Anger 101: Making Peace with Your Angry Feelings

Businessman standing in a desertThe dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Growing up, we are formally taught for at least 13 years how to read, write, and perform basic mathematical equations. We take hundreds of tests, learn to spit out essays, play team sports, and toot on the recorder. But when—and where—do we learn how to deal with our feelings? We are rarely taught about our feelings with any intention. We learn emotion by observing our families and by experimenting in our relationships, mostly without anything that could be construed as constructive feedback.

If you think about any other learning experience in your life—picking up an instrument, starting a job, developing a new skill—you probably had some official starting point when you got information or direction to launch you on your quest. Along the way, you probably got a lot of feedback from a teacher, mentor, or parent.

So how did you learn to process your anger?

The answer is, of course, that most of us never did. Rarely do we learn how to deal with this challenging emotion. People often get professional help only when it is causing them severe distress—for instance, when they are so angry that they have been assigned to anger management classes, or they are so afraid of their own anger that they engage in self-harm, directing it inward instead of toward the appropriate target(s).

How do you identify your (probably unconscious) relationship with anger? Here are some simple exercises to help you explore your anger.

1. Examine the Messages About Anger—Spoken and Unspoken—You Received Growing Up

Did your parents argue? Were they mean or even violent? Was anger simply avoided? Did their differences get resolved?

Were you allowed to be angry and express it? What were the repercussions when you did?

Did your parents apply the same “rules” about anger to themselves as to you and each of your siblings?

Think about the unconscious messages you internalized as “normal” and put them into statements you have carried with you all these years (i.e., “If someone gets angry at me, then I will hurt them worse,” or, “Just surrender your anger to God”). Try not to judge the statement as good or bad; it is just what you have learned.

2. Look at Yourself in Your Relationships

When someone is angry at you, how do you react? Do you just swallow it and internalize it, or do you retaliate and say something that hurts the other person even more?

What about when you get angry? Do your friends and family listen and allow you to express it? Do they ignore it? Do they suddenly accuse you of all the things they have been storing up as resentments?

Do angry feelings just pass for you and do they get resolved? Or do they sit with you and rear their ugly heads when there is a minor issue and suddenly you erupt at some unsuspecting bank clerk? Again, don’t judge yourself.

3. Ask Yourself What You Fear in Expressing Your Anger or Tolerating Someone Else’s

If you understand what you are afraid of when it comes to anger, you will be able to make sensible choices as you begin to deal with it differently. Are you afraid for your safety or for that of a loved one? Then, clearly, it is important to work toward a place where you are generally able to live without fear.

If you make peace with your anger instead of avoiding it or overindulging it, you may find that it no longer feels like a dreaded enemy but rather a caring, if uncomfortable, friend that arises to help you—even move you forward in some way.

If, however, you fear anger because it has always been unsafe in the past, you might choose to practice it with a willing and aware partner or friend. Many of us fear our anger because we worry we will be overwhelmed by it. Or sometimes we experience other people’s anger as criticism of who we are, instead of just applying it to the issue at hand. Sometimes the anger is masking other emotions, such as sadness, which can be easier for some to tolerate.

At this point, you might be thinking I mistakenly advised you to practice your anger.

I meant it!

As I mentioned earlier, we have treated any other skill in life as a process, one which we continue to hone—hopefully with compassionate feedback—and one through which we may need to stumble. If we are willing to allow and accept our anger, we may begin to learn that it is just an emotion—an emotion needing expression, but one that will pass. And like any new skill, it takes time and practice to hone.

If you make peace with your anger instead of avoiding it or overindulging it, you may find that it no longer feels like a dreaded enemy but rather a caring, if uncomfortable, friend that arises to help you—even move you forward in some way.

If you are struggling deeply with your anger, it may be most effective to work on it with a qualified therapist.

© Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lillian Rozin, LCSW, MFA, RYT, Topic Expert

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Janey

    August 25th, 2015 at 9:28 AM

    tHe message that we received about anger? That being angry was the only way to express your emotions because it always seemed that no matter what we did our parents were always getting mad at us for something.

  • Hank

    August 26th, 2015 at 9:42 AM

    So much of what we believe about ourselves and others is instilled in us from a very early age. It is hard to see what could actually be through our own fault when we are more accustomed to blaming others for the things that go wrong instead of looking for our own culpability.

  • tim

    August 27th, 2015 at 10:31 AM

    the truth is that making peace with our anger seems like such an oxymoron, but absolutely critical for total healing

  • nia

    August 27th, 2015 at 1:41 PM

    But if I am really angry then why make peace with it?
    Shouldn’t I express those feelings instead?

  • maurice

    August 28th, 2015 at 10:25 AM

    When we allow the anger to consume us, then that’s it- it takes over every thought and feeling that one has and it never releases you from the grip.

    I don’t know about you, but my mind just feels clearer and freer when I do not harbor all of those angry thoughts.
    I know that there is a time for anger and a time for sadness, but most of all there has to be a time for happiness as well. That is the life that I most wish to choose.

  • Casey

    August 29th, 2015 at 11:50 AM

    I do think that a big part of our learning has to involve our learning of social skills as well,
    These are all things that we should learn about in school too.

  • ROD

    August 30th, 2015 at 2:47 PM

    My brother grew up an angry person, not too sure why but he did, and now he and my mom and dad are estranged. I feel like I am caught in the middle between the two of them and I also sometimes feel angry too but afraid of expressing it and losing the people in my life that I love.

  • Emily

    April 26th, 2016 at 10:48 AM

    I grew up being angry at my parents. As soon as I ‘got out,’ I never wanted to have anything to do with them. I didn’t want their help in college, didn’t want them in my wedding or be caretakers of my son….. Now, in my 40’s, my anger towards them as a child is roaring. The anger slept for a while, now it’s back. No amount of distance, time and punishment will ever change my childhood, and that is the bitterest pill I am having to swallow. Even if I had them thrown in jail, I’d still be angry. Emotional wounds are the hardest wounds to heal; I am convinced the only way to feel happy…… is to have some kind of brain injury where I get amnesia and forget everything about them. But I am stuck with the memories and having to manage the anger. The world would so much more peaceful if UNFIT parents just didn’t raise kids at all!! Period.

  • Joseph

    January 25th, 2020 at 11:42 AM

    When I was a child, my father had a violent temper and it was not safe to express my anger.

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