If you are a part of our newsletter community, then you may already know that this month we’ve chosen to focus on anger as our Emotion of the Month. (If you’re interested, you can subscribe here for our exclusive, monthly newsletter content)! Anger often gets a bad reputation as a “negative emotion” that should be tampered down or ignored so we don’t have to feel it’s strength and disruptive potential. But similar to the approach we use with food (e.g. all foods fit), all emotions fit too!
Though uncomfortable to experience, anger serves an important function in alerting us to situations in which a boundary of ours may have been crossed or actions/words don’t align with our values or beliefs. Anger can also act as a shield for some of our other emotions such as fear, sadness, confusion, regret, etc.
Recently, a friend of mine made a decision that deeply upset me and my immediate reaction was anger toward that person. I was shocked, as anger is not an emotion I experience frequently and found myself curious about how to investigate the feeling further.
Below are the 5 phases I experienced with my anger:
- Surprised – When I first identified I was feeling angry I was largely surprised since I had never felt anger before toward this person, and it’s not an emotion I experience frequently.
- Guilt and Shame – Anger sometimes feels like it carries a harshness, a sharp around the edges quality, so I felt guilty for having an intense reaction that seemed “too emotional” or “too mean.” (Reminder: your emotions are never too much, and very valid!).
- Inquisitive – Using what I know about anger I started to ask myself why am I feeling this way? Is there a boundary being crossed right now? What is this telling me about my values and beliefs?
- Trusting – After reminding myself that my anger serves an important purpose I then trusted myself to sit with the emotion, recognizing it would not last indefinitely, and to learn what I needed to from it
- Gratitude – Processing my anger in this manner allowed me to pinpoint where it was stemming from (the specific boundary and value being crossed) and to vocalize that to the person who crossed it in a clear, respectful way. I found myself grateful that my anger was protecting me and that I was open enough to listen to it and ultimately find peace in the situation.
These phases describe my personal experience with anger, but yours may look different! They aren’t intended to be prescriptive but rather a template you can use if you feel yourself consumed by anger and lost in how to process it. Journaling helped me move through the five phases, and in particular come up with responses for phase 3. The following journal prompts may help you the next time you feel angry:
- Does the intensity of my anger match the current situation?
- Who or what am I having the urge to direct my anger toward?
- What is my anger trying to tell me right now? Is there a boundary being crossed?
- Are there any other secondary emotions under the anger or in reaction to it?
The more we allow ourselves to experience anger, the more tolerable it will become as we learn to express it appropriately and effectively. Stay tuned for our next newsletter launching next week, February 1, where we will reveal the next Emotion of the Month.
By: Maddy Weingast, Assistant for Therapy for Eating Disorders and Body Image