I grew up in a home where anger was scary. It was always present, just beneath the surface and it could be set off any moment like a firecracker. Like a firecracker, there was collateral damage if my siblings and I were too close.
I learned to retreat from anger or any emotion that might lead to anger including disappointment, frustration and irritation. I worked hard to avoid these emotions in others. At times, I went out of my way to placate others, working against my own interest. While I couldn’t avoid anger at home, I became pretty good at avoiding it elsewhere. I stayed away from situations that might engage those emotions. Because of this, my connections to others were limited. My relationships weren’t authentic because I fled when disappointment, frustration, irritation or anger inevitably bubbled up between myself and others.
As for my own anger, I ran from it, too. I knew from experience how destructive anger could be. I was terrified that if I became angry with the people I cared for they would leave me. I built a wall around myself for my protection and the protection of others so because I wanted to stay connected, and yet, within those walls I was alone.
What I’ve Learned About Anger
Through my own healing work I learned to look at anger differently.
- Anger is important and it’s neutral. Anger just is. What we choose to do with it is what makes it scary or healing. Like all of our emotions, it’s an indicator. Anger lets us know our boundaries have been tripped in some way.
- Sometimes we need to change something outside of ourselves, our environment or our relationship with someone, and sometimes we need to change something inside, how we look at something, or how we care for ourselves.
- Anger doesn’t have to be the all or nothing force of destruction it was in my home. There are ways to express anger while maintaing respect, caring and connection to others.
- Denying anger destroys relationships. When discounted repeatedly, anger becomes resentment. Resentment is insidious and it’s a far more destructive force than healthy anger
- Expressing anger when you feel it is honest. It’s a way of letting others in and showing them what’s going on with you. It’s also the first step to resolving the issue that tripped initially tripped your boundary.
Over time, I came to understand how isolated I had been in my relationships. The connection I experience with others is stronger now. Accepting that there will be anger between us sometimes and learning how to express it in a healthy respectful way has freed me to be more present in my relationships. Instead of investing my energy in avoiding negative emotions, I’m able to be more authentic with the people in my life and accept them doing the same.
If you’d like to learn more about healthy anger, I recommend starting with The Gift of Anger: Seven Steps to Uncover the Meaning of Anger and Gain Awareness, True Strength, and Peace and Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames. Both are excellent resources and provide practical advice for appreciating and expressing anger.