Anger is a natural adaptive response to threats designed as a mechanism for protecting and defending ourselves and those we care about. It is a powerful, and useful tool— when appropriately managed. Although anger is a natural part of life, unfortunately, our culture doesn’t teach us healthy ways of expressing our feelings, especially anger. And so, the issue is not anger itself, but how we learned to express it, and in turn, the challenge is to learn how to express anger in a positive way.
There is a truth in anger that is often lost in the explosion of emotion that accompanies it. Many times, that ‘truth’ is in some way connected to a painful past memory of feeling hurt, neglected, abandoned, or abused. And it is this pain that fuels the anger most people feel. Unresolved anger causes us to react to everyday stressors in an elevated way. Others seemingly always know how to ‘push our buttons,’ Feelings of frustration, annoyance, hurt, shame, helplessness, or disappointment may arise frequently, followed by quick, often loud or aggressive reactions. Your anger may even sometimes surprise you as you come face to face with a part of yourself that acts out of control. And, later there are ‘messes’ to clean up: hurt feelings, damaged relationships, or even destroyed property. What may feel like simply expressing yourself can cause others to shut down, turn away, or become aggressive in return. Unresolved anger can also turn inward, and we may find ourselves closing off from others, harshly criticizing ourselves, or even self-harming.
To understand this behavior, we must examine our childhood experiences with it. As children many of us were taught to repress our negative feelings, and were not granted the opportunity to speak up for ourselves, and even if we did, were never really heard or given appropriate guidance to deal with our feelings. Our parents and other caregivers failed to model or teach healthy ways of expressing emotions. Many well-intended, loving parents simply did not learn these skills themselves and so, unintentionally passed the burdens of both carrying unresolved anger and unhealthy expression, onto their own children as a result.