angry rage, that is an unhealthy and unproductive way of expressing my anger, just as using a carving knife to hurt someone would be.
Anger is meant to be expressed and released. The danger of holding on to anger is that it can become a rooted part of our personality.
Here are some steps to consider when dealing with anger:
Step 1. Recognize Anger
Become familiar with your physical, mental, and emotional reactions. Your heart might pound; you might feel a tingly sensation, or the surge of an adrenaline rush. Your breathing can quicken, as well as your heart rate. Your mind may race, your focus may narrow in on the person you feel angry toward in tunnel vision. You may feel blinded by rage and ready to pounce.
Step 2. Name It and Claim It
If you're by yourself, say out loud, I'm angry! This is what I feel like when I'm angry. My fists are clenched; I feel a surge of energy. I want to scream. I want to hit something. If you are face to face with someone, tell him or her how you're feeling. I'm feeling angry right now, and I'm going to walk away. We can talk about this another time.
Step 3. Express It
Think of anger as combustible energy. You don't want to contain it physically, or you'll implode! Go chop wood, hit a boxing bag, climb a mountain, kick a soccer ball, throw stuff, scream in the car, or on a hilltop. Sling paint onto a canvas or bang a drum—it's just energy that needs to be released, and can be done in a healthy and appropriate way.
Step 4. Release It
Let it go, let it go. There's a reason the song with that title from the movie, Frozen, is so popular! Once you've physically released the energy of anger, take note of the calm in your body. Recognize it, and tell yourself I release and let go. Breathe it out, and let it go. You are not an angry person; you are a person who felt angry.
Remember the Value of Anger
- Anger is a step up from hopelessness, powerlessness, and despair.
- Anger acts as fuel and lights a fire under us to take action.
- Anger tells us we have strong values.
- Anger can help us create boundaries.
Written by Patty Blue Hayes
Patty Blue Hayes is a divorce survivor. She chronicles the crippling effects of her divorce and the dark days and manic nights in her book "Wine, Sex & Suicide - My Near Death Divorce." Patty is a certified trainer and coach, who shares the tools and techniques that helped her heal her broken heart. You can learn more about Patty Blue Hayes at www.PattyBlueHayes.com.