Many people need to control their anger by learning not to let it out. They can take anger management courses.
My anger problem is keeping it all in. I never know when it’s safe to let some of it out. And I don’t think they have courses for that.
Why do I need to let my anger out? Wouldn’t I be happier and life be easier if I were pleasant and agreeable all the time?
No. There are reasons I need my anger, and need to express it.
I need to vent. I was at the office once and a coworker had done some crazy thing or other. I went to my boss and spouted off. Wisely, he just tsk-tsked about it and didn’t try to fix anything. He knew that it was just a frustrating situation and I needed to express my feelings.
Stuffing your feelings is unhealthy. It’s especially bad if you push the feelings of anger down and then try to smother them with food or alcohol. A character on Dharma and Greg once said, “If you’re going to bottle up your feelings, you might as well pickle them first.” Taking advice from sitcoms is usually not the best idea.
Swallowed feelings don’t go away. They stay inside you and fester. Sooner or later you may explode and cause real damage – the kind you can’t fix. Better to let off a little anger at times than to save it all for later.
Sometimes, anger is justified. Anger at injustice or when you’ve been wronged is appropriate. If you don’t express it, the injustice or wrongful behavior will simply continue.
Having bipolar disorder makes dealing with my feelings of anger even trickier. I’ve spent too many years not recognizing that I even have anger and that it’s sometimes an appropriate feeling. That leads to being a doormat, which I also have years of experience with.
Dealing with my bipolar issues has meant dealing with anger as well. Here are a few things I’ve learned.
There are people I can vent to. One of them is my therapist; some of my male and female friends provide good outlets too. These are not people I am angry at, at least not at the time I vent. As with my former boss, I just need someone to hear and acknowledge my feelings of anger. I have separate categories – a friend to discuss my husband with, another one for work issues, and so forth – so no one has to listen to too much of my anger spillover.
I need to pick my battles. Living with anyone causes friction, which can lead to anger. Just this week I was mad at my husband. I wanted to shout at him, “If you had done your errands yesterday instead of watching movies, you wouldn’t be jammed up today and laying them off on me!” But really, how would that have helped? Could he go back to yesterday and do the errands himself? Would it have helped to refuse to do the errands and then sulked all day? Was there any real reason I couldn’t help out? Best to let this one go.
I have to measure my words. Perhaps I do this too much, but some amount is necessary. What was helpful this week was to say to my husband (after I had run the errands), “I need to tell you that I’m frustrated that you left all these errands until today and I had to take over some of them. There were other things I needed to be doing today.” (My things could be postponed; his couldn’t.) By that time I had cooled off enough that “frustrated” was more accurate than “angry,” and less likely to trigger a major shouting match. (Also notice the “I” statements that psychologists recommend.)
If I am angry and I do express it, it’s survivable. My husband and I have gotten through some very bad spells when both of us have been extremely angry. Some of them have required couples therapy, while others have been solved through time and negotiation. Other parts of my life have not turned out as well. I had to cut ties with a toxic relative for whom I had an unhealthy level of anger, with no hope of either of us changing.But I survived – and was the better for it, mentally and emotionally. Sometimes that’s necessary, for either your own or the other person’s mental health and safety.
It helps to have a good emotional vocabulary. Seriously. I don’t have to jump straight to anger when something upsets me. Maybe I really am just frustrated. Or disturbed. Or annoyed. Inconvenienced. Irritated. Miffed. Insulted. Disappointed. Cranky. Those feelings are easy to mistake for anger. It may be better for me to step back and ask, “Do I really feel angry?”
It helps to have a repertoire of behaviors. Not all anger has to be dealt with the same way. I could lash out and say something hurtful. But I could also walk away until I calm down, or have a good cry. I could say, “I’m too angry to discuss this now.” I could release my anger in a physical activity (actually, my husband is much more likely to do this). I could write a “never-send” letter (or a “to-be-sent” one).
But the first step to all of these is recognizing that I do indeed feel anger, and have a right to own my anger and express it. Anger may be harmful, but denying it is harmful too.