If you struggle with anger, you most likely look around the world at all the people who seem to be able to not get angry and feel extreme envy and also feel like something must be wrong with you. You probably don’t understand your own anger or what to do about it. And to make matters worse, other people don’t either. They simply expect you not to be angry, or at the very least, not to show it. And quite frankly, the vast majority of advice out there about what to do to manage your anger is bad advice.
When you struggle with anger, relationships can feel impossible. It feels like the other person does something or fails to do something and that thing they did or failed to do causes you pain or is a threat in some way. But you know (because society has made you very aware that anger is wrong) that you are expected to immediately down-regulate yourself and not get angry at them. Not only does this seem impossible, it seems totally unfair and wrong because it is a flipped dynamic. They did something potentially harmful to you and yet you are the problem if you get angry about it. As a result, you may want to work on your “anger issues”, but at the same time, doing so feels like self-betrayal because it feels like all you are doing, is playing into this flipped dynamic. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way. You can learn to regulate anger without playing into this flipped dynamic. And to do this, you need to understand the difference between the people who don’t struggle with anger, and the people who do.
Anger is an emotion that every person has. It is a part of any healthy emotional system. So, people who don’t struggle with anger do feel anger. But when they do, they don’t turn against it immediately. Nor do they act on it immediately. They see that the emotion would not be happening if it were not for a very important reason. They seek to understand their own anger. They let themselves feel it and hear the personal truths behind it. And then, they take empowered actions according to what they have come to understand from their anger.
This process is one that a person learns in their very early toddler years when they need to be emotionally regulated by their parents. But let’s face it, a lot of people had parents that failed to emotionally regulate them. In fact, a lot of people had parents that even dis-regulated them chronically. These parents had a real problem with their child’s anger. As a result, when their child got angry, they turned against the child’s anger. These kinds of parents don’t see the anger as valid or existing for an important reason. They shame the child for their anger. They don’t spend time trying to figure out why the child is angry and what is making the child feel powerless to something that the child feels is harmful to him or her. And they do not help the child to take empowered actions accordingly, to help the child feel empowered to change what is causing them pain or fear. As a result, the child’s anger escalates rather than de-escalates. And as a result, the child learns that they are powerless and that other people are unworkable. The world and especially relationships are a very dangerous, painful place where they either have to surrender their best interests completely and put up with being caused harm, or stick by their own best interests and fight like hell.
People who struggle with anger, internalize this process of faulty regulation or dis regulation. They don’t do any of the same things that a person who doesn’t struggle with anger does. If you struggle with anger, you have an aspect of you that is the internalization of your parents that immediately turns against your own anger the minute you feel it. You may be aggressively displaying anger and aggressively defending your right to be angry. But deep down, you are actually invalidating it and pushing against it. It is like an immediate internal tug of war is occurring. You don’t actually get that your anger is happening for an important reason. You don’t let yourself really feel it and hear your personal truths that are behind it. You perceive yourself to be powerless and you perceive the situation to be unworkable. And so, you don’t decide upon empowered actions to take about the situation. And so, you stay angry.
The root of anger is perceived powerlessness. And there is no greater powerlessness than perceived unworkability. Therefore, powerlessness and unworkability is what anger is really about. If you perceive something to be causing you pain or threatening to cause you pain on an emotional, mental or physical level, you need to change the situation so you can feel good again. If you believed that could happen and knew how to do it, you would feel empowered and so, you wouldn’t get angry. But if you perceive whatever is causing you that pain or posing that threat to be unworkable, you feel immediately powerless. When I say unworkable, what I mean is that something is so un-changeable that any attempt to get it to change has been or will be unsuccessful. And as a result, you feel powerless and stuck in pain. To understand more about this, you can watch my video titled: The Anger Hack – What To Do When You’re Upset.
You will most likely hear people say that the root of anger is hurt and fear. And because hurt and fear so often give rise to anger, it often benefits people to look for the hurt and fear underneath their anger. But there is something deeper than that, which is infinitely more beneficial to recognize. Here it is… When people feel fear or feel hurt, they often feel powerless regarding whatever they fear or however they were hurt. The anger is in fact a response to that perceived powerlessness. Your anger comes in to try to rescue you from that powerlessness. In this way, your anger is a protector. It exists as a last-ditch effort to try to restore some sense of empowerment within you.
And it is here that I am going to call out a huge pattern amongst chronically angry people. Chronically angry people fail to take empowered steps within their relationships to enforce their boundaries and limits. They do not create any consequences for the people in their life who violate boundaries and behave in unworkable ways, especially those who do not hold themselves accountable and who don’t respond to being held accountable. Most especially people who passive aggressively do so. Instead, the only consequence they impose is that they get angrier.
So that you can grasp how all this fits together, here is an example: Tom has a man who works on his farm as a farm manager of sorts named James. James chronically breaks his word and is intermittent regarding the completion of his tasks. Tom does not feel like James can be relied on. And as a result, Tom never feels like the farm is taken care of. This causes Tom harm because it adds pressure and stress to his life because Tom has way too many responsibilities already and he can never truly let go of the responsibility of the farm because he can’t trust that James really has it. Tom feels totally powerless regarding the situation. He can’t seem to get James to change his behavior. And he feels like James is totally unworkable because for two years now, Tom has been confronting him on his behavior and has gotten absolutely furious at him again and again and has made several threats.
Today, James broke his word again about taking the twine off of the hay bales before putting it into the goat pen. And Tom yet again found the goats eating the twine and had to deal with it himself. Tom is furious. But the minute he gets furious, this internal part of him that thinks anger is not ok, turns against his anger and so inside him, there is an internal war. Tom doesn’t sit down to really feel his anger and to hear the personal truth behind it. The personal truth that he needs a person to take responsibility for the farm and one that he can trust. The personal truth that a person breaking their word and not completing tasks cannot be in that position in his life. Tom doesn’t then think of empowered ways to enforce that personal boundary of his. Things like docking James’s pay. Or looking for a new farm manager. Or requiring him to go to a course on personal accountability if he wants to keep working at the farm. Instead, Tom simply reacts to James’s unworkability and to his own perceived powerlessness with rage.
Tom yet again seeks out James, who is unloading chicken feed from a truck and starts yelling at him and insulting him. Tom is red in the face and is restraining himself from punching James. He is convinced that James will be moved by his distress and anger to the degree where he won’t do it again. But James won’t do this. He actually subconsciously gets something out of breaking his word and dropping his responsibilities… Not feeling alone. When Tom does the tasks that James drops, he feels like they are in it together, which was always a need of his in life. On top of this, he gets sympathy from other people and is seen as the good guy regarding what a rage monster his boss, Tom is. They will be locked in this cycle forever because of the things James gets out of being unworkable and because of the way that Tom deals with his anger.
The really good news is that if you struggle with anger, there are concrete steps you can take to regulate your anger.
- Do parts work with the part of you that turns against and invalidates your anger. This part of you is a protector personality that will make the process of regulating and working with your anger impossible. This part is most likely the internalization of one or both of your parents regarding how they dealt with your anger when you were young. The goal here is to understand this aspect of you fully and to get this part of you to see that its current strategy is not working. The goal of it seeing this is so that it is willing to re-purpose itself to something that allows you to integrate your anger rather than push it away, and work with your anger so as to gain empowerment. If you want to learn more about this, you can watch my video titled: Parts Work (What is Parts Work and How To Do It). Alternatively, you can go to www.completionprocess.com and select a practitioner who facilitates parts work to help you work with this part of yourself.
- When you feel angry, remind yourself that a person does not feel anger for no reason. This means you are feeling it for an important reason. And decide that you want to understand your anger.
- Close your eyes and feel your anger. Feel the sensations that are occurring inside your body, no matter how uncomfortable they are. This gets easier over time, the more muscle you develop for tolerating intense feelings and sensations.
- Start to question your anger. When did it start? What happened?
- Identify what made you feel threatened, what it made you afraid of and/or what made you feel hurt. If we are angry, it means we feel as if we have been threatened. You need to ask yourself “what do I feel so threatened by?” Once you figure out what it is that you feel threatened by, you need to ask yourself “why do I feel so threatened by that thing?” And once you have answered that questions, you need to ask yourself “what about that hurt me so bad?” “What am I really afraid of in this situation?” And “What need do I have in this situation that is not getting met?” If we feel threatened, we feel vulnerable. The question is to what?
- Identify what about the situation that made you so angry made you feel powerless. Your anger always reveals what in life you feel dis-empowered about. But because anger is such an unconscious process, people almost never directly name and work with whatever they feel powerless about so as to empower themselves more relative to whatever feels powerless.
- Ask yourself, what in this situation do I feel is totally unworkable? Name it directly. Anger directly reveals those areas where empowerment needs to come back into your life, as long as you are willing to see the unworkability that your anger is trying to call your attention to directly, so as to strategize how to make it workable instead. In other words, your empowerment is about facing your disempowerment. You will find that just the awareness of the disempowerment that is hiding underneath your anger, will take the edge off the anger.
- From there, all your energy should go towards consciously figuring out what to do about what you feel powerless about and what to do about that unworkability you perceive, so that you can make a choice and take an action that is empowering. First of all, are you really powerless? What power do you have in the situation? Is whatever you perceive to be unworkable really unworkable? Maybe you can tell whoever is involved in the situation what you feel is totally unworkable, so that you draw their attention to it, so that they can problem solve that unworkability with you. What might you try to do so that the situation that feels unworkable is workable instead? And only if it is truly unworkable, you can ask yourself: if I accepted that unworkability, and swallowed that it would never change, what could I do then?
- Take empowered action. This empowered action should be anything that causes you to feel more empowered and therefore, better. It could be anything. It could be deliberately working with your mind and perception, such as changing a belief. It could be a specific communication that needs to take place with someone. It could be an action that looks like self-care. It could be following through on enforcing a boundary that has been violated with a consequence. It could be changing up your life in some way. It could be re-negotiating a relationship agreement. The empowering action will directly relate to the specific situation you feel mad about.
Anger is a self-preservation impulse. It is a reaction to try to restore a sense of empowerment. In order to be able to work with our anger in a way where people will look at us and say we can control our anger; we need to turn that impulse reaction to restore empowerment into a conscious process instead.