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Letting Go of Anger

Before I had a private practice, I worked at an agency. The coordinator would always share a tidbit about a client before intake, including what their presenting problem was: anxiety or depression, "relationship concerns," trauma, school issues... and occasionally "anger management." I always found it curious that anger was the only one that got the qualifier "management" at the end. Why didn't we say "anxiety management" or "communication management?"

Of all the symptoms and diagnoses, it seemed anger, as an emotion, had a pretty bad rap. It was the emotion that clinicians felt scared of and clients felt embarrassed to experience and shame to acknowledge- the emotion that most warranted "management."

Furthermore, I realized that most people don't know what to do with anger other than hope it subsides.

But here's the thing: no one escapes anger. It is just part of the human spectrum of emotions and it is no more unfavorable than any other thing we experience. You will have times when you feel disappointed, or frustrated, or resentful or even downright livid... and! It's actually incredibly normal.

The goal isn't to AVOID anger (that's impossible). It's not even to "manage" it. The goal is to learn to RESPOND to anger (safely) in a way that honors your core values.

Let's use an example. Imagine Susie. She was raised that "ladies" don't get angry; that it is an ugly emotion that should never be expressed. But Susie's husband is late from work. It is not the first time, even this week. The supper she made is cold. She eats it alone. Anger rises but she pushes it away. She says nothing when he comes home and greets him with a smile. But the anger doesn't go away with this denial. In fact, it builds. Eventually that initial reasonable anger turns to overall resentment. She finds herself irritated and annoyed at more things, yet she squashes those down too. Eventually, she notices she can't stand her husband and feels dissatisfied in her marriage overall.

Now let's flip it. There she is again, but this time she notices the anger and gets curious. She takes a cold shower to cool down and take a pen to her journal to collect her thoughts and outline her feelings. She realizes that her anger is stemming from something deeper: that she also feels lonely and rejected. She articulates this to him when he gets home and they are able to work through boundary setting and expectations.

Doesn't that have a nicer ring to it? It is a beautiful thing when we can be mindful about what we are experiencing instead of judging ourselves or denying what's truly going on. Communication around our emotions, anger included, is an awesome way to process them.

Okay... so you're picking up what I am putting down... but you're not totally sold on what else to do. I got you! Here are some other ideas on how to expel anger when it comes up.

1) Exercise: I just watched A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the Mister Rogers movie. They highlighted that a powerful coping skill for Fred Rogers was swimming as fast as he could every single day. He would just get into the pool and swim until all the anger and hostility was expelled, and then he could go back to the studio with a smile and his puppets and make the magic we all grew to love and cherish. If swimming isn't your thing, cardio works too. Run as fast as you can for as long as you can; or go to the field and hit baseballs. Kick soccer balls. Try my personal favorite: boxing.

2) Scream. I do not mean this metaphorically. I mean this literally. S C R E A M. I lost a dear friend tragically and I was feeling pretty heartbroken, and if I am totally honest, I was pretty mad about it too. A mutual friend invited me to the Hudson River to scream. I thought she was joking until we made it to the river. Let me tell you: I will never, ever underestimate the power of a primal scream again. Hello catharsis. Can't access a river? The car is a good place too (just make sure no one thinks you are in danger). Need more privacy? Scream into a pillow.

3) Listen to Rage Music: When we wanna have a cry, we listen to Adele and watch Beaches. There isn't a single reason this technique isn't the same for anger. Blast some music and shake your body. Personal fav: Rage Against The Machine & Nine Inch Nails.

4) Stomp Your Feet: Seems silly, I know. But sometimes even grown-ups need a temper tantrum. Stomp your feet. Raise your fists in the air. Let it out.

5) Snap Sticks/ Wreck a Room: Yup, sometimes we just need to be destructive. However, we obviously have to find a way to do this safely. Punching a wall will only hurt the wall and possibly your hand, thus not an advisable idea. But, there are dedicated spaces now to let your rage fly. I have never been to one personally but many clients have reported that getting to smash stuff at a "Wreck the Room" venue did quite the trick. Sound too scary or formal? Snap some sticks. Kick mushrooms. Chop vegetables. Throw water balloons.

In conclusion here, don't run from anger, don't hide, don't ignore. Treat it like all the other emotions you experience. Let it in. Notice it and then find a way to let it go.

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