“Don’t wait for your feelings to change to take the action. Take the action and your feelings will change.” ~Barbara Baron
How do you feel about anger? Growing up, I always felt that anger was “bad.” In school and at home I learned that anger made people do “bad” things, and anger was a source of “evil” in the world.
I didn’t want any part of that! So, when things happened that made me angry (for example, getting bullied at school), I’d ignore the feelings of anger until they “went away.” I’d go home and cry, feeling these emotions build up inside of my body.
It felt like I would explode. And I’d sit there, trying to breathe, praying for the wave of anger to pass. Eventually my headache would go away, and I’d be able to breathe easily, but the feelings never quite left my body.
What I didn’t know then was that those feelings would later transform into deeper feelings of anger and resentment.
Later, as a young professional, I found that those feelings of resentment turned into paralyzing beliefs and actions that held me back from my deeper calling. I would take the bus or the subway and find myself getting angry if the person next to me was breathing too heavily, or glanced at me.
I interpreted constructive criticism on the job as personal insults, and I would leave interactions with co-workers feeling angry, frustrated, and hurt.
When I finally had an emotional breakdown and accessed that anger, I was afraid that it would consume me. What actually happened: I used those feelings of anger as a teacher and means of transforming my life.
I use these steps to process anger whenever I feel it come up in my body, and I repeat as often as necessary.
1. Acknowledge it.
I think about my feelings of anger as being a child who is acting out. That child could be hurt, sad, frustrated. or lonely, but right now anger is the only way it knows how to express those deeper emotions.
If not acknowledged, short term frustration could lead to long term resentment, with physical effects like tight muscles, insomnia, headaches, and bloating. (I experienced all of these!)
If something recent has happened, allow yourself to be angry for a set amount of time (15 minutes is usually enough). Yell, punch a pillow, call a trusted friend and vent, or listen to some music that may help you access that emotion.
2. Understand it.
If you let it, anger can be one of your greatest teachers. That pure emotion can be a connection to our soul’s deepest desires, and understanding the anger can be the key to moving past it and creating meaningful change in your life.
Get silent for a few minutes, and have a conversation with that anger. It could be as simple as “What are you here to show me?” or “What am I truly upset about—what is my deeper desire?” The process of questioning the feelings (without judging them) creates space for deeper emotions to come forth.
3. Move through it.
It’s important to take action on anger in ways that promote your growth.
For example, if a stranger was rude to you, you can acknowledge that the stranger’s actions were based on whatever they were dealing with, and had little to do with you. If a family member, co-worker, or friend is constantly irritating you, is there a boundary that you can set? Can you limit your interactions with that person?
Creating action steps around anger is essential because it puts you back in control of your emotions. We cannot always control what happens to us, but we can always control how we react.
4. Monitor it.
Take a step back for a moment. How often do you get angry? Is your anger directed at a specific person, or are there specific situations that get you angry? If so, it may be time to set a boundary.
It is normal and healthy to have some non-negotiables in your life—things that you will not tolerate. If you don’t like people touching your hair without asking, let them know. If there are events (for example, family gatherings) that are a source of your anger, limit them.
You have the option to decline those events. People will treat you the way you teach them to treat you; make sure you set clear guidelines around what you will and will not accept.
5. Be grateful for it.
You can never truly let go of something unless you do so with love. Love in this sense doesn’t necessarily mean wanting to be best friends with someone who caused you pain, but it does mean accepting the experience, focusing on the positive, and leaving the rest behind.
One of the easiest ways to connect with love is to express gratitude. When it comes to anger, expressing gratitude can be one of the fastest ways to push the anger out of your system while honoring it.
If you have a difficult co-worker, or parents that may not fully support your dreams, take some time and be thankful for what they represent in your life. It could be that these challenging individuals have helped you to develop the strength, confidence, and determination to continue on your path.
As I incorporated these steps into my life and started teaching them to my patients, I started to have a much deeper appreciation for anger.
All of our emotions—like fear, anger, sadness, and joy—can be valuable teachers along our path, showing us what we truly desire and illuminating our path to further personal development.
Photo by RenaudPhoto