Anger is a difficult emotion for many HSPs. While quickly dismissed as a “bad” emotion, I feel there is a place for negative emotions like anger. They’re the starting point for doing something about the injustices of this world. While anger has become associated with aggression, violence and destruction, as an activist I observe far more dangerous and destructive states, such as apathy. I’d like to re-post some words of wisdom by Michelle McClintock (psychologist) which I read on the ADAVIC Anxiety Disorders Association of Victoria’s Facebook page and often find myself coming back to.
Anger is a topic which brings many people to see me. I am still surprised to find how many people have negative perceptions about anger. It is certainly an awesome emotion. And all too often, anger has become associated with aggression and violence, through experiences of abuse, domestic violence and bullying. TV and movies further promote anger as a destructive, violent force.
Yet, anger is not, by nature, violent or aggressive. Anger is quite simply, an emotion. In and of itself, it is not negative. It is our expression of anger which determines its impact.
For me, anger is like fire. Fire can be a devastating force. It can destroy a home full of memories in no time at all. Yet, it can also be our greatest ally; helping us to cook food, create warmth, provide light and protection. And traditionally, the campfire or fire place is the place where we are most likely to truly connect with others and with ourselves through the sharing stories, hearts and souls! So you see, when the energy of fire is directed and controlled, it is a beautiful and helpful force in our lives.
Anger can also be friend or foe, depending on how we utilize its energy! If we are wise and know its nature, then it will serve us. If we are reckless and do not contain it, it will destroy everything we care about. If we suppress it, then it will smolder away in the background creating unexplainable moods and tensions. If we smother it, we will eventually succeed in killing it, leaving us dead and without any spark!
Unfortunately, many people are taught to suppress their anger, to push it down. But emotions can never truly be suppressed; like a floating ball pushed under water, emotions build up pressure and look for opportunities to explode to the surface! When a person has an explosive temper it is likely that they are someone who suppresses every smaller dose of anger until it builds up and breaks out uncontrollably and often violently. These people often say, “It takes a lot to get me angry” – when in actuality, they get angry and hurt by the same things as everyone else, but simply push it below the surface. Perhaps they have a desire to appear tough, stoic, together or happy and believe it will keep life harmonious if they silence their hurts. But if they were to express small doses of anger more frequently, they would not need these major outbursts.
Another way people use anger is passively. They also suppress anger, but it seeps out. They never ‘own it’ or say it outright – but if you are around them you will ‘know it’. They might make cutting remarks, be in a foul mood for no apparent reason, show up late to a get together, ignore you, become pedantic about every little thing, make out they have no time for you, sigh, huff, roll their eyes. Because the person never comes out and says “I’m upset at you!” it can be frustratingly difficult to deal with this situation. You might even approach the person and say, “Are you mad at me about something?” but most likely the response you will get it “No, why do you think that!!”
Anger does tend to require a physical kind of expression or release. So if you want to work on some bottled up anger, try some of the following:
• Scream and yell into a pillow or in a deserted forest
• Roll up a newspaper and hit a door frame or large pole
• Punch a pillow or mattress
• Take a pen and scribble furiously onto paper or newspaper
• Write an anger letter to the person you are upset with (but don’t send it!)
• Use your body to shake out anger, punch the air, jump, run, kick a ball
All of these activities can be done without harming yourself or anyone else. If you find that hurting people (including you) is a part of your anger, it might be important to seek counselling to explore the depths of your emotion. It is likely there are good reasons anger has become so destructive in your life. Counselling can help you shift this and get back in control.
People who develop a positive relationship with their anger find that: Anger is an energizer; it helps release tension; and gives us information about what’s important to us. Anger helps us feel in control; it also tells us which parts of ourselves we find it most hard to love and accept.
Anger also helps us feel happy! I hear you say “How?” Well, all our emotions are linked, connected. If we shut the door on our anger, we also shut the door on our other emotions. So if life is lacking joy for no good reason, it may be that you are holding onto other feelings.
So ask yourself, “Is anger a constructive or a destructive energy in my life?” Are you in control of your anger, or does it control you?