When you think about someone who needs anger management, red face, tense shoulders, clenched jaw, balled fists, yelling and aggression will usually come to mind first. By definition, the goal of anger management is to reduce both your emotional feelings and the physiological arousal that anger causes.
Googling the term will give 197 million results, from explaining the physiological and psychological factors of it, through the health benefits of managing one’s temper, to quick tips and therapy suggestions to deal with it.
Anger as a feeling is neither good nor bad.
Like every other emotion, it’s conveying a message, telling you something about the actual situation and about your relation to it. It’s perfectly normal to feel angry when you’ve been mistreated or wronged. Anger becomes a problem only when you express it in a way that harms yourself or others.
But what if you are overmanaging your anger? What if the problem is the exact opposite? What if you are that kind of person, who never gets angry?
What if your reaction to an upsetting situation goes against your very nature and instead of experiencing and managing your anger you are suppressing it so it doesn’t harm anyone else — leaving you extremely vulnerable, as it is detrimental both for your mind and body.
Last year, after the last mean move from my abusive ex to harm me, was to put intimate pictures of me online, sending them to my friends, family and colleagues, I had no other idea to deal with it any other way than to go to a sexual-therapist. The hurt and harm were too much to take, the topic itself was a source of humiliation — and I desperately needed to get out of the hole he pushed me in, once again.
I went to see the therapist — I sat across her, wringing my hands, telling my story about my ex, how we met, how he turned from the love of my life into an abusive monster, how he humiliated me, violated me in more ways I could tell about. I told her about it all, as focused and short as possible — I didn’t want to really talk about it, I wanted to get to the point of the solution, not the problem itself. I knew the problem, it was him. I wanted closure, I wanted someone to tell me that I was wronged, and it was unfair.
But instead, she asked me: Are you not angry at him?
I was in shock. I just told her about my past 4 years of traumatic events, the last one being the victim of revenge porn and she asks me if I am angry. Well, damn, I am. And I told her so.
You talk about it as objectively and casually, as you were telling someone else’s story about going grocery shopping. You don’t show any emotion, there is no anger in your voice — this is why I am asking, if you are angry at all.
I could feel tears pricking my eyes and with a trembling soft voice I answered that I am so very angry and disappointed that I could scream and shout, but I am terrified that if I let myself feel all of it, my rage will eat me up and it will be like opening a faucet and I have no idea what will come out and if I can ever close it. I told her that I am scared of it, as the amount of rage I have inside could set a full town on fire, and I cannot risk lashing it out on anyone.
I told her I was meditating a lot, practising breathing and that I was considering to take up yoga again.
She looked at me and said:
Well… fuck yoga, you are already way too zen. You need another approach…
Emotions have their own lives within our minds, she told me. They are there for a reason, to guide us, to stop us, to push us forward. You need to live with your emotions, you need to acknowledge their presence because if they are ignored and suppressed they will find a way to get back at you, in the form of health issues, mental illness, stress — and it can get out of control very easily.
In your case, you need anger management, but not as in managing your anger and your outbursts to stop them from getting out of control. You need to stop suppressing it, finding a healthy outlet and a pace for it to be released on your own terms — so you can learn to live with it, resolve it and move on.
Many of us learned during childhood to ignore, or avoid bad things. But this ignoring bad experiences, and how you feel about them, will not make things better at all. In fact, the more you put off dealing or even acknowledging that something is wrong, the worse it becomes. Mental health experts refer to this as “emotional avoidance.”
You need to take the time to learn about healthy ways to deal with your anger, or even how to recognise your feelings in the first place.
Repressed anger tends to have deep roots, going all the way back to childhood, and it can be hard to manage. Creating a safe space for you to process your anger in productive ways can be crucial. It can happen with the help of a therapist, but some practices can be exercised also on your own.
It is important to learn to release the anger; that you release it for yourself in a safe way; and to realise that anger and violence are not the same things. A healthy release of anger never involves abuse or violence of yourself or another or any living being.
There are active and passive actions to manage repressed anger.
Fighting repressed anger actively
The active part is finding ways to open up that Pandora’s box at your own pace, on your own terms — consciously choosing your actions. These are not the same methods that anger management and therapy would suggest, anger management here means to help to bring that anger up to the surface.
#1 Channel your anger into physical activity
a. Punch a pillow
As childish it might sound, it is a simple and easy way to use physical activity as an outlet to your anger. Carve out some time for yourself, and start punching a pillow, reminding yourself of your own anger, bringing it back up on the surface. Think about how you were wronged, how you felt, how helpless it made you — and watch how the pace and strength of your punches increase. Keep at it for long enough — if need be set a timer, for at least 5–10 minutes. The exercise starts with feeling a little puzzled about it, not really getting the hang of it first, but as time passes it becomes more powerful, and you know you’re done when your feelings fade, and you don’t feel the need to punch anymore. Repeat it daily, for 5–10 minutes and notice how you feel afterwards.
b. Start some “violent” sport
My sport of choice was kickboxing. It is physically taxing and requires a lot of focus and stamina. Besides the general advantages of the sport, the focused punching and kicking of a punching bag is an excellent way to manage anger in a controlled way. Initially, I needed to picture my ex onto the bag, kicking and punching his imaginary self in front of me. The mental image I had helped me to exert such a force I did not even know I had in me. With the careful instructions of my coach, I managed to develop also a technique for both the kicks and punches. It gave an ecstatic thrill of an adrenaline rush, all my emotions washing over me, my body and mind screaming for a break, but I was on a mission — to let it all out.
Any type of martial art is brilliant to coordinate the body and mind, increase stamina and give a sense of previously unknown power. Not to mention the fact that it fights your internal feeling of helplessness and lack of power, just by physically getting stronger, knowing that you could defend yourself.
I am at a point where I would advise anyone against attacking me on a street or anywhere else. And it is not about being violent, it is being powerful enough not to be afraid anymore.
#2 Shout it from the rooftops
Another great practice is the controlled shouting, which is in reality as simple as it sounds. If you are as reserved and composed as I am, you are not going to be used to shouting — except if you are a sports fan where you can cheer loudly for your team. There are therapy sessions that involve a hike into deserted areas, forests, rivers, out of the city — but this can be done just as well on your own. The deserted area is necessary not to hold you back, not to let your inhibitions stop you.
All you need to do is shout and scream, focus on what bothers you, now you can do it, watch how your emotions start bubbling up and start screaming and shouting. Keep at it as long as it feels good and let go of any feelings of it being silly or useless. Just shout, let it all out. If you feel awkward about it, take music with you, put on your headphones and set the music to the loudest volume — and let it out.
#3 Sing your heart out
This works on the same principle as shouting. Singing, in general, has multiple beneficial effects on you. Singing helps in releasing endorphins and oxytocin. It is known to decrease stress and anxiety. Both of these hormones can make you feel better in general and decrease any pain you might be feeling. Singing can also lower your blood pressure, cause you to have lower cortisol levels, and decrease your stress and anxiety, it will certainly have a positive effect on your immune system.
If you use it as an outlet for your repressed anger the additional benefits will be a calmer, more relaxed, less stressed you. The good thing is that even singing loudly in the car or in the shower can have a great effect — and it surely will improve your mood.
#4 Put it all to words
This can work miracles — if done right. Journaling has its unquestionable benefits, but you can take it to the next level, and you can choose which one works for you better.
The biggest problem with repressed anger is that you don’t have the opportunity to release your frustration towards the one who causes you the stress. Think about past traumas, abusive relationships or imbalanced power-situations, where speaking up is impossible (issues with your boss could result in being fired if you let your anger out towards them).
a. Write a letter, and never send it.
You can tell all your problems to the cause of the problem, without ever letting them know that you were angry or frustrated in the first place. Write a letter, write it in detail, write about all the ways they wronged you, tell all about your anger, let your frustration be absorbed by the words, write about how you feel, all your emotions out.
b. Learn to swear in writing.
Most of us, dealing with repressed anger will use only a few four-letter words, keeping our image of having it all together, believing it to be rude and indecent to curse in public. You can do it in writing, the words can take it, no one will get hurt — not even your image. Start easily, with words you would use anyway, and try to find harsher expressions and variations of curse words. This practice is basically twisting the phenomenon that people with real anger issues do. Angry people tend to curse, swear, or speak in highly colourful terms that reflect their inner thoughts. When they are angry, their thinking can get very exaggerated and overly dramatic. While they need to tone down their wording and stop exaggerating their feelings, anger repression needs to take the opposite: this exaggeration is what we try to mimic here, to make the repressed feeling more alive, more vivid, more tangible — and get rid of them on paper.
Dealing with the already surfaced emotion
The passive way is to restore the balance, once the anger is already back on the surface, where you can already deal with it. These practices are most common and well-known, and they can help in balancing any type of negative emotion — not just anger, but anxiety, stress and even overthinking.
As there is a lot to read about them, I’m just offering a quick summary of the most common ones:
#1 Mindfulness and meditation
Simple relaxation tools, such as deep breathing and relaxing imagery, can help calm down disturbed feelings. There are books and courses that can teach you relaxation techniques, and once you learn the techniques, you can call upon them in any situation. But just focusing and being present, practising mindfulness is a great way to get grounded in your present. Focus on the present, notice the positive things no matter how small they are. Celebrate your small wins, reward yourself whenever you can. You can’t overdo self-care.
#2 Calming physical activities
Choose some calming activities that can soothe your mind — and keep at it, best to make a habit of pursuing them. It can be yoga, walking, jogging, running, stretching, pilates — whatever rocks your boat.
The obvious benefits of physical activity of your choice are improved strength and stamina, reduced stress and anxiety levels, a decrease in a multitude of health risks, such as cardiovascular diseases, improved sleep quality, better cognitive functioning, and also the forming of better eating habits.
#3 Crying as a mindful practice
Crying is a natural response humans have to a range of emotions, including sadness, grief, joy, and frustration. Among other benefits, crying has a soothing effect, it helps to relieve pain by releasing oxytocin and endorphins. It alleviates both mental and physical pain, with the help of the two hormones. Crying reduces stress and it can help better sleep.
#4 Expressing gratitude
Expressing gratitude and feeling thankful are powerful. Having an attitude of gratitude is good for your physical, emotional and mental health. Those who make a habit of feeling grateful, experience the same health benefits as happy people. They have lower levels of stress hormones and less risk of viral infections. They exercise more, sleep better, live longer, have higher incomes and more satisfying relationships.
Expressing gratitude as a way of life doesn’t mean you have to feel happy about everything. It doesn’t mean you wish nothing was different or do nothing to improve circumstances for yourself and others. It certainly doesn’t mean you close your eyes to the suffering and harmful situations or purposely create them.
Being thankful means that you accept yourself and where you are in the moment. It means you open yourself to the present experiences of life even when they are painful or difficult.
A short summary
Anger is just an emotion. It’s not good or bad. It guides you, it shows you that something is off.
Dealing with anger, on the other hand, is a conscious choice — and it should be managed in a way that it doesn’t harm either you or others.
If you are the kind of person who has troubles expressing anger and rather suppresses it, your kind of anger management will consist of different elements from someone’s who cannot control their temper.
You need to learn to allow your anger to surface, by actively looking for methods to let it out in a controlled way, so that you can deal with it and process it.
Being zen is really good, but sometimes it is not what you need. To know what your body and mind needs is mindfulness, but it can and should take different forms.
Sometimes punching and kicking is just exactly the kind of mindful zen that you need.