A few people have recently asked us about how they can get over their anger. They say they express resentment to the other party (as we do in Radical Honesty) yet tend to get stuck—expressing their anger for hours even—and unable to get over it.
I judge this to be a very important topic. In my opinion (and in my experience), getting over anger and fully forgiving is possible even when the topic is “big” like violence, lying, cheating, emotional, physical or sexual abuse. And recognizing, expressing and getting over anger is helped with practice, practice, practice. Little by little, expressing—and getting over—anger can become easier.
For me, anger exists to protect us, to tell us “danger, be careful,” to express “I didn’t like that.” I might not like what my son, my mother or my husband does or says—and that is no one’s fault. Anger isn’t about right and wrong. “Wow, how liberating!” you might think. And I agree; it really is! Right and wrong aren’t really that important. What’s important is how I feel and how you feel and us sharing that aloud and staying present with each other, going through those (loud intense) moments together till we get to a better place of forgiveness and even love.
Here are some tips for how to express your anger in order to get over it and feel more connection and love as a result:
1. Learn to recognize your anger.
We need to first learn to recognize that we’re angry before we’re able to express it. We have been told by parents, grandparents, teachers and other adults around us to be less angry, to be less demanding, to be quieter, to be less expressive, to be less irrational. As children, we were thoroughly conditioned to believe anger is bad and that we are wrong for expressing it. And we believed that bullshit (just as our parents did before us) so much that often we have difficulty even recognizing when we’re angry.
So, notice what physical sensations arise in your body. Tightness in your jaw, chest or stomach? Trembling hands? Increased heartbeat? Notice your thoughts. Are you trying to surpress any thoughts? Are you telling yourself things like: “Just let it go. It’s not a big deal. I shouldn’t be angry about this.” Sounds like anger!
2. Befriend your anger.
Actively recognize and accept that your anger is there for a reason. It’s an emotion like any other and there aren’t any “bad” emotions. Anger is a normal mammal and human response to things your system judges (rightly or wrongly) as some kind of a threat. Anger helps you notice what’s OK for you and what’s not. Anger is your friend. It’s there to support you to take care of yourself (and sometimes others).
3. Express your anger.
When you notice that you’re angry, tell the other person what you’re angry about—facts about what they said or did that you didn’t like. Don’t wait until you are raging. Express it immediately when you notice “a little irritation” or “discomfort” arising in you. Allow yourself to be petty and unreasonable. We all get angry about petty and unreasonable shit, whether or not we admit it.
4. Stay present.
When you express your anger, try to stay present to your physical sensations, to your thoughts and to your emotions. Look the other person in the eye. Notice how your sensations shift. Stay present and keep eye contact longer than you normally do. Remaining present with the other person and allowing all the (maybe unpleasant) sensations to come and go are keys to getting over anger.
5. Separate fact from fiction.
Arguing about who correctly interpreted what had happened isn’t beneficial. Howyou make yourself feel about what happened is far more relevant.
6. Free yourself from the right/wrong game.
Often, one or both parties don’t want to get over their anger. They want to blame the other. They want to be right. They want to be the one who’d been wronged. In each of these cases, the person isn’t taking responsibility for their own emotion, the anger that they themselves created. Our anger is always about us. Therefore, I highly recommend bringing awareness to any desire you have to be righteous or to blame the other party or to play the victim.
7. Your anger isn’t that big of a deal.
Sometimes, I see couples where both parties make anger very serious and important. Ultimately, I judge, it’s not! Feeling anger is a core part of you being human and a core part of your survival mechanism. It’s there to serve you. At the same time, it’s not very serious. Oftentimes, it’s just some sensations in your body.
I regard anger as a close friend to love. The opposite of love isn’t anger; it’s not caring. Expressing anger is caring, it’s also expressing trust, closeness—even love. “I care for you so much that I don’t want to withhold my anger from you even if I’m risking you becoming angry at me or liking me less. I could easily bullshit you yet instead I choose to be honest with you and express my anger directly to you.”
Here are some tips for after the situation has ended:
1. Notice your patterns.
I have noticed that I tend to get more easily angry when I’m tired or hungry (when I’m hangry). I try to recognize when that’s the case (and I invite others to check in with me, too). After I’ve rested and/or eaten, I’ll return to topic and see if it’s still an issue for me.
2. Journal and do self-reflection.
For me, journaling after the situation has been a great way for me to notice what was going on with me and what story I had been creating and what was happening in my body. I tend to get more insights. A word of caution: if you’re an intellectual type who likes to analyze everything, this might not work for you. You still need to get messy and express yourself. Therefore, reflecting and analyzing comes only after fully expressing and experiencing your anger and messiness.
3. Ask for help from your loved ones.
Conversing with your partner/friends/parents about your patterns and typical ways of expressing or suppressing anger can very useful. Saying out loud things can be very beneficial in helping you recognize your patterns and noticing the places where you get stuck. Ask your loved ones for feedback about how they experience you expressing anger.
To kick off your befriending your anger, let me ask you…
How did you learn to express (or suppress) anger when you were a child? How was anger expressed in your family? How do you express your anger now? (And note that by being quiet, looking away, leaving the room or changing the topic can also be expressions of anger, albeit indirect and/or passive aggressive.)
Do you get stuck in your anger? What are your biggest triggers? Have you recognized any patterns of how you make yourself angry and how you express anger? Do you blame others for your anger? Do you play a victim? If so, how do you put yourself in that role?
Expressing anger can be expressing love!