Do you feel ashamed when you lash out at the people you love the most?
Do you wish you could erase it for ever and be free of this beastly emotion? That’s because there is a taboo against feeling and expressing anger, particularly if done in a loud, over the top and explosive way. We don’t like to think of ourselves as uncontrolled and irrational. When our hot buttons get pushed beyond what we can manage we feel scared that we have let ourselves down, that others will think badly of us and that we may never recover our good image.
Do you prefer showing your anger by giving someone the silent treatment?
Now think of the time when a friend didn’t return your calls and you felt angry at being ignored. Perhaps you didn’t answer the phone when your friend did eventually call you back. You wanted to get your own back and punish your friend. It is a conscious and premeditated act of anger. Somehow this way of releasing anger is more acceptable, but not necessarily better for the relationship.
Do you let your anger stew until the moment when you can do the most damage?
Imagine the last time you pretended you had a headache when your partner reached out for physical contact, affection or sex. You may not have remembered what you were angry about anymore, but the urge to regain the upper hand led you to strike back just when your partner was most vulnerable. It stewed and frothed and fermented until just the right moment. It is fury made to smell a little sweeter to you the injured party, who needs to feel in charge again.
photograph copyright Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D
Do you feel better when you react to anger by laying a guilt trip on the one upsetting you?
Have you ever forgotten a loved one’s birthday or a special anniversary? Did your loved one make snide comments designed to make you feel guilty? Their anger at your lapse of memory came out in a sneaky but very effective way. It humiliated you and may have roused your anger. Laying on the guilt may have made your loved one feel superior for a little while, but making you feel small just drove a huge wedge between you.
The good news and bad news about Venting anger
Venting rage releases tension in the short term and gives you a temporary sense of power and control, but does nothing to address the triggers that push your buttons. The power and control is so short lived that you have to erupt again just to get that feeling back. So you are caught in a vicious circle of becoming enraged and trampling everything around you. You never learn how to deal with your discomfort and have to live with this monster that comes out of you every now and then. In the long run you create fear and push people away. You can end up lonely and deprive yourself of the chance to be heard and fix the problems.
Good news and bad news about taking vengeance and laying on the guilt trip
Punishing those that have hurt and upset you by withdrawing love, or piling on the guilt gives you immense power and control. The powerful feeling lasts longer than venting, and you get the pleasure of doing to others what they did to you. But the damage you do to your relationships is more serious and less easy to repair – for the simple reason that you deliberately set out to hurt in order to avenge your anger. The stress that gets put on the relationship removes layers of trust and openness.
The most productive way of expressing anger
- The first step is to acknowledge that you have a right to feel angry. That small but vital permission will lessen the chances of your explosive monster coming out and shaming you.
- Next, talk to the person who provoked your anger and tell them what it’s like for you when they say or do things that enrage you.
- Then find out what the person’s intentions were and revisit your response. Are you still as angry or do you feel less personally attacked?
It may not be easy to follow these steps but you will improve with practice. Honoring your anger instead of using it to feel big or punish others improves communication and builds strong and durable relationship bonds.
Take the anger quiz and discover your approach to anger