Anger hurts. It’s a reaction to not getting what we want or need. Anger escalates to rage when we feel assaulted or threatened. It can be physical, emotional, or abstract, such as an attack on our reputation. When we react disproportionately to our present circumstance, it is often because we are really reacting to something in our past – often from childhood.
Some of us have a lot of anger and for good reason, but we don’t know how to express it in a healthy manner. We may be in relationships with people who contribute less that we do, who break promises and commitments, violate our boundaries, or disappointment or betray us. We may feel trapped, burdened with relationships troubles, responsibility for children, or with financial troubles.
Codependency Causes Anger and Resentment
Codependent symptoms of denial, dependency, lack of boundaries, and dysfunctional communication produce anger. Denial prevents us from accepting reality and recognizing our feelings and needs. Dependency on others often causes us to try to control others so we can feel better, rather than us taking the initiate to feel better on our own. When other people don’t do what we want, we can be left feeling angry, victimized, unappreciated or uncared for. Therapy can help you to become an agent of change for yourself.
Dependency also leads to fear of confrontation. We prefer to not “rock the boat” so we don’t jeopardize the relationship. With poor boundaries and communication skills, we either don’t express our needs and feeling at all, or do so ineffectively. That leaves us unable to protect ourselves or get what we want and need. Then we become angry and resentful, because we:
- Expect other people to make us happy and they don’t
- Agree to things we don’t want to
- Have undisclosed expectations of other people
- Fear confrontation
- Deny or devalue our needs and thus don’t get them met
- Try to control people and things, over which we have no authority
- Ask for things in non-assertive, counterproductive ways (i.e. hinting, blaming, nagging or accusing)
- Don’t set boundaries to stop abuse or behavior we don’t want
- Deny reality, and therefore, trust and rely on people who have repeatably shown us that they are untrustworthy and unreliable
- Want people to meet our needs who have shown that they won’t or can’t
- Despite the facts and repeated disappointments, maintain hope and try to change others
- Stay in unhealthy relationships although we continue to be disappointed or abused
When we can’t manage anger, it can overwhelm us. How we react is influenced by our innate temperament and our early family environment. Different people react differently. Often people simply don’t know how to handle their anger because they never learned how to. Some may explode, criticize, blame, or say hurtful things they later regret. Others may hold it in and say nothing instead. They may try to please the other person or withdraw to avoid conflict, however holding in anger doesn’t make it go away. It will find a way to express itself indirectly, often referred to as passive aggressive. Anger expressed indirectly can present itself through sarcasm, grumpiness, irritability, silence, or through behaviors such as cold looks, slamming doors, forgetting, withholding, being late, and even cheating.
When we are in denial of our anger, we don’t allow ourselves to feel it or even consciously acknowledge it. We may not realize we are angry for days, weeks, years after an event. These difficulties with anger are often due to poor role models growing up. Learning to manage anger should be taught in childhood, but some of our parents lacked the skills to handle their own anger maturely, and therefore were unable to pass on heathy ways to deal with anger. If we were taught not to raise our voice, told not to feel angry, or were scolded for expressing anger, we learned to suppress it. Others suppress our anger out of fear we will turn into the aggressive parent we grew up with.
The truth is that anger is a normal, healthy reaction when our needs are not met, our boundaries are violated, or our trust is broken. Anger requires expression and sometimes action to correct a wrong. Many people are afraid their anger will hurt or even destroy someone they love. It doesn’t have to be that way. Anger can be conveyed without being loud or hurtful. With therapy, you can learn to handle your anger correctly and express it in a manner that can actually improve your relationships.
Anger and Depression
Sometimes we are the ones hurt the most by our anger. Mark Twain wrote, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”
When we hold in our anger, resentment gets stored in our body. Stressful emotions wear down the body’s immune and nervous systems and its ability to repair and replenish itself. Anger can contribute to ill health and chronic illness. Unexpressed anger can also lead to depression.
Managing Anger Effectively
Learning to manage our anger is essential to healthy relationships and success at work or school.
- Acknowledge your anger. The first step is acknowledging it and recognizing how it manifests in our body. Identify the physical signs of anger, usually muscular tension, including clenching, and heat.
- Cool off. Slow your breath and bring it into your belly to calm you. Take time out to cool-off.
- Accept your anger. Repeating gripes or arguments in our mind is a sign of resentment or “re-sent” anger. Admitting we are angry, followed by acceptance, prepares us for a constructive response. Tell yourself that you are angry and it’s okay.
- Examine it. Understanding our reaction to anger includes discovering our beliefs and attitudes about it and what have influenced their formation. Next, we should examine and identify what triggers our anger. Anger may signal deeper feelings or hidden pain, unmet needs, or that action is required. Sometimes, resentment is fueled by unresolved guilt.
- Own your part. In the heat of anger, we may overlook our contribution to the event or that we owe an apology. Acknowledging our part can help us learn and improve our relationships.
- Consider what action is required. The best course may be to meet your own needs, to ask for what you want, to lower your expectations, to set a boundary, to get support, or to apologize.
- Raise your self-esteem. When we raise our self-esteem and heal internalized shame, we are less likely to over-react, and instead are able to respond to anger in a productive and assertive manner.
- Be assertive. When we are assertive and protective of ourselves and our boundaries, we don’t allow others to exploit or abuse us. In setting a boundary, we feel empowered, not angry.
- Forgive and let it go. Finally, forgiveness doesn’t mean we condone or accept bad behavior. It means that we’ve let go of our anger and resentment.
If you feel you have a problem with anger, working with a counselor is an effective way to learn to manage your anger and communicate it in a healthy manner. It is especially important to reach out for help if you feel overwhelmed by your anger when you start to access it. Sue will create a safe space for you to process your anger.