We all experience anger without knowing very much about it. Sometimes we get triggered into a rage without understanding why. Sometimes we find that friends, children, or partners express anger that seems disproportionate to the apparent cause.
Anger has a bad reputation. We don’t like the way we feel when we’re angry. We really don’t like the way we feel when someone else is angry at us. Books and courses in “anger management” may have given us the idea that becoming angry is wrong and that the mark of an enlightened person is the absence of anger in that person’s life.
Instead, we should welcome anger as a messenger that something is wrong. The problem comes in what we do with our anger. Contrary to popular belief, anger is a private emotion. You do not have the right to scream at another person: this is a form of abuse. (You do have the right to leave if someone starts screaming at you). This is not the same as saying that you should never feel or express anger. But you need to do it privately. Bang on a pillow, stamp your feet, or scream out loud in a private place: find a way to discharge those feelings of rage. After you’ve calmed down, you need to communicate the issues and feelings behind your anger to the important people in your life.
Only when you’ve discharged your anger are you ready to understand the message. For anger is not a true emotion; it’s a disguise for other emotions. Underneath the anger lie feelings of hurt or grief. Often you can get at these underlying feelings by journaling.
This is the situation that upset me ….
What I am angry about is … (write until the angry feelings begin to subside)
What is my pain, underneath the anger? …
What is my fear, underneath the pain? …
What do this fear and this pain remind me of from my childhood?
What do I need right now that would help me heal these childhood wounds? What can I do for myself? Who can I ask to help me with these needs?
You may not be able to get at the underlying feelings immediately. Sometimes we’ve stored up so much anger over the years that it takes a while to empty the reservoir. But by repeating this process out over a period of time you will likely make contact with the true feelings underneath the anger. Dealing with these feelings will help to heal old wounds and make you whole.
Arthur Wenk holds a doctorate in musicology and masters degrees in information science, music theory, and psychology.
Art‘s client-centered approach is based on empathic listening, helping clients integrate thoughts, feelings and actions, and assisting them to revise self-stories that have kept them enmeshed in problems: all in the interest of achieving mental, emotional and spiritual wholeness.