Struggling with Anger or Rage? Consider This.
Anger is one of our most important emotions. It signals that something essential to us is in need of protection. Anger functions like a red flag that says, “Pay Attention!” While anger will often cause us to feel out of control or ashamed, understanding the iceberg nature of anger can give us clues as to what’s really going on.
When does anger show up?
A boundary has been crossed.
Anger here signals that we have failed to - through the coercion of others or our own passivity - protect that which is essential to us. Maybe the essential thing we’re not able to protect is our time, our space, our bodies, our belief system or core values, or something else. The key here is that there’s been a violation and our threat response system has been activated. More on that below.
We feel afraid.
Fear is also often disguised as anger. Fear is a vulnerable emotion, and anger helps us feel as though we’re one step ahead of that vulnerability. The good news is that this type of anger dissipates almost immediately when we name the feeling beneath it. When we actually speak to the fear itself. There’s relief in telling the truth, which may be that we are simply terrified.
We have unresolved grief.
Relatedly, anger shows up when we have let our grief about something go unfelt. In fact, we may have worked really hard to make sure that grief stays just where we like it — shoved way down deep where we don’t have to look at it square in the face. The bad news is, grief really wants and needs to be looked at for us to be able to integrate the associated memories or experiences into our stories and lives. If you’re tired of feeling angry, consider whether this may be true for you.
What about rage?
I think about rage as “white hot anger”. It’s usually accompanied by a feeling of “blacking out” and not remembering what happened when you were escalated. Neurologically what’s happened is that your threat response system has activated “fight” mode, which means you’re likely “stuck” in the deepest part of your midbrain, the amygdala. The amygdala functions a little like a trap-door once you’re in there. Unless you physically remove yourself from the situation (walk away, far away!) that’s created the threat, you’ll stay hooked and locked into that moment of fight response. Hint: this usually doesn’t end well.
So let’s say after reading all this, you’re pretty clear that one of these things is going on for you — that either your boundaries have been violated, you’re terrified, or you’re grieving, or maybe even a combination — what now?
What can I do about it?
Get honest with yourself. It’s time to recognize that while staying angry may have served you for a period of time, staying angry just isn’t cutting it anymore. It’s time to get honest and face whatever is really going on. And good news: you don’t have to do it alone!
Seek out support. I’d suggest talking to a licensed therapist or counselor. Try finding one that specializes in anger and trauma (because likely there’s been some trauma… just a hunch). If that feels like too much of a leap, head on over to my resources page first for some free journaling prompts to begin digging in. You are so worthy of your own protection.