Anger is my least favourite emotion. It terrifies me in others and I find it ugly and shameful in myself.
Anger takes me right in to self-obsession, self-righteousness, self-pity and crippling fear. For me it also goes hand in hand with overwhelming feelings of anxiety. I feel the adrenaline pumping through my body and I start shaking and then, inevitably, I cry. Always. I cry. This is frustrating because when I’m presented with a situation that causes me to feel angry or fearful, I find it very difficult to stand my ground or stick up for myself without getting upset. My voice becomes weak and a little bit pathetic, and the ability to articulate how I feel confidently is gone.
Standing up for yourself can be hard. I don’t want to say anything unkind or hurtful to someone else, no matter how they are being towards me, however, that means I often then use that anger as a tool for self-harm and/or I emotionally dump it on other people – friends and family members that have nothing to do with the situation – having a good old rant about how annoyed I am but not being able to see any other point of view other than my own.
Feelings of anger or feeling like someone has done me wrong and that I’ve been unable to face it have always led me to hurt myself in the past because I couldn’t cope with the feelings – eat something, take something, drink something. Anything to make it stop.
Resentments based on unexpressed anger would have been one of the main reasons I’d have picked up a drink. How many times have many of us said, “I’ve had such a hard day, I need a drink”. But for me going to the pub, rambling on about it all night to anyone who’d listen and getting sh*t faced to block it out didn’t really work (although I thought it did for a long time). The anger was still there when I woke up in the morning, and with it came a big dose of shame and the alcohol related depression that comes with a hangover. I hadn’t dealt with it at all. I felt 10 times worse. It didn’t help because internalising all that resentment and hatred and trying to block it out only hurts you more.
Today I have a different approach to dealing with anger. I don’t always do it very elegantly and I don’t always do it straight away, but eventually I know that the only way I’m going to get rid of the feeling is to face it squarely, examine it and use the solutions that work for me and that stop me from harming myself and those around me.
So here they are (and yes they spell S E A)…
Share it – speak to someone else you trust about how you are feeling (while trying not to emotionally dump on them – I can be very guilty of this). Ask for their help or advice if you need it or simply speak about it and listen to what they have to say. Get it out in the open. Last night when I got off the train from London feeling very overwhelmed and emotional, instead of going home on my own where I would have likely indulged in some kind of self-destructive behaviour like eating crap, I went to my sister’s house, had a camomile tea and chatted to her in the kitchen. Being with someone I love who supports me helped me not to act out on any damaging behaviours that would have ultimately made me feel worse.
Exercise – all the built up adrenaline we get when we are angry comes as a result of our primal instinct for fight or flight, but if we don’t use it for those purposes that nervous energy stays in our bodies making us feel stressed and anxious. For me, running is one of my favourite ways to de-stress. I put on my running shoes and I use up all that adrenaline in a healthier way. Running also helps me clear my head and of course you get the feel good endorphins from exercise too. Last night it was still light out when I got home at 7.30pm so I ran, and I ran, and I ran until I could feel the anger and frustration dissipate. The other reason I like running is because it takes me outside. For me the fresh air and the sounds of nature just contribute to feelings of peace, calm and serenity. There’s nothing like the sound and smell of the sea for me so running on the beach is amazing. It nourishes my soul and it replenishes and recharges me.
Acknowledge and accept the feelings – as I travelled home across London on the tube last night I could feel the tears burning behind my eyes. My head hurt with emotion, my face felt hot and red, the anxiety was crippling and so being in central London during rush hour, in half term with all those people felt like hell. My mind was racing. One thing I find helpful to get me out of this over thinking pattern, which just feeds into the fear, is noting practice. Noting practice really helps bring me back into the present moment. Just noticing what I can see, hear, smell or feel in that moment and labelling it. And, most importantly, acknowledging and labelling what I’m feeling physically and emotionally in my body: “anger”, ”frustration” “tears”, “anxiety”, “burning”, “stress” etc It’s ok to feel however you feel and I struggle with that. I don’t want to feel the feelings I have labelled as “bad”, but every emotion and feeling has its place and its purpose. Emotions are just our warning system that something is wrong. When we ignore or suppress them they eventually just start banging louder and louder on the door. Just acknowledging “I feel really hurt” or “I feel really angry” helps you process what’s going on.
Another tool I use to acknowledge my feelings and explore what’s going on is journaling. A pen has saved my butt from doing something impulsive out of anger and panic many a time! By writing down how I feel and really looking at it I can understand more objectively what’s going on – why am I so upset? Is my response reasonable? Have I been unkind or hurt others as a result of my anger? What can I change? What can’t I change? What is my part to play in it? This really helps. I do this most nights before bed, but I find it particularly useful when I feel resentful as I don’t want to go to bed with that weighing on me.
So this morning I’ve woken up and there’s no imaginary argument going on in my head. I’ve worked out what I can do about the situation that made me angry and what I can’t and, as always, I have a choice. Low self-esteem and fear often make me think I don’t have a choice but I always, always do. We always do. The best thing is that having dealt with my anger, I can make a rational choice and decision, not one that is over dramatic or based on an irrational emotional response. This gives me freedom. Yes, I wish I didn’t respond to feelings of anger in the way that I do. Maybe by continuing to work on myself that will change one day. Maybe it won’t. But as long as I don’t use anger as a tool to harm myself or others then it’s ok. I’m human after all and to be human is to experience the whole spectrum of emotions, not just the ones I like.