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Anger in Recovery
When I was in the fifth grade I discovered school-yard bullies. At first I cried when they teased me, but one day I just flew into a rage. I had a temper for years after that. I lashed out at my children when they were growing up and regret it to this day. At the same time, I was afraid to get angry at my abusive husband and stuffed my feelings for years. I ended up an alcoholic which brought on a deep depression. Today I believe I have found a nice balance when it comes to anger.
There are three types of people when it comes to anger. The internalizer , who suppresses anger out of shame; the loose canon, who loses control of it; and the centered person who handles it in a sensible way.
The internalizers are people who are still convinced, that they have to be perfect and keep calm at all costs. For them this means they must never be angry. They try desperately to hide it. They internalize it. They get angry with themselves rather than be angry with others. They flagellate themselves emotionally. They let the stress of trying to hide and/or suppress their anger affect their health. They hold themselves up to such a high standard that they make it impossible for themselves.
These internalizers are usually predisposed, by temperament, to suppress their anger, but they are also taught to do this by their parents and those who influence their upbringing. This is especially true when children grow up in a dysfunctional home. Young child in such a situation learn quickly how to stay safe. If hiding their anger keeps the family from erupting, many children readily comply. Soon, they become ashamed of their anger and learn to “stuff” it. When these children grow up, and have more control over their environment, they must make peace with their anger. They must understand that the emotion, isolated from any kind of acting out, is nothing to be ashamed of. They must allow themselves to feel their anger before putting the lid on it.
Loose canons may, or may not, be ashamed of their anger, but they have no ability to control it. We all have a loose canon in our lives. If not, we certainly see them in the news and everywhere around us. Loose canons blow up when things do not go their way. They tend to be controllers and this is how they intimidate others. Or they have a lot of emotional baggage that keeps them on edge all the time. Stress quickly leads to anger, then rage, and, sometimes, violence. Daniel Golemen, in his book Emotional Intelligence, explains what happens physiologically to the person who loses his temper. An event that would normally be processed by the thinking part of our brain triggers a reaction in the part of the brain that stores emotional memory. This makes loose canons unable to think through their reaction to events around them before they act. They act first and think later. Loose canons need to learn how to process their anger before acting on it.
Centered people are not ashamed of anger. When they feel it, they process it rather than act on it. They put into perspective. They know that there is a time and place to express their anger and when they do it they remain calm. They stand up to people but they do not yell and scream and lose control. Centered anger is easy for some people because they are centered people. Others have to work at developing this skill. The following is a list of things that might help if you are not naturally centered.
If you stuff anger:
Acknowledge to yourself that you are angry. You can share this with your therapist or a friend.
Ask yourself if anger is causing you headaches or distracting you from your family and perhaps your work.
Contact the person you are angry with and ask them to sit down and discuss it.
Prepare a statement so that you know what you are going to say.
If this is really difficult for you and you are afraid then send the statement as an email.
Listen to the other person’s side but stand your ground if you know in your heart you are right.
Once you have expressed your anger then you can let it go. Resentment (re-visiting anger) is not good for your health.
Congratulate yourself for finally doing what is so hard. Celebrate a new beginning of standing up for yourself rather than ignoring how you really feel.
If you are a loose cannon then consider the following.
Prior to getting angry acknowledge that you lose your temper.
Write about what triggers your anger so you can be prepared or even avoid what annoys you.
Vow to change your out of control anger and stay calm when you are angry.
Imagine your anger dissipating instead of exploding.
Write about your anger and talk to someone about it. Ask them how they control their anger.
Feel your feelings but don’t act on them. This is the hardest part.
Bite your tongue and count to ten when you are angry and then consider the point of view of the other person
Walk away from the situation and do something nice for yourself.
Congratulate yourself when you have controlled your anger.
Move on to the next thing into your life.
If you are angry about injustice this is a good thing. If you are still angry about something you have no control over this is just a waste of time. Look for the center, that place where you do not stuff your feelings but do not lose control. Pretend you are Goldilocks and desire to not have too much anger but not too little.
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