As a psychotherapist, I often ask clients: ‘What do you do with your anger?’ Some people are surprised by that: they’ve never really thought about it.
Let’s think about it now.
Healthy anger is normal and OK; it’s not a bad thing and it doesn’t mean you’re out of control.
It’s a part of a normal, healthy life and we would be wise to figure out how to make it work for us, e.g., how can you express your anger in a way that improves your relationships with others?
That’s what I call ‘healthy anger.’
‘Isn’t it ironic how we don’t want to admit we’re angry?’
Picture this: a mind-mannered IT consultant finds himself increasingly ‘frustrated’ (his words) at the unrealistic timetables his boss gives him for projects. He also gets ‘irritated’ at colleagues who interrupt him during the workday. Yet, when I point out his anger to him, he denies that he’s angry.
Isn’t it ironic how we don’t want to admit we’re angry, like it’s some great weakness? So, instead, we come up with all sorts of euphemisms like ‘annoyed’ and ‘frustrated’. Anger is anger, whether you acknowledge it or not.
Pretending you’re not angry – when you are – is destructive. You’re lying to yourself, which makes it hard to deal with the reality of what’s going on. Anger that’s denied has a tendency to build, like a volcano.
Then, one day, you explode over some little thing and wonder why.
Many of us were raised to avoid or deny anger: one of my clients had a rage-a-holic father, and she vowed that she would never lose control like he did. Unfortunately, when she’s mad at her wife, her wife often doesn’t know it. My client is so afraid of ‘turning into my dad’ that she goes to the opposite extreme.
Working through anger
A wise older friend of mine says, ‘Men need to learn how to cry and women need to learn how to be angry.’ It’s a generalization, for sure, but is there some truth to it?
I recommend that we all learn how to admit when we’re angry and work constructively with that anger.
Sometimes this means talking about it with someone; sometimes it means that you work it through internally.
My Buddhist friends tell me that they are encouraged not to project their anger onto other people; instead, to work it through on their own. This is possible, but not easy. I know that I’ve tried it and, after many years, sometimes I can do it on my own, but often I can’t.
For those of us who can’t, we give it our best shot and forgive ourselves when we explode and let someone have it.
If you can, work on your anger internally (inside) before taking action. If you blow it, you can always apologize… but you can’t take your words back. And angry words can leave a scar that lasts a very long time.
Knowing your boundaries
Anger tells you: ‘Pay attention! Some boundary of mine is being crossed.’ Notice what boundary that is.
Anger has fuelled many constructive national movements. As LGBT people, many of our fore–fathers and –mothers took the anger generated by homophobia, racism and misogyny and used it to begin movements that brought us the civil rights we have today.
Don’t turn your anger back on yourself: this causes depression. You need to do something with that anger, don’t let it sit there and make you miserable.
One research study I read showed that resentment is strongly linked with the manifestation of cancer in the body. Writer Louise Hay used to say that anger, when held in, ‘eats away at the body.’
Don’t let your anger eat away at you, mentally or physically: acknowledge it and take action.
Michael Dale Kimmel is a psychotherapist and counselor based in San Diego: www.lifebeyondtherapy.com. His book, The Gay Man’s Guide to Open and Monogamous Marriage, is out now.