Anger, as most negative emotions, is not tolerated in our culture of emotional neglect. Although it is human and even healthy to feel anger, most of us struggle to accept it. Anger intolerance is even greater when we fail to connect it with specific events in our lives. Therefore, anger without a known trigger makes us feel powerless, lost, guilty, ashamed, hopeless and, at times, even angrier! To help you ground yourself in moments of random anger and unwarranted rage, read the following affirmations out loud or silently:
What I feel is normal
I am normal
I am strong enough to tolerate my anger
I am whole even when feeling angry for no reason
It is okay to feel anger even when it seems to lack context
This anger will pass because emotions ebb and flow
I am aware of my anger, and I do not blame others for it
I am aware of my anger, and I do not blame myself for it
I respect my emotions even when I am in pain
I honour all parts of myself
I accept the fact that my feelings do not need reasons to exist
I am safe in my anger
I can rely on myself even when I feel intense anger
I respect and love my body, regardless of my emotional state
I let go of toxic self-judgement in moments of anger
I am mindful of my emotional states
I can notice my anger without fully engaging with it
I feel stronger and more resilient when I learn from my anger
I am more than my anger
I am loved even when I am angry
I can overcome my anger
The best way to deal with anger is through acceptance. When you notice anger that does not go away easily, or that seems not to have an obvious reason to be, consciously and proactively let go of the need to control it. Take a break from your to do list and be kind to yourself. If you feel a burning need to be productive even in a state of anger, go for a run or channel anger’s energy into something positive, such as learning how to cope with it autonomously.
Feeling unconditionally loved by our primary caregivers is essential to foster a healthy sense of self-esteem. Unconditional love is experienced when a child feels felt, heard and seen, in ways that meet their most basic developmental needs. Parents who are attuned to their children’s emotions with empathy and without judgement help them nurture a sense of self that is whole, even when experiencing intense negative emotions such as shame, fear and anger. Neglect (including emotional) and abuse sustained throughout childhood, however, lead to developmental trauma and feelings of low self-esteem. As such feelings are easily triggered and not processed functionally with the help of an emotionally conscious and mature other, the developing child is more susceptible to create a dysfunctional relationship with their own emotional, inner world.
Children who are made to feel inadequate for having negative feelings (or any feelings at all) by their abusive and/or (emotionally) neglectful parents and feel powerless and rejected when triggered have little or no access to functional tools for emotional processing. In such cases, they are highly likely to resort to maladaptive coping strategies to deal with their shame, fear of abandonment and other feelings of unlovability to regain some sense of wellbeing. It is logical to want to feel good. It is also human to avoid suffering and try to control it. Problems arise when a given strategy becomes “the only one”, and, especially, when it does more harm than good in the long term. A rare instance of binge eating in front of the television might be okay when it is not one’s exclusive means of tolerating the pain of one’s losses. When that becomes a daily routine to deal with chronic stress, unprocessed grief and feelings of powerlessness and emotional isolation, you got yourself an addiction.
Anger – predominantly experienced as a secondary emotion – helps us regulate feelings of vulnerability. Under its influence we feel respectful, dignified, entitled and righteous. It does so by making us feel energetic, powerful and ready to fight and defend ourselves from whoever or whatever – including feelings – that make us feel small and hurt. In this heightened state of arousal, we experience a high that may become addictive. As the overweight who focus solely on dieting but avoid exploring the deeper, underlying mechanisms that feed their food addiction and, for that reason, struggle to keep a healthy weight – anger addicts remain angry by neglecting the primary emotions that trigger it. Therefore, the reason why you feel angry “all the time” may be centred on fear, reluctance, or difficulty to access the deeper, more painful emotions you have carried from years of (emotional) neglect and/or abuse.
If you identify with the above, I recommend trauma counselling to deal with the effects of complex trauma, such as pent-up anger and anger addiction.
Grief tends to follow a sense of loss. Death of a loved one, sudden increase in awareness of childhood trauma, being fired or made redundant, experiencing relationship breakups of any nature or changes in health and/or living conditions, for instance, are all examples of losses that may trigger the need to grieve. Even though it is a biological and functional process, grief is still highly misunderstood and even neglected. If you believe in the power of grieving as a reliable source of emotional connection, wholeness and wisdom but often feel overwhelmed by it, here are 5 self-soothing techniques for healthy grief processing to help you through it:
1- Self-cuddling: Peter Levine, the creator of Somatic Experiencing and writer of Waking the Tiger, has taught us how to use our bodies to soothe ourselves. Give yourself a big butterfly cuddle by placing the palm of your right hand on your left armpit, and the palm of your left hand on your right arm. Relax your shoulders and truly hold yourself while you feel the warmth of your body through the palms of your hands (to watch Peter Levine’s demo video, please click here). This technique is recommended to those who find themselves affected by feelings of sadness, loneliness, rejection and/or abandonment and, therefore, struggle to feel safe and loveable.
2- Gentle touch: place the hand you write with on your chest, and the other one on your belly. Breathe deeply (5 seconds for the inbreath and 5 seconds for the outbreath) and truly hold your own body and emotions with love and unconditional self-acceptance. This technique also works well for those who are experiencing great feelings of fear/anxiety, sadness, loneliness, rejection and abandonment.
3- Cigar breathing: make a strong pout and breathe deeply in and out through it (at least 5 seconds for inbreath and outbreath). This exercise allows you to connect with the vagus nerve so to calm down the nervous system and regulate anger and fear/anxiety/panic.
4- Tranquil place: imagine a beautiful and calm place that you associate with relaxation and other pleasant feelings. Transport yourself to your tranquil place mentally. Visualise enjoying your surroundings and savouring everything that makes this place truly especial to you. Moreover, observe how your body gradually relaxes and makes you feel more serene as the connections with the image deepens.
5- Grounding: sit on a chair with a straight back, relaxed shoulders and both feet in parallel touching the floor. Start focusing your attention on your breathing. You do not have to force anything. Then, gradually, start changing the focus to the soles of your feet. Notice the bodily sensations that bring them to your awareness, as well as the sensations between your (bare) feet and the floor. This exercise helps you feel centred and back in the present, where you belong.
Through grieving our losses with our whole self – body and mind – we not only process and overcome them healthily, but also develop emotional wellbeing and maturity, unconditional self-esteem and post-traumatic growth.
The imposed social isolation and focus on the negative news surrounding the COVID-19 virus spread may work as triggers for the fight or flight response. If you have a history of unresolved childhood trauma, you may feel even more vulnerable and experience the following effects of social isolation:
Fear: a nagging sense of collective fear may put your body in a state of hypervigilance, which, in turn, makes you more susceptible to feeling stuck in an excessive worrying and anxiety loop.
Abandonment feelings: not being allowed social contact could also work as a trigger for feelings of existential loneliness, rejection and abandonment. Even if these feelings do not make sense rationally, they do emotionally for those who have suffered abuse and/or neglect and, therefore, deal with the effects of their childhood trauma.
Anger: anger tends to follow abandonment feelings because it serves as to regulate them or give us back a sense of “self-esteem” and personal power. Being forced to isolate and cope with the negative emotions that arise from it without much emotional support can make you feel disappointed, resentful or even very angry for no apparent reason.
Lack of motivation: when the air is filled with negativity and there is little movement and fun in our lives, it becomes harder to find the energy to complete the simplest of tasks.
Lack of concentration: having your body on high alert for most of the time makes you limbic system or “emotional brain” hyperactive. As a result, our brain areas interconnected with the role of attention – as the pre-frontal cortex – do not get a chance to operate properly.
If you identify with the above to some degree, increasing self-awareness and keeping a very strict personal care routine could safeguard your emotional health during this challenging period. Practices that enable you to achieve that include nurturing the inner child via meditation and visualisations, daily exercise or physical activity, contacting friends and/or family and eating a healthy/low carb diet based on plants and whole foods. Reducing considerably or even avoiding the news while keeping an objective and positive outlook for the near future, as well as avoiding contact with pessimistic and fear driven people who refuse to see beyond an extremely biased and negative outlook may go a long way to making you feel more centred and calm. In addition, watching comedies, reading inspiring literature or watching uplifting talks and videos tend to put a smile on our faces and do wonders to improve our mood.
Mental health is all about emotional connection and acceptance. Our habit of judging and neglecting negative emotions, as well as our obsession with controlling them, often makes us more unhappy and unbalanced. If you are tired of fighting against yourself and the way you feel, and would like to rebuild a healthier relationship with your emotions, here is how to accept negative emotions:
1- Connect with the body
Emotions are expressed in the body. Therefore, anyone who wishes to fully connect with their emotions does so, primarily, through a reconnection with the body. You can achieve that through exploring bodily sensations such as those of tension and lightness. If you struggle to identify emotions, exploring your bodily sensations will give you a good sense of the impact your own thoughts and experiences have on you.
2- Become consciously aware of the presence of negative emotions
Instead of diverging your focus away from negative emotions or doing your utmost to repress or control them, become fully aware of their presence. You can do that by moving your attention towards them and creating a mental map of where they are felt in the body through direct observation of their intensity and movement, as well as the effect they have on you.
3- Observe them without judgement
Most of us were raised in a culture of emotional neglect in which “negative” emotions are thought to be an inconvenience that should be dealt with as soon as possible. Such attitude tends to be unproductive, however, since it has the potential of creating an even bigger problem. Avoiding, denying or repressing negative emotions are dysfunctional behaviours that often lead to emotional and physical problems. To prevent that from happening, just let them let them be and resist the urge to do something about them.
4- Validate their right to exist
Because all emotions are part of us, when we deny their wisdom and value, openly rejecting them through repression, avoidance or denial, we do so to the detriment of our own selves. Even when they do not seem coherent at first glance, they have a right to be brought to awareness. Every time you recognise a negative emotion with openness and respect, you become whole and complete in yourself.
5- Befriend your body
To become more tolerant of negative emotions, it is essential that you see your body as a friend. Self-love and acceptance is only viable through a strong alliance with our whole selves, mind and body. To befriend your body, change your beliefs about “negative” bodily sensations and emotions by regarding them as normal expressions of the self. Seeing them as fleeting also helps you approach them with patience, understanding and kindness.
The benefits of focusing your attention on emotions go beyond emotional regulation and wellbeing, but also help enhance your concentration abilities and regulate impulsive behaviour. To get the most out of the above, be mindful of how you feel and do what you can to remind yourself to think and act differently when worrying excessively or feeling anxious.
Despite enabling us to identify our needs and act in our best interest, anger is a misunderstood emotion. Because we tend to see anger in all-or-nothing terms, it is often perceived as a dysfunctional emotional expression. While anger tends to be connected to relationship problems and even abuse, it is not at all times experienced in its extreme form or linked to irrational behaviour. Anger also comes in a wide range of feelings and intensities, each with its own function and message, some of which are very powerful and motivational. To help you gain a greater understanding and respect for you anger, this article is dedicated to exploring it in detail.
The role of anger
Be it in its passive or more active form, anger is a sign that we feel wronged by something or someone. When angry, we are reacting to an attack – real or imaginary – to our self-esteem, which leads us to feeling rejected, ignored, isolated, hurt or criticised. Anger also works as to give us back what we have lost from that (perceived) violation, namely, the respect and love for our own selves. Furthermore, anger is there to help us regain a sense of control over ourselves, as well as the negative emotions that surround it, such as sadness and fear. For that reason, anger also helps us regulate feelings of inadequateness.
Feelings related to anger
Frustration, irritation, resentment, annoyance and rage, for instance, are all forms of anger. When we are exposed to a great threat to our self-esteem for a long period, anger may be felt in its highest intensity and turn into hatred.
How anger is felt in the body
Like fear, an angry reaction is triggered by the amygdala. When we become angry, our brain prepares us to fight an enemy or flight the scene. As you will notice on the below list, the bodily sensations associated with anger are also the ones we tend to experience when taken by fear, another emotion connected to the fight or flight response:
Increased body temperature and blood pressure
Armouring (tense muscles, especially back and neck)
Clenching the jaw and grinding teeth
Adaptive and maladaptive anger
Adaptive anger is like any other negative feeling that is experienced in a functional manner. When we experience anger healthily, it lets us know that something is not right and, then, it fades away after a little while (on average, 20 minutes). In that sense, healthy anger is productive, because it serves a specific purpose at a particular point in time, so it is short-lived and context dependant. That type of anger also directs our focus to change, or helps us start contemplating it. When we are stuck with maladaptive anger, however, it is neither felt nor regulated in that fashion, but it tends to last longer (build-up anger) or shorter than needed to create awareness and motivate us to act, or it is used as a sole means for regaining a sense of power and safety. Our failure to process and deal with the problems highlighted by our anger – when it arises – might result in behavioural, physical and mental health problems, such as relationship difficulties, migraine headaches and depression.
What your anger says about you
The anger warning reminds you that your needs are not being met. The nature of those needs may vary, from feeling loved and valued, to emotionally balanced, in control or safe. Anger highlights vulnerability and feelings of powerlessness, like a reminder of our limitations as individuals. Therefore, we feel angry when we cannot meet our goals for happiness and wellbeing. When our core beliefs are too rigid and do not match objective reality, we feel let down and angry, not only at ourselves, but at others and even life itself. The relationship we have with our anger – be it by repressing it or becoming reactive and acting out – is also connected to a history of unresolved childhood trauma.
Before rushing to judge, deny or hide your angry feelings, check in with yourself and try asking the following questions:
What needs have I got that are not being met?
What feelings of inadequacy may my anger be masking?
Is my anger productive or maladaptive?
By understanding your anger and registering its message, you start building a healthier relationship with it and yourself, so that all that energy that it so effectively triggers can also be directed to learning, better relationships and personal growth.
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