Clients come to see me for a various reasons, however, a pattern that I often see is difficulty with emotions, especially anger. People often try suppressing anger by shoving it down or trying to rid themselves of it, only to find themselves exploding at inappropriate times or boiling over for minor infractions. This situation then reinforces their belief that they need to get rid of their anger.
Anger turned inward can have a detrimental affect on an individual. If individuals feel that it’s too dangerous to express or feel angry towards a situation or person, they may turn it inwards, berating their self for feeling the emotion in the first place: “Don’t overreact.” or “You’re being silly.” This self-criticism leaves them feeling shameful and deflated.
Holding your anger in can prevent you from accessing your needs. By not accessing it, you avoid making clear statements of what you need, want, or think. People often avoid accessing this emotion because they are afraid that if they express what they truly feel, they will hurt those around them, or create a conflict that they feel is unmanageable. Unfortunately, this over-control can lead to resentment and bitterness. People also experience physiological stress if they over-control their anger. By tightening the jaw and muscles, stifling a shout, or holding your breath, stress occurs. This type of stress reaction from constriction of emotion can contribute to health problems such as stomach ulcers, high blood pressure or tension headaches.
Sometimes we use anger to avoid the feelings underneath that anger, such as hurt at being criticized, rejected, or low self-esteem. Rather than feeling sad and vulnerable, we get angry at someone else or something. This type of secondary anger can have a detrimental effect on our relationships, especially if our thoughts and feelings move it out of control and we begin blaming and criticizing others.
Anger serves a valuable purpose. Adaptable primary anger—the kind we feel when we have been wronged—can motivate us into action. But how do we do this without ruining relationships with important people in our lives or compromising our own needs? We need to learn how to recognize it and express in a constructive way—without criticism and blame of the other person. The goal is to have your needs met. If you have been judged wrongly or violated in some way, anger can propel you towards action to rectify the situation or help you to do what’s necessary to protect yourself, e.g. set clear boundaries or remove yourself from the situation. The first step is to acknowledge your anger rather than minimize it. This process in itself can be validating and relieve some of the stress brought on by anger. Once you have processed your anger, you can figure out what your underlying needs and wants are. Rather than reinforcing defensiveness and withdrawal, which stems from criticism and blame, expressing wants and needs to another individual can enhance relationships and promote understanding. Use your anger in a positive way to express underlying needs.
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