“What do you do with your anger?” I asked a client.
She pulled back in her chair. “I’m not angry. Do you think I’m angry?”
I told her I thought the circumstances she was living with would make anyone angry, and that I’d be more worried if she wasn’t.
“Nope – I’m not angry. I just don’t like to feel that way,” she responded.
Many of my clients react like this – as if anger were a toxic dump that will make them radioactive. They are afraid to be angry – often because they were taught as children that nice girls.. nice boys.. don’t ever get mad.
Sometimes it comes from religious teachings, sometimes it’s about manners, but wherever the lesson comes from, it’s nonsense.
Indeed, girls and boys, men and women get angry. It’s part of our human wiring. It’s life force – reminding us that we are alive! We can be affected by injustice and unfairness. We get hurt and we get mad when things are difficult or pile up on us.
We feel frustration and anger about many things. It’s not toxic to feel anger – it is toxic to deny it, push it down, or try to turn it into a fake agreeable smile.
When you live with chronic pain and illness, it goes with the territory to feel angry. You can and you must own up to it.
But then the dilemma comes – where do you go from there? What do you do with your anger?
Here are a few suggestions that I use myself ( yes, I’ve been known to feel the burn) and that I offer my clients.
Talk about it.
Naming what you feel and venting to someone safe is the first way to move it out and through (and moving it out and through is the goal).
Notice that I said – “someone safe.” Someone who can hear your anger, witness how much you are affected without having to “fix” you, and then let it be. You don’t need an amplifier (that person who just ramps it up) or a smotherer ( the person who tries to put out any flicker of anger by telling you how you should feel). Find someone safe who can hear, hold and empathize. A tall order – but they are out there. If your family or friends can’t do this, try a religious leader, a counselor, a support group – or even someone less involved with you – a neighbor, or the person who makes your morning latte.
Write about it.
When it feels scary to be angry, you may need a safe place to really let it rip. Write. Get a journal and write your heart out. Draw nasty pictures. Call someone names. Do whatever it takes to express your rage and anger. It’s good to be honest and say it out loud – even to a blank page.
After you name it, and express it, be willing to Let It Go.
OK, this may be the hard step. Because you deserve to be angry with your doctor who really let you down, Or that person you thought was a friend but who clearly does not get it. And yes, you do deserve to be angry.
But if you stay in that place, putting fuel on your righteous indignation, and going over the slights and hurts, you are going to end up being the one who is burned.
It is a fine line between naming and expressing, and getting stuck.
In order not to be stuck, you:
Accept your Anger.
Anger will come and go. Anger is difficult because it can be hurtful and explosive. It is toxic in some relationships, and it can lead in difficult directions. But we all have it. It is a basic emotion and it is here to stay. It is part of living with a chronic illness that affects you daily in ways large and ordinary. It is the backbone of frustration, and it is an energy that can lead to good change.
So, accept it.
Admit- I’m angry today. I’m angry about ___________. I accept that I am angry. I may not like that – I may wish I was calmer, or more forgiving, or just more tolerant, but today, I’m not.
I accept my anger and my strong feelings that may be way more than just anger. I know they are a part of me, and a part of life. But – they are not my whole life. I am angry – and I see and accept that, and I am ___________. Name a feeling that also lives in you – grateful, creative, happy, you pick the one you like best. Know that you can be angry, and have those other feelings too.
Acceptance will create some space and some flexibility. You will see that you are able to be angry – and then alongside, you will see and experience your other feelings. With practice, the anger will flare – or maybe stay for a bit, and then move on. It will not destroy you. You will feel clearer and stronger as you practice naming it and letting it move through.
Let me know how it goes!