7 Ways To Process Anger
Updated: 2 days ago
By now you will have read my conversation on Hidden Anger. It's one thing to recognise the signs of hidden anger, and quite another to begin the process of learning how to manage it. I won't say 'let it go', because sometimes anger is necessary in order to motivate us to take action. But hidden anger can be very destructive in relationships because it undermines it's foundations. For that matter any form of anger, hidden or overt, can be destructive and affect you personally on many levels physically and psychologically.
Anger most often shows up when the ego is feeling threatened in some way. It's a fight-flight reaction to a perceived threat. You'll notice I said 'reaction' rather than 'response'. Reacting to stimulus is an action that's quick, not thought-out, and aggressive, whereas 'responding' is calm and involves thought. When you 'react', it is a sign that something more has been triggered, something deeper and ego driven.
Anger is a secondary emotion, meaning it is covering up a deeper issue. A deeper pain of sadness, feelings of rejection, loneliness etc.
So let's look at some processes for getting to the bottom of your anger, for moving beyond it, and moving into being relaxed, happier, healthier, lighter. Some of these processes will be solutions for de-escalating your anger in the moment, while other solutions help get to the bottom of it, to the core issue, where you may discover a long held issue that has been controlling many aspects of your life. Getting to the core of your anger really is the goal.
♥ 1. Breathing.
When I feel anger rising, I sit quietly, and spend some time deep breathing. Try practicing yoga – there are some wonderful breathing exercises specifically designed to bring calm to the body. If we react hastily in anger, often there's regret afterwards, so by giving yourself some time to experience calm, you're likely going to re-assess your situation and respond more appropriately. Practice this step along with ‘divine guidance’.
♥ 2. Divine Guidance -
Body Scanning . Remember, anger is a secondary emotion. It's triggered by perceived threat. Body scanning is a wonderful process for getting to the bottom of the unconscious parts of you where the threat exists. Without you ever having realised it before, your anger will be causing you a physiological reaction, so I use body scanning to tap into the area where that sensation is pulsing.
Body Scan Exercise
Sit quietly with your eyes closed and start your deep breathing. Long slow deep breaths all the way down into the tummy. When you feel calmer, begin to consciously breath (slowly but more naturally) into every part of your body starting from your head, and working your way down. When you reach the point where the anger feels trapped (it will likely be your chest or tummy), start breathing gently yet purposefully into that part of your body where you are experiencing the discomfort. Concentrate your focus fully on the physical sensation as you breathe into it.
As you breath in to the pain/discomfort, with your mind ask it “What do I need to know. What is it that I fear, what am I holding on to”. Intuitively, the answer will come to you. You may need to learn to 'listen' as intuitive messages can be very subtle - which is why we often ignore intuitive messages when we get them. Once you have your answer, continue breathing into that part of your body and again in your mind, send affirmations to your unhealed pain. Repeat several days until you don't feel the anger any more.
This is a method I have always found incredibly rewarding. It’s so gentle and loving to be guided this way. Divine guidance never steers me wrong. Every single ache or twitch, no matter how small, is a sign that something is trapped which you need to face in order to release it. I'm not saying the event that made you angry is not a reality. However, your reaction to it is a sign that it is more than the situation than is triggering you, upsetting you. When you get to the bottom of it, you will approach the situation at hand from a calmer more realistic standpoint.
Knowledge is only the first step though, it is 'actions' that move us. Be ready to act on the answer you're given by owning the core issue and nurturing the unhealed parts of you. In understanding the real issue, you will stop blaming and start taking responsibility for healing the unhealed parts of you. You may discover that taking action means moving beyond a relationship with someone because your values are constantly being violated.
If you have long-standing suppressed anger, you may have a build up of pain in your body which has manifested in any number of illnesses/ailments. It may take a while of continued loving practice to heal deeply imbedded emotional pain. Once you become proficient at this practice, you’ll do it from the first hint of a twinge, before it can manifest into something bigger which needs more work.
♥ 3. Journalling.
As long as you’re open to being honest with yourself about the role you play in your own life, journaling will provide some amazing insights which lead to deeper understanding of your self. It’s a powerful tool for expressing all your thoughts and feelings in a form that is safe. Remember too that all emotions are a natural part of being human. Denying the existence of our anger is what 'hidden anger' is all about. It will manifest itself in ways that undermine the relationships that are important to you.
Through journaling you are free to express your true feelings without censorship or judgement, so that you make way for the love and compassion and forgiveness that lies at the heart of us all. It’s been laying in wait beneath the weight of unexpressed anger. You can practice this after body scanning as part of the healing process, or you can use it on it's own. I like to use it after body scanning.
Tips to begin journaling
Start with the breathing and body scanning exercise.
When you get to the heart of what’s troubling you, pretend you are writing a letter to that part of you. For instance, “Dear fear of abandonment….” etc.
If you feel there is a block, simply start by writing absolutely anything at all - . Before long it starts to take on a life of its own, and you may find yourself recalling times in your very distant past where this trigger began. If you find that unhealed childhood issues arise, your writing may become larger and more childlike in appearance as you regress.
Tip: Don’t censure what you’re writing.
Tip: Don’t read back over what you’ve written. It's about understanding what lies beneath the anger, what is driving your anger, then being able to respond the the situation more appropriately.
Whenever I finish cathartic writing, I like to perform a ritual, a further letting go, by burning what I’ve written and declaring that it’s no longer something that controls me.
♥ 4. Letting go of Grudges.
Grudges are an attempt to get validation from the “other” that our suffering matters. We want compassion for all that we believe we have endured.
The grudge allows us to remain as victim however, you can’t keep focusing on the ‘other’ to supply that care and compassion you are seeking. In order to heal, to let go of the anger associated with the grudge, you need to focus on feeling all the pain associated with those things that you feel hurt you. Move into your own heart space. As long as you stay focused on wanting restitution from the ‘other’, you will not move forward.
Some people hold on to grudges for a lifetime, and doing so goes against achieving what you want – love and compassion. Letting go comes through looking at what it did to you, how it made you feel about yourself, then doing something to change it. Sometimes, just realising what the ‘real’ issue is has the power to dissolve the issue.
Here's an example of the process at work:-
In 2017, my ex (Andrew) passed away from lung cancer, 5 weeks after his diagnosis. While Andrew was in Palliative care, he made me the ‘gate-keeper’ of hospital visitors. Except for myself and our 3 children, he wanted no family or friends to visit him. I forced him to allow his family to come, and even then, it was limited to a few short visits. Naturally they were desperate to say their goodbyes to their beloved brother and son. On a daily basis I kept his family informed of his progress with lengthy text messages regarding his physical and emotional well-being. I was experiencing an enormous amount of guilt at being left with this responsibility. I feared that his family would resent me, that they might think it was me keeping them away from his bedside. Although Andrew and I had not yet divorced and remained close, I was, none-the-less, the ex-wife.
After he passed, I sent messages to all of them, several times, offering my thoughts of love and checking to see that they were ok. They never reached out to me in return. Never enquired as to my wellbeing. So now I was angry, and felt bitter towards them - I was holding onto a grudge. Then I remembered …. I needed to stop, take a breath, and look within. What was beneath the anger? What was the deeper pain?
When I looked within and was honest with myself, I could admit that that when I was sending them loving messages after his passing, I was actually engaging in ‘conditional giving’. In other words, I wasn't sending loving messages because I cared about them, rather I was trying to control their attitude towards me, because I feared that they blamed me for not being able to visit Andrew in hospital. I didn’t want them to dislike me. I was saying “See, I’m really a good person.” When they didn’t respond, I felt rejected, as though they were confirming that they did indeed blame me.
As soon as I acknowledged what was really going on within me, I was able let go of the grudge, the anger and expectation. I let go of them. As long as I was hanging onto needing their approval, I was not moving forward with my own life. I was staying stuck in the past, instead of looking ahead, where doors were waiting to open into the future that I deserved.
When our shadows/insecurities are triggered, we are likely to interpret our environment through a false lense, and react accordingly. If you take stock of the situation first, you develop a more realistic view and respond accordingly. The reality of this situation is that the family had no contact with me during the 3 years that Andrew and I were separated, so there really was no reason for them to be in contact with me now. It was that simple. If indeed they did blame me, well, I have no control over that. I had to let that go. And that's an issue of self-worth. Complex? Kind of.
♥ 5. Mandala Writing.
I have mandala’s pasted into my journal, and sitting to write all my strengths within this mandala not only calms me down, it also reinforces my strengths in a most powerful way. I make mine creative and colourful – all things that add to my sense of feminine nurturing.
Some people find calm and solace in art or creative endeavours of any kind. It's about focusing all your attention in a way that is healthy and calming (rather than addictions!).
♥ 6. Looking in the mirror.
If a person is mirroring a quality/quirk/habit within myself that I have not been willing to see and acknowledge, this too will likely cause an angry reaction in me. Mirrors are very powerful and need a great deal of self honesty.
So.... any time you have a strong negative reaction to another it is a good sign that you are looking into a mirror. For instance, if you get angry when others leave you waiting, it could well be that you are guilty of also leaving others waiting all the time. If this was not a quality in you, you would not have a reaction to it. Have you ever noticed that you will be constantly irritated or angered by the actions of a co-worker, and yet other colleagues don't seem to be bothered by this same person? That's a clue that they are triggering something from your past, or that you are looking in a mirror. In relation to triggering something from your past, perhaps someone is speaking the way your parents did, and it makes you feel 'put down'. Again, you'll react rather than respond because the ego has been upset.
The whole point is recognising that when you're anger is triggered in this way, you have a chance again to look more closely at yourself and take responsibility for what's really going on. It's actually a bit like body scanning in what you can reveal about your hidden or wounded self. You have the power then to either adjust that part of you, or accept that part of you. Certainly, you have the power to respond differently to the situation that is making you angry. Attempting to stop the 'shadow self' from being exposed has caused you to react in anger. Now you can instead move from ignorance to awareness. Victim to victorious. Blame to accountability. What a blessing mirrors are!
♥ 7. Honest Communication.
Are you afraid of speaking up and speaking your truth because you fear losing the other persons love? Chances are you experienced the angry outburst of a parent/boss/friend etc. in the past when you have spoken your truth. This will cripple your ability to speak up for yourself. You learnt that it’s safer to keep quiet. However, if you lose your voice in any relationship, you stop living your truth and you slowly start to lose yourself. A great deal of anger can fester away below the surface in this situation!
For every minute you remain angry, you give up 60 minutes of peace of mind. - Ralph Emerson
Resolving a situation before it becomes a bigger issue involves communicating your feelings instead of letting them fester. Of course, there is an art to communicating which doesn’t involve being nasty, or blaming and accusing. The first and second exercise above will help you get to the bottom of your upset before you communicate, so be sure to do this first. At all times, we're trying to get to the underlying issue beneath the anger before we react.
How to communicate what you feel…
“When you” ................ (name the behaviour that is upsetting you),
“it makes/made me feel” ......... (what are you feeling - ignored, left out, dumb, jealous),
“because” ..................(why? keep it about you - without being insulting of the other person. When you become acusatory and start blaming, the other person will automatically want to defend themselves and stop listening).
If you practice this dialogue before you speak to the other person, you may just find that what you’re feeling has nothing to do with them. Rather, they have simply triggered a deeper insecurity that you need to heal. Again, it’s about taking personal responsibility for yourself and your feelings, and moving out of blame.
While studying psychology at university, we had to practice this exercise during group projects. Group work is always challenging due to the mix of personalities, and you're bound to have your buttons pushed. It was called 'critical analysis'. A group memeber and I were constantly arguing and leaving our meetings agitated for a long time afterwards. During a 'critical analysis' session, he said "When you reject my ideas, it makes me feel criticised, like I'm stupid. That makes me angry because it reminds me of my ex-wife who put me down constantly". If I was really hearing what he was communicating, it will have given me the chance to change the way I was offering him feedback. Likewise, he was pushing the same ego driven shadows in me - I was feeling ignored and stupid from long standing ego issues. We both needed to acknowledge that there was still an unhealed part of our past that needed attention. Acknowledging this diffused our reaction to each other and allowed to communicate more civilly.
The reactions we have to situations that upset us can become habitual and can impact the way we think about ourselves. They can also distort our reality of present moment situations. Here's an exercise for looking more deeply through a 'critical analysis':-
Critical Incident Exercise - Old Belief Patterns
Write about a recent incident when you had a negative physical reaction to something that was said or done to you.
What do you say/think to yourself when you were triggered?
What emotion(s) did you experience?
Where do you notice it in your body?
What is the negative belief that you have around this trigger? (refer to attached list for clues)
Is there an old memory you can recall that had all the same features as listed above?
Given that this belief started so long ago, is there any evidence that it is true of you?
How can I remind myself about this pattern so that I can begin to change it?
The following list includes some of the most common emotional triggers, meaning you react when you feel as though you aren’t getting or will not get one of these things that are very important to you.
Acceptance Respect Attention Comfort Freedom Safety Balance Order Love Predictability Consistency Autonomy Peacefulness Inclusion
Be Liked Be Understood Be Needed Be Valued Be in Control Be Right
Be Treated Fairly
For instance, you're sharing your ideas at a work meeting and someone cuts you off .....
Physically, you may experience tightness in your chest, shallow breathing, lump in your throat. You'll be running a negative internal dialogue “No one cares about me or what I have to say because I am not important. No one pays attention to me”. Feeling angry and unheard, your anger reaction is to shut down, stop participating and retreat inward, giving everyone the silent treatment. In return, everyone at the meeting is now reacting to you in a negative way as a response to this new vibration you're emitting. It's a vicious cycle.
Open honest communication requires practice and self-reflection. Lots of it. You’ll feel awkward the first few times you try it. But the more you try communicating your feelings honestly, you will begin to notice that its very freeing and empowering. Resentment that builds up into anger is often actually anger at yourself for never having the courage to speak up. Again, it’s about being honest with yourself and taking responsibility for where you’re at and why.
As for the consequence of honest communication, well, there may well be a backlash. You’ll have to be ok with that. If you have communicated honestly and without 'blaming', and the other person reacts angrily in return, you can be sure that you have triggered something in them, held a mirror to them. Are they listening and respecting your feelings? Loving yourself means you’re willing to let go of friends/partners who don’t respect you. If fearing being alone and unloved keeps you suppressing anger and feeling powerless, it's time to be honest with yourself.
♥ 8. Writing The "DAMN YOU" Letter
The purpose of this exercise is not to create or re-create more drama or to re-live trauma. The intention with all of these exercises is to express and release long-held emotions. To begin to heal, you need to start peeling back the layers. There are many layers. Once you delve into the anger you will get to what lies beneath that, which is all the sadness, the sense of loss, abandonment, betrayal etc. because anger is a surface emotion that covers over all those deeper more complex feelings that we’d rather keep buried. There's layers upon layers upon layers.