How Do You Do Anger?

ANGER…let’s talk about it. Everyone has it. Some are more comfortable with it than others. How do you do anger? How was it modeled for you as a child? How does that affect how you do anger now?

In everyday life few people are formally taught what anger is… so we try to figure it out… Maybe as a child you got some concepts about anger that you still carry with you as an adult. Did you decide anger was scary or powerful or something to be avoided…. ugly, confusing? Did anyone teach you that anger is a message….a response to perceived threat….. that it has merit and can help us hold boundaries, protect ourselves and those we love….. that it can help us recognize that something is not right or safe? Anger often gets a bad rap, and no wonder when there are so many ways it can be expressed…many not healthy……Most of us had models for anger that involved either explosive anger episodes or the quiet suppression of emotion that could almost convince us that the anger wasn’t there, but it could be felt… and that …well what do you do with that as a child?….. Then of course, we may have known the sneaky little passive-aggressive expressions of anger that would seep out, confuse us, and somehow make us wonder what had just happened to make us feel so bad. Perhaps we had a parent who suppressed the anger until it exploded…sometimes at the most confusing of times…often not in the direction of what was driving the deeper anger. Perhaps we had a parent who stuffed the anger for so long that it turned inward and became a suffocating depression. We may have watched that parent disappear… into withdrawal…. or substance abuse……or work….other addictions.

Many parents are not taught healthy methods of how to respond to anger in children, so often children are shamed for having anger, punished for it…giving the child the message than he has no right to feel anger. Perhaps the parent is intimidated by a child’s anger and acquiesces to angry outbursts. This gives the child a sense of power that is very frightening for him and gets all mixed up with the child’s perception of anger…What if your parent was inconsistent in responding to your anger? Where did that leave you?

If we were very fortunate, we had healthy models for anger that were not scary or confusing. We had a parent or adult in our life who could verbally express feelings of frustration, pain, helplessness, who knew how to move the energy that comes with anger… the rush of adrenaline… out of the body through exercise, hard work… or maybe dancing. This healthy model of expressing anger taught us to address frustrations before the emotions overwhelmed us or exploded and overwhelmed or harmed others. This healthy model showed us by example, and sometimes maybe even talked with us about how anger stems from our own feelings of helplessness or fear and how we can take responsibility for those and sort it out. This model taught us that we get to choose our thoughts and thus choose our response to things. We saw this person sometimes take some time away from a volatile situation to work on lowering the rush of “fight or flight” chemicals in the brain and body so that the more rational part of the brain could take charge and make good choices. If you were not one of those lucky enough to have these models, our newsletter next month will have some practical tips for doing anger in a way that keeps you healthy and empowered in the world.

Written by: Laurie Patrice, LPC, BCPC, CPCS