You may be afraid of acknowledging anger because you think that anger, once acknowledged, will ‘take over.’ But in fact, the opposite is true.
By allowing to feel the anger (in a safe and healthy way), it is free to be felt and pass. By fighting anger, it stays with you.
Angry feelings tell us somebody or something is doing something hurtful.
Suppressed anger from our childhood
If we don’t get angry at the people who hurt us, the feelings will just come out every time somebody else does something we don’t like, and then they’ll boomerang
back and get stuck in us again. Imagine how much resentment and anger that you couldn’t express when you were 2 or 6 years old, is still bottled up in your body.
That’s why is important to find ways to transform the energy of anger, letting the feelings out so nobody else gets hurt.
Before we begin with transforming our anger, it is helpful to know how anger gets stuck in our body, how is triggered, and what happens in the body and brain – especially when anger is chronic or unprocessed.
Difference between releasing and transforming anger
When you get angry, your body creates enormous energy. But we seldom learn how to use this energy. There are tons of articles on how to deal with anger and not to lash out.
What about using this energy, not just discharging it and releasing it? When you transform your anger, enormous energy could be released from your body. The energy that you could use to change injustice that
was causing your anger. Even if it was 40 years ago, it is not too late for that.
Inside the anger is the energy that you need to change something. That’s the purpose of anger.
How anger got stuck in our body in the first place
Our anger education started in childhood. Maybe your dad frequently blows up about minor things and “be mad”. Was your mother the one who was always suppressing the anger?
In most families, kids are not allowed or are even punished for expressing their anger. Our anger education rarely went beyond being scared of violent expression of anger
and on the other side complete denial and suppression of anger. If you are like me, you never learned fully how to deal with anger in a healthy way.
You never learned something even more important, how to use the energy of anger to protect and do what you need to do.
Seeing only excessive and destructive forms of anger – no healthy release of irritation or frustration – can lead to health problems, depression, and anxiety later in life.
How the emotion of anger is stored in our body
When you are angry you turn red in the face, clenches the fists, tightens the jaw, The shoulders and arms tighten to prepare them to fight.
You feel the impulse to move forward to make something stop or get out of your way.
So what’s going on in the brain and body when anger is triggered?
If you are a more visual person – use this picture
- anger activates the amygdala
- amygdala turn on the stress response system in your brain and body
- The adrenal glands secrete stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and nor-adrenaline.
these hormones impact your neurons and cells.
HOW STRESS HORMONES CAN CHANGE YOUR BRAIN:
- Too much cortisol can cause a loss of neurons
- can prevent you from using your best judgment (This is why you might not make good decisions or plan well for the future when you’re upset.)
- This can weaken your short-term memory (This is why you might not remember what you want to say in an argument)
How stress hormones affect your body:
- Increased heart rate, blood pressure, blood glucose level
- cause headaches& migraines
- slow metabolize (yes, anger can also cause you to gain weight)
- lowered bone density
- lower your immune system
- Too much cortisol can decrease serotonin – that’s the hormone that makes you happy.
Why punching a pillow is not a good way to transform anger
In some models of body therapy, you might have the person scream and hit on a pillow to get in touch with the anger.
But the problem with those cathartic approaches is that they don’t actually release or dissolve the anger.
In one of the studies, they discovered that punching a bag increased rather than decreased anger and aggression. Doing nothing at all was more effective than venting anger.
If you get into an argument or you get called an awful name, venting will not dissipate the negative energy. It will, however, feel great.
Catharsis will make you feel good, but it’s an emotional hamster wheel. The emotion which led you to catharsis will still be there afterward, and if it made you feel good, you’ll seek it out again in the future.
That was my experience too until I dig deeper into the whole process of anger.
Anger is an emotion and emotions need to be felt in the body not just expressed. It’s not just about who or what made you angry.
It’s about noticing the sensations in your body, while you are angry.
What you have to do is you have to feel into your own impulse, feel into the movement in your body.
When you’re feeling the tension in your jaw, you need to put it out, even snarl like an animal mum
when you came too close to her pups.
Why just screaming and hitting a pillow will be just temporary relief?
If there is a lot of suppressed anger in our body from the past and we suddenly start with releasing anger by hitting a pillow or screaming,
We will hit a lot of blocked energy inside us.
What the body is doing is it’s getting part of the energy out and it might feel really great to just do this
but if your body is not use to allowing that kind of energy to move thru your body, it will suppress the flow and only part of the anger will be released.
First you will feel better, but either anger will come back or you will feel tension, headache or heaviness in your body.
Your body need to grow capacity for energy to flow thru you unrestricted. Your jaw, neck, diaphragm need to get used to allowing that flow thru, to quickly release tension, when it come.
Unpleasant experiences as anger are going to typically cause us to contract, be tenser. Most of us experienced tension in our neck and jaw and tightness in our low back.
Muscular tension that we are holding in these three primary areas is subconscious.
The problem is similar to use helicopter to get to Everest base camp. It’s basically going from maybe like 200 or 300m above the sea to the 5600m. If you have ever been on that altitude, then you know what will happen. In best case scenario your body, unprepared for such extreme change of altitude will get headache and in the worst case you will get altitude sickness.
You need to acclimatize.
(Acclimatization refers to the process by which the body adapts to the conditions of high altitudes, such as lower levels of oxygen and decreasing air pressure. )
Thanks to my guide and our slow pace of gradually ascending, I still have only good memories on my trekking to Everest base camp. Memories of people who were too impatient (or just foolish) and skipped acclimatization process and having all kind of sickness and headache are also there somewhere between pictures of Everest and my Himalaya trekking.
Another way to look at the releasing anger with hitting a pillow is if I just do this and I’m not connected to the
sensation inside that makes me want to hit, the energy will not be released completely.
It’s like I am not connected to the root of the energy of anger. I’m just cutting the weed without removing the roots.
How could you still benefit from punching a pillow?
It’s not the punching that is the problem, but what you do or don’t do before and after the punching. That will make all the difference.
If you vent your anger by hitting a pillow as part of the whole process of transforming the anger,
the approach could be part of healthy releasing instead of blocking the energy inside your body.
Otherwise, our system will get sick if we hold this stuff in.
3 healthy ways to deal with anger problems
There is nothing wrong with the energy of anger, as long as we use it and express it in healthy and constructive ways.
On my journey I went back and forth with suppressing anger and then having an angry outburst. Then I figure out what works for me and what doesn’t.
Between many processes that I used in the past,
these are my 3 most useful ways to deal with anger problems:
- Get in touch with the sensation of anger inside your body
- Use simple movement activities to regulate the emotion of anger.
- Listen to your body sensations behind the anger
Step 1 – Get in touch with the sensation of anger inside your body
You need to get in touch with the anger inside your body to release it.
I explained that step in my FREE worksheet HOW TO RELEASE DIFFICULT EMOTIONS from your body.
You can downloaded it HERE.
Step 2 – Simple movement activities to regulate the emotion of anger.
Many studies have shown that the way we move and hold our bodies has a significant impact on the emotions that we feel. Each emotion triggers certain postures and types of action in the body.
As the emotion of anger cause your body to be in certain postures, you could use that knowledge to release at least partially the emotion of anger by changing your posture.
The most common advice in the past was punching a pillow. But that gives you just temporary release and even increases anger in the long run.
A better way would be to pushing away some object.
Why pushing away from the body could be better than punching a pillow?
Anger means that somebody crosses your boundaries, did something to you to upset you.
To discharge the anger, your body needs to feel the sensation of pushing the upsetting thing away, to protect you from harm by pushing the harm away from you.
When I tried that exercise, I somehow felt more empowered, more in control.
In comparison to punching a pillow that gave me the feeling of releasing the tension but without feeling that I am in control.
I invite you to slowly push your arms out against an imaginary resistant force or against a wall.
Step 3 -Listen to your body sensations behind the anger
For me, it always feels good to express my anger But the feeling doesn’t last. It did not bring any sense of easing.
It was only after I use Helen Brenner’s advice to go just a little deeper and take a moment to sense the feeling in my body right in the present moment, something else came up.
The shame of being angry and then the feeling of the need to hide, to not make other smaller.
As Helen describe what happens to me in her book I know I am there somewhere:
We are accustomed to “translating” all negative or upset body senses as anger. And once she labeled her sense as anger, it was easy for her mind to support the emotion by developing a line of thinking to support it. (“Of course I’m angry at him. He’s a rude and inconsiderate man, and he always has been.”) This is something people do all the time—we think we know what we feel, based on habitual reactions, on thoughts about how we “should” feel, and on memories of how we felt in similar situations.
But when she let go of what she was thinking, and even of what she thought she was feeling, and went straight to what was happening in her body in the present moment, she was surprised to discover something else. When she named it correctly, it stopped bothering her.
The Benefits Of Getting Angry
• give you the energy to fight for what you need
• Maybe last emotion to resist numbness or despair
• Signal that something is (or appears) wrong
• is the emotion of personal power, the one that lets you feel that you can affect your world
• protect us and give us the energy we need to fight back with words or our muscles if we have to.
Health Impact of Anger- when energy of the anger is not released
• High blood pressure
• Risk of cardiac arrest
• Prolonged chronic pain
• High cholesterol
• Weakened immune system
• At risk for substance abuse or any other addiction
Developmental Trauma by Katie O’Shea
I Know I’m in There Somewhere: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner Voice
What do you do when you’re feeling an emotion you don’t like feeling, or don’t think you “should” feel?
Photo by Malicki M Beser on Unsplash