Anger can be a typical response to unfair situations or events in which people have experienced being victimized, or felt wronged. There is a direct correlation between anger and trauma. If you have experienced a traumatic event please realize, that anger is a common characteristic. It’s not uncommon to feel defenseless against an upsurge of anger. Often, it may feel like, “My anger just takes over! I don’t feel like I have a choice!” and “I’ve always been this way.” And, all too often, anger becomes an unhelpful means to evade some inner pain.
Anger, at its core, needs self-compassion!
When angry, the focus tends to be on the person, or situation contributing to the anger. When we get caught up in the anger it diminishes the direct awareness of what is happening in our bodies. The holding of muscular tension, negative thoughts, and feelings, coupled with the lack of awareness precedes the anger and catalysts for disaster. These disastrous moments are absent of real reflection of what is happening from within us.
“Healthy anger” includes reflection. It’s having the ability to institute a ‘Pause’ to determine if the threat we feel is actually happening. The pause helps to determine what is truly happening in the present moment, how urgent it is, and how to respond appropriately. Learning to pause and not react is a learned skill.
As a counselor, I have noticed when working with clients that there are specific skills essential to the practice of “healthy anger.” Here are some examples of developing healthy forms of feeling anger: observe the anger and experience it without becoming overwhelmed and reactive. Recognize the anger as a signal to explore inner feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations that arise from within the Self. Make a determination of what your core desires might be. What are your values? Get curious and ask yourself, “What do I need right now?” Create a felt sense of internalized safety by connecting and observing the feeling rather than reacting. Learning more effective communication skills develops healthy anger. Self-reflection and mindfulness practices, which include self-compassion, and maybe, forgiveness work can increase one’s sense of inner peace. Becoming an observer of your internal feelings, naming the feeling, and noticing where you feel it in the body can offer freedom to choose how you may react in the moment. It is an essential skill that aids in switching from unhealthy anger to healthy anger when we can learn to be able to sit with the tension of the felt pain and notice it rather than react. Feelings are fluid – they change. It’s also important to remind ourselves that feelings are ‘not’ facts, however, they are indicators of what is internally happening in our bodies and minds.
Expanding self-awareness helps us to understand the interplay of thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations that contribute to anger reactions—and to identify the triggers that inhibit the trajectory of healthy anger. Therapy, support groups, physical activity, breathing techniques, meditation, taking a time out, and the abovementioned are coping strategies.
Remember, anger is not an unhealthy emotion – the ways in which I cope are what determines healthy, or unhealthy anger. If you or a loved one is experiencing negative side effects from trauma, or have difficulties coping with life’s stressors, please reach out for support. We are here for you. You are loved and worthy!
Ericka Roberts, MS, RMHCI, E-CYT 500, CNHP
Clinician Bio: Ericka Roberts holds a Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health and is an experienced Master Yoga Teacher and Certified Natural Health Professional. EMDR Certification Candidate. American Counseling Association (ACA) active member.