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Working with the Difficult Emotion of Anger

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

As we approach the end of the year, it's important to reflect on the various emotions we've experienced throughout 2023. One emotion people may notice is anger. Anger can feel like a surge, a fire within, causing us to feel ready to fight. Other times, anger can feel so energized we may feel fearful of it.

What is Anger?

Take a moment to think about a situation that made you angry.

Can you see that anger is a part of an evolutionary way of protecting yourself and ensuring your survival? Anger can be a response to some form of boundary being crossed or not getting our needs met. This emotion can be helpful because it gives us information and energy to do something, like stand up for ourself or change something.

Often we aren’t brought up learning how to work with this highly charged emotion: 1. We may learn to believe that is not okay to feel or express anger, which may lead to feelings of guilt, shame, or fear when we do feel angry; 2. We may not know how to appropriately express anger; or 3. We may resist feeling anger until it builds up and explodes.

How do we process and release such a strong emotion?

We are all emotional beings. We feel emotions, but we are NOT the emotion. Often, we over-identify with our emotions, labeling ourselves as an angry person, an anxious person, or a depressed person. But an emotion is not who we are. Anger, and every emotion, is simply a feeling in our body that is trying to relay a message.

How can we bring more awareness to the fact that anger is not bad? What if we listen to anger and learn from it? What is it trying to tell us?

  1. Start by labeling the emotion: “This emotion is anger”.

  2. Then identify that a PART of you is feeling angry. It’s not all of you. You can say to yourself, “A part of me is feeling angry” or “A part of me is feeling anger right now, in this moment”. Notice how saying this settles in your system.

  3. Next, notice where and how the emotion feels in the body. For example, “My hands feels hot with anger. This is what anger feels like”. Instead of rejecting anger, “befriend” it to overcome fear of feeling it. Witness the emotional-energetic charge with curiosity or neutrality. Perhaps also witness your resistance to feeling anger. If it’s too scary to feel the emotion, feel the edge of anger, a small part of it, or zoom out and witness it from a bird’s eye perspective.

  4. Then ask, “Why am I feeling anger?” and “Is this a reaction to another emotion?” Often anger is a protective emotion—protecting us from feeling the “softer” emotions of grief, sadness, or fear that resides underneath. As you build your emotional intelligence (understanding of the emotion and it’s layers) you're also building and deepening your relationship with yourself.

  5. Continue to build a relationship with anger. Ask, “What does this part of me need?” Sometimes we need to shake it out, run it off, or provide movement to release anger’s big emotional charge. Other times we need self-soothing. Your body has the wisdom within to tell you what you need. You may receive the answer by hearing it, having an image, have a sense of knowing or feeling, having a memory, etc..

  6. Offer yourself compassion. Self-compassion is like a warm self-hug that can soothe emotions. Place your hand on your heart or the body part that feels angry and self-soothe with an offering of loving kindness, supportive words, sending love to this area, or gently holding this area.

  7. As you become more familiar with feeling the emotion and learning from it, you may wish to delve into understanding its roots: Explore the psychological aspects of anger and discover its origins. Learn how past experiences, unmet needs, and external triggers contribute to the emotion. This further develops emotional intelligence.When we push anger and other emotions down and don’t allow ourselves to feel them, they will continue to build their charge and we may become even more intimidated by them. Resisting feeling anger takes a lot of energy and sometimes, over time, that energy builds and anger erupts like a volcano.

Emotions are like weather, energy in motion. One moment it is sunny, then pouring, then drizzling, then it’s sunny out. Emotions come and go. We don't have to perceive them as scary. The more we build our emotional intelligence, the less afraid we become of feeling our emotions. Often these emotional parts of us just want to be acknowledged and that is enough to start them moving through us and releasing.

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