When we can’t manage anger, it can overwhelm us. How we react is influenced by our innate temperament and early family environment. Thus, different people react differently. Codependents don’t know how to handle their anger. Some explode, criticize, blame, or say hurtful things they later regret. Others hold it in and say nothing in. They please or withdraw to avoid conflict, but stockpile resentments. Yet anger always finds a way. Codependency can lead to being passive-aggressive, where anger comes out indirectly with sarcasm, grumpiness, irritability, silence, or through behavior, such as cold looks, slamming doors, forgetting, withholding, being late, even cheating.
If we’re in denial of our anger, we don’t allow ourselves to feel it or even mentally acknowledge it. We may not realize we’re angry for days, weeks, years after an event. All of these difficulties with anger are due to poor role models growing up. Learning to manage anger should be taught in childhood, but our parents lacked skills to handle their own anger maturely, and therefore were unable to pass them on. If one or both parents are aggressive or passive, we would copy one or the other parent. If we’re taught not to raise our voice, told not to feel angry, or were scolded for expressing it, we learned to suppress it. Some of us fear we’ll turn into the aggressive parent we grew up with. Many people believe it’s not Christian, nice, or spiritual to be angry and they feel guilty when they are.
The truth is that anger is a normal, healthy reaction when our needs aren’t met, our boundaries are violated, or our trust is broken. Anger has to move. It’s a powerful energy that requires expression and sometimes action to correct a wrong. It needn’t be loud or hurtful. Most codependents are afraid their anger will hurt or even destroy someone they love. Not necessarily so. Correctly handled, it can improve a relationship.
Anger and Depression
Sometimes anger hurts us most of all. Mark Twain wrote, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”
Anger can contribute to ill health and chronic illness. Stressful emotions wear down the body’s immune and nervous systems and its ability to repair and replenish itself. Stress-related symptoms include heart disease (high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke, digestive and sleep disorders, headaches, muscle tension and pain, obesity, ulcers, rheumatoid arthritis, TMJ, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Unexpressed anger breeds resentment or gets turned against ourselves. It’s been said that depression is anger turned inward. Examples are guilt and shame, forms of self-hatred that when excessive, lead to depression.
Expressing Anger Effectively
Managing our anger is essential to success in work and relationships. The first step is acknowledging it and recognizing how it manifests in our body. Identify the physical signs of anger, usually tension and/or heat. Slow your breath and bring it into your belly to calm you. Take time out to cool-off.
Repeating gripes or arguments in our mind is a sign of resentment or “re-sent” anger. Admitting we’re angry, followed by acceptance, prepares us for a constructive response. Anger may signal deeper feelings or hidden pain, unmet needs, or that action is required. Sometimes, resentment is fueled by unresolved guilt. To overcome guilt and self-blame, see Freedom from Guilt and Blame – Finding Self-Forgiveness.
Understanding our reaction to anger includes discovering our beliefs and attitudes about it and what have influenced their formation. Next, we should examine and identify what triggers our anger. If we frequently over-react and view others’ actions as hurtful, it’s a sign of shaky self-worth. When we raise our self-esteem and heal internalized shame, we won’t over-react, but are able to respond to anger in a productive and assertive manner. To learn assertiveness skills, read the examples in How to Speak Your Mind: Become Assertive and Set Limits, and write out scripts and practice the role plays in How to Be Assertive.
In the heat of anger, we may overlook our contribution to the event or that we owe an apology. Acknowledging our part can help us learn and improve our relationships.
Finally, forgiveness doesn’t mean we condone or accept bad behavior. It means that we’ve let go of our anger and resentment. Praying for the other person can help us find forgiveness. Read “The Challenge of Forgiveness.”
Working with a counselor is an effective way to learn to manage anger and communicate it effectively.
©Darlene Lancer 2017