Self-Discovery Series: When Anger Remains Unexpressed
Do you know when you’re angry? How often do you let yourself feel the fiery emotion? Do you view anger as a bad feeling?
Maybe like me, your experiences with anger are slim. I could probably count on my hands the number of times I’ve let myself fully express my anger.
My whole life I’ve kept my emotions in – especially when I’ve gotten mad.
I’d let the anger simmer, stew and bubble inside my body. I’d wave it off because I was so worried about how others would react.
If I expressed my anger, would they stop being my friend? Would they yell back? Would they walk away? Would they get mad at me? How long would they stay mad?
And then I’d have an entire conversation in my head (because you know, clearly I was positive about what the person was going to say and do). Like a chess game, I’d anticipate and prognosticate the moves of my opponent. If I said this, would they say that? If I did this, would they do that?
After I’d answer my own questions, I’d cool off. I’d convince myself that this wasn’t that big of a deal.
But most often, the anger would still sit there, in my brain, in my bones. I’d just ignore it. But it’d keep coming up, like boiling water. Up it’d go, over the pot and onto the stove.
I’d still ignore it – even though water all over a stove becomes a big mess. I’d ignore it like everything else. Like I’d regularly ignore certain feelings and occasionally the pangs of hunger.
Anger isn’t a bad emotion, of course. But it feels uncomfortable, tense, possibly anxiety-provoking. And no doubt it puts you in a bad mood.
We might be scared to feel such a powerful emotion. We might worry we’ll explode.
My expression of anger (or lack thereof) was like my negative body image. How?
Because just like I didn’t think that I deserved to feel great in my own skin because I didn’t look a certain way, I didn’t think that I deserved to express my feelings. To be true to myself.
Like I was out of touch with my hunger and satiety cues, I was out of touch with my anger. I didn’t know how to feel it, and I didn’t know how to express it.
Here’s the thing about anger: It doesn’t just evaporate.
It worms its way into our eating habits and daily routine. We might stuff down our anger with food. We might turn anger inward, blame ourselves and then blame our bodies.
(By the way, I think many of us who don’t express anger outwardly still know this emotion all too well. We feel anger. We just feel it toward ourselves. That we’re very good at.)
Anger also manifests in passive aggressive ways. We may be sarcastic with the person we’re angry at. We may express anger for something small while the large issue still lingers, unsolved and unrelenting.
Or we might blow up. Finally. Letting our anger boil over and causing a really big mess.
The key with anger is to make it constructive. Yes, sometimes we just need to let it out. But other times, we need to figure out what’s behind the anger and how we can communicate that to the person we’re angry with (if it’s someone else).
You might ask yourself, where is this anger coming from? What does it mean? It may be an entirely different emotion brewing underneath. As Katie from Health for the Whole Self commented on Ashley’s beautiful post:
“I have often found that when I express and explore my anger in a way that is compassionate and respectful to both myself and others, the feeling deep down turns out to be something else completely. The anger often stems from a place of fear or sadness or loneliness. But the only way I can dig deep enough to figure that out is to approach my anger with an attitude of appreciation.”
I love Katie’s comment, because I think that anger does usually stem from other emotions or concerns or fears. Exploring those layers can help us better understand what’s missing, what we need and what we want.
If you’d rather not express your feelings to the person you’re angry with, channel that anger elsewhere: running, boxing, walking or any physical activity really; journaling; or meditating.
Of course, you don’t want to get yourself worked up and fuel the fire. It’s important to calm down and put things into perspective.
But letting out your anger in healthy ways can be tremendously helpful – both to you and the other person.
Do you have a tough time expressing your anger? What are your experiences with feeling this emotion? Where do you channel your anger? If you’re angry with someone, how do you let them know?
* This post was written as part of this month’s Self-Discovery, Word by Word, which is generously being hosted by Jules from Big Girl Bombshell. Please join us! Here’s how.
By the way, I want to thank everyone so much for their thoughtful comments on yesterday’s post about ED stigma. Thank you for sharing your experiences.
Remember that I’m giving away two copies of Aimee Liu’s incredible book Restoring Our Bodies, Reclaiming Our Lives: Guidance and Reflections on Recovery From Eating Disorders!
You have until Sunday at 12 a.m. EST to comment and be eligible to win. I’ll announce the winner this Monday.
Tartakovsky, M. (2014). Self-Discovery Series: When Anger Remains Unexpressed. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 31, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/2011/05/self-discovery-series-when-anger-remains-unexpressed/