If the very idea that you have anger issues pisses you off … then that’s okay. You’re not alone.
Addiction and anger are intricately connected. Often we find that people with substance abuse issues have a good deal of unaddressed anger.
What is Anger?
Anger is defined as “a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.”
What we want to emphasize here is the word feeling. On the most basic level, anger is a feeling that we experience in our bodies based upon our thoughts. It’s no more and no less than that.
Often we forget that anger is just a feeling, because it seems so scary and overwhelming and dangerous.
Moreover, anger actually serves an important function in our lives. It has valuable lessons to teach us, if only we’re willing to learn.
Why is Anger Necessary?
We like Dr. Martha Beck’s description of anger; in her memoir Leaving the Saints, she writes:
“Anger is the immune system of the psyche, necessary despite its dangerous, volatile energy, because it is the only healthy response to injustice.”
Isn’t that amazing? By this definition, your anger isn’t out to get you. Its purpose is to serve you.
Just as there can be a positive aspect from addiction, there can be a positive aspect from anger as well.
Anger is designed to bring your attention to injustice happening within you and in the world around you. It’s meant to wake you up!
When Anger is Mishandled
That said, many people don’t know how to welcome their anger and learn from it in a healthy way. They see just two options for dealing with anger.
Either they explode in a destructive way and hurt others, or they stuff the anger deep down inside and implode, thereby hurting themselves.
Neither option yields positive or helpful results.
What Happens When You Stuff Down Anger
If you’re a person who tends to be compassionate and sensitive to the needs of others, then you might have learned to stuff down your anger from an early age. Grown-ups may have taught you to lock away your true feelings and put on a happy face instead.
But as you know, stuffing feelings doesn’t make them go away. When we push our feelings down, they grow in strength and sap our energy.
In our Program, we tell Participants that holding down their emotions is like trying to push an inflated beach ball down under water. True emotions always want to rise to the surface, and resisting takes a tremendous toll.
When you have a constant conflict between how you act and how you feel, the internal tension can exacerbate mental health issues.
The Connection Between Addiction and Anger
The link between addiction and anger goes like this: when you turn your anger inward against yourself, it becomes depression.
In our Program, we define depression as “anger turned inward.” Though depression may feel like numb sadness or blank despair, it starts as swallowed-down anger.
When you refuse to feel your anger (and the hurt that precipitated the anger), your emotions are cut off and energy gets trapped.
Your energy bounces back and forth off of your internal walls, resulting in a twitchy, crawling-out-of-your-skin anxiety. If this feeling gets revved up enough, it becomes panic.
And eventually these deeply distressing feelings get to be too much.
You don’t know how to address the underlying hurts and resolve the internal conflicts, so you reach for a drink or a drug or a behavior and numb out instead.
The Way Forward to Recovery
Fortunately, there is another way. You can learn how to face those original hurts and break the addictive cycle.
As we wrote in our blog post Understanding Anger and Addiction:
“Most addicts and those with dependencies have deep, deep hurts that they’ve never fully dealt with and haven’t been in a secure enough place to apply real love and healing.”
The good news is that once you deal with your original hurts in a safe place, you can transform your experience. When you apply love to the parts of yourself that hurt, you heal.
That’s what we’ll be diving into next week in our post on the Anger, Hurt, Loving Model. It’s a life-changing concept, so stay tuned!
PS – Did you know that Happiness Happens Day takes place each year on August 8? The Secret Society of Happy People – yes, that’s a real thing – has decreed it.
But it’s hard to be happy on a regular basis if you haven’t owned and worked through your anger, and that’s one reason why we’re sharing this two-part post series with you.