Or, "How is anger HELPING me?" Or, "What am I really feeling?" Do you realize how much joy and living you are missing out on when every ounce of your energy and focus is on anger? Are you also aware that a knee-jerk reaction to everything with anger may actually be masking an emotion, like pain, you have not yet dealt with?
In this post, I will explore how to identify your anger and some tips on how to manage it by retraining your brain from what has worked for me so far. I'll also dive a little into where my anger has come from and how it may be hiding the pain that I haven't dealt with. I'm hoping by exploring this it may help you too. If you struggle with anger, like I do, please join me on this search for understanding and clarity on a topic that is so often times avoided for fear of bringing it up too close to the surface.
My mind was once a grassy valley wild with growth and color. Each blade of grass a new possibility, dream, or imagination that easily bent and swayed in the winds of change. Now there are large swaths of the once fertile grasses, beat down with constant pacing from rehashed thoughts and misunderstood emotion which have changed sections of my mind into well-worn, destructive pathways.
These neural pathways have been created from negative behavior and these behaviors have worked a deep rut into the mind. Our emotional reactions like to use the fastest point from A to Z. When you start noticing anger reactions are more frequent it is because they are the most traveled. You don't have to keep traveling down the same roads and making the same mistakes. Change your thought pathways, retrain your brain, and change your life.
It is listed in dictionary.com as "a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong."
When you feel angry it may be because you feel like others are ignoring your wants and needs or that others are wronging you in some way. Everyone has boundaries but not everyone knows how to communicate what they are.
If we don't let others know what truly bothers us how can we expect them to understand us when we can't understand ourselves?
My father had extreme anger and mood swings. He was almost always angry or very close to exploding. His parents had been alcoholic and abusive too. He did not know what to do with all his emotion and the only way he had learned to express his emotions was through anger and lashing out.
I'm very much like my father when it comes to having a temper. The only difference is that his anger could last for days and mine, thankfully, can sometimes be gone within minutes.
When I was a child, my maternal grandmother once told me, "You must forgive or the anger and bitterness will swallow you up." I was called a "firecracker" and some family members would get me riled up just to see me blow my top because they knew it rarely lasted and they found it amusing. Unfortunately, I could not join them in their amusement. I had not yet learned to fully understand or deal with the emotions.
I have been verbally lashing out at all those close to me and even strangers (although, the strangers never know I'm angry; like that jerk who cut me off this morning). It used to be only occasionally but it has begun to happen more and more frequently. To the point now, where I am afraid anger has begun to DEFINE me as a person.
I'm angry when I'm told to do something (even when I know it is the right thing to do). I'm angry when my carefully laid out plans don't work out. I'm angry when I'm depressed and when I'm tired and when I'm hungry. I'm angry at myself and I'm angry at those around me. I'm angry I'm not where I want to be in life yet and that I haven't accomplished my dreams. I'm angry that things take so long and I never have enough time. I'm angry that I'm overweight and I don't have any energy. I'm angry I have to deal with migraines and I'm angry I always have to be the responsible one. I'm angry I am not in control of my life or my emotions.
Do you feel anger like this too? Or, am I the only one? Have you ever done anything about the anger? I know I haven't. Not really. Maybe we feel our anger is justified? Or, maybe, deep down, we feel good when we release it. So that makes it oh-so-easy to get into a habit and stay within our comfort zone of avoiding the conflict that may arise from dealing with the underlying emotion.
My father passed away last year and it was then I realized that I had never really allowed a deeper relationship with him, even after he tried so hard to be a better father. He quit drinking and helped us any way he could. He still lost his temper but he was learning to apologize and he was working on being more aware of what he said and how it affected the family. The emotional scars from childhood were so deep in me and since I had never worked through them, I never forgave him while he was alive.
I know now that my father loved me and that he would have done anything for me but all I knew then was the anger and the fear and that colored almost every interaction I had with him. I allowed my anger at him and fear of him to prevent me from forgiving him and enjoying time with him when he was alive. How would our lives have been different if we had learned to rewire our emotions to be more forgiving and open? How could making these changes in your life improve your relationships?
In my research, I've come across websites with contradicting definitions of whether anger is a primary or secondary emotion. For me, it feels like it is a secondary emotion and that's what I'll explore in this post. In the future, I may do more research on this to understand how/why it could be seen as a primary emotion as well.
A HealthyPsych article says, "What many people don’t realize is that anger is a secondary emotion. What does this mean? Typically, one of the primary emotions, like fear or sadness, can be found underneath the anger. Fear includes things like anxiety and worry and sadness comes from the experience of loss, disappointment or discouragement."
People tend to want to avoid feeling out of control or vulnerable at any cost. This primal need of avoidance can cause us to easily shift into anger to protect ourselves. When, in actuality, it is harming ourselves and our interactions with others. Anyone who experiences anger could be suffering from some other emotion. It could be hiding what you are truly feeling to protect yourself from more perceived pain.
I know now that my father was in pain and, from that realization, so am I. I have noticed the same tendencies of explosive anger in myself as I had seen in my father. I remember the damage his anger did to his relationships. It frightens me to know that the same rage he battled with is within me too and that I have already hurt those I love because of my inability to understand and manage my temper.
I have found taking a walk, trying a couple 4 count breathing exercises, or a moment alone to try and understand what I'm feeling has helped me manage my temper better. Perhaps trying these yourself next time you're angry may help you too? Even just questioning yourself with, "Why am I feeling this way? What is really the issue?"
Try and discover what emotion is buried beneath the rage.
Why are you feeling THAT emotion? Just take a few moments to understand yourself better. Those few moments can change your interactions and outcome for your whole day! With continued effort, you could potentially retrain your brain and improve your life!
I came across some great research by Dr. Rick Hanson about The Science of Positive Brain Change. I highly recommend checking it out. Let's break through old thought patterns created by fear-based habits and work to understand our emotions. This knowledge can help us improve our relationships with others and ourselves.