I recently had an individual who reached out for coaching and wanted help to deal with her suppressed anger and find a way to express assertive anger.
She grew up in a household with a lot of secrets. If she voiced her opinion, she would be told to calm down or simply dismissed. As a result, she never felt heard or understood. All of this would make her frustrated.
Suppressing our anger often stems from what we learned in childhood as part of our social conditioning. Anger as a form of expression is often discouraged as it can lead to conflict. We’re shamed for anger. We learn that it’s not ok to feel it.
Example Of Beliefs Around Suppressed Anger
The idea of suppressing anger comes from beliefs such as:
“I need to perform in order to be loved.”
“Anger is bad, I must suppress it.”
“A good person doesn’t get angry.”
“Conflict destroys relationships.”
Helping my client with her suppressed anger reminded me of the areas where I have bottled up my own anger. Something that I spent a great deal of time unraveling within myself. I learned in my childhood that saying something that is not pleasant to hear or opposing the views of my father would be met with anger, dismissal, condescension or withdrawal.
These reactions from my father taught me at a young age that it was safer to ‘bite my tongue’ and keep my opinions to myself.
Besides this, it taught me to be hyper-attuned to what others wanted to hear. This was somewhat of a double-edged sword. It enabled me to read and feel people, to understand the nuances of human emotion, but it also had a shadow aspect to it.
I kept censoring my own voice in order to maintain the status quo, to avoid conflict and consequences.
In doing so, I only displayed aspects of myself that were deemed ‘acceptable’.
But eventually, it got to a point when I couldn’t live like that anymore. To deny my own truth to fit into somebody else’s box.
I no longer wanted to filter and water down who I was. I decided to speak my truth even if it was difficult, to express my boundaries in an assertive way and stand for what I felt was right.
When we avoid difficult conversations, we trade short term discomfort for long term dysfunction. ~ Peter Bromberg
All of this was a hard pill to swallow. I was mourning my lost voice, my lost self. I was angry about how I treated myself and how I allowed others to walk over me. All of this stemmed from the beliefs that I wasn’t worthy, that my words didn’t matter and that my life didn’t matter.
Tears were rolling down my cheeks, but this time I was honoring them.
There was so much unspoken anger that I felt the paper I was writing might ignite in flames.
But with every written word, I felt lighter until there was just a silent blank page. And I listened. I listened to the beat of my heart. And I felt life flowing more rapidly through my veins again.
As if that fire reawakened the natural rhythm and flow of energy in me. I didn’t know for how long it would last, but for now, I felt light. Emotional liberation comes from releasing and integrating all spectrum of our emotions, even those that are more unpleasant to feel.
Anger is never wrong. It communicates to us that there is some situation that we don’t like and want to change but feel powerless to do so.
It’s ok to feel anger as well as any other emotions. If we feel anger, then there is a valid reason for us to feel it. Whether that reason is internal or external.
So the very first step would be to embrace anger, to own it. That doesn’t mean to go and punch someone in the nose because we feel angry.
Expressing our anger in a healthy way could look like screaming into a pillow or even punching a pillow, going for a run, kickboxing, setting healthy boundaries or journaling.
By writing all the angry, nasty thoughts that play out in our heads, we finally express how we feel and give our emotions a voice. In doing so, we can often experience a release of tension.
The question is, what do we feel powerless about?
Is it just our perception or is this situation truly unworkable?
What is our anger trying to communicate to us?
What is the actual need behind the anger?
How can we make an unworkable situation workable again?
When the anger is fully felt and acknowledged and, if necessary, appropriate action is taken; eventually, it runs its course.
It’s the resistance and suppression that makes anger perpetuate and can gradually develop into aggression. This then becomes way more destructive.
When it boils up to the surface after being repressed for too long, it makes us react in unhealthy ways. Alternatively, if we continue suppressing it, we can drop into depression which is an ongoing feeling of powerlessness.
Anger can be beneficial in order to pull us out of feeling victimized or afraid. It’s forward-moving energy and sometimes it can actually be a stepping stone to feeling empowered again.
Assertive Anger And Boundaries
Anger is often a byproduct of having a lack of boundaries.
People get angry when they fail to assert themselves.
Anger is a vital component for recognizing where our boundaries stand. It can be fuel for action. When we finally say, enough is enough.
What could assertive anger look like? It could look like setting boundaries.
Setting boundaries is simply expressing what we prefer. Being straightforward. Saying how we feel. Asking for changes. Standing for what we believe in, despite potential disapproval. Saying no without having a need to make excuses or justify our preference.
At the same time, it doesn’t give us a right to control or exert power over another. It also doesn’t mean that we will always get what we want. Our focus should be to create enough awareness in the other so that they can change themselves by recognizing the violation and potential consequences.
We can assert ourselves in a calm and confident manner. If we don’t do that at an appropriate time, it can gradually develop into anger and resentment towards ourselves or others. We then think the only way to express our preference is by demanding and forcing others through aggressiveness.
Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others. ~ Brene Brown
Step-by-Step Process for Releasing and Integrating Anger
1. Validate the emotion – you can do that by saying: No wonder I’m feeling this way.
2. Identify and locate it in your body – Can you name the emotion? In what part of the body do you feel the sensation activated by your emotion? If you feel the sensation in more than one part of the body, see in which part it is more dominant.
3. Observe the emotion – What sensations do you feel? Is it warmth, tightness, tension, etc.? Focus on your breath. Be present with it.
4. Personify your emotion – How does your emotion look? Is it a color, a form of energy? If your emotion was a character/person, how would it look? How old would it be? Would it be a female or male? What would be her/his name?
What happens sometimes is that your emotion can take the form of a younger version of you. It may be linked to some specific time of your life or memory.
5. Give your emotion a voice – Is there any message that your emotion wants you to hear, know or see? If there is some message, it helps to write it down.
This process makes the thoughts more tangible. Write down what your emotion wants to express. Is there any thought or belief that makes you feel this way?
6. Meet the need behind that emotion – If you see a character or younger version of yourself, you can explore his/her needs.
Sometimes all that is required of you is to be present with her/him, to see her/him, to hear her/him. And sometimes, he/she might need you to provide a feeling of safety, love or belonging.
You could imagine hugging that aspect of you in your visualization or merging with it. Immerse yourself into the emotion, into that aspect of you.
Sometimes the need will require to be expressed externally. For example, if your friend constantly keeps breaking promises, you might need to have a difficult conversation and express how it makes you feel.