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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Vail

Solving the Anger Problem

There is plenty to be angry about these days. Anger is a part of the human condition. One of my wise mentors explained that anger is like dashboard warning lights in a car, worthy of our attention, giving us valuable information about our internal experience. If we ignore those dash lights, they don't just go away, and can allow problems to worsen. Angry feelings are often caused by a perceived injustice or violation, and anger can motivate the necessary action to make something right or safe.

Unfortunately, most of us grew up in environments that did not teach us how to manage anger in a healthy way. Parents are often triggered by their child's age-appropriate expressions of anger and disallow it, labeling it disobedience or feeling red-hot embarrassed when their child displays anger in public. Rather than teaching children what to do with their anger, parents often get angry at their child's expression of anger and discipline them for having anger. Anger is a natural part of the human experience, and attempts by parents to bully children's anger away is a futile effort and antithetical to calming.

When angry feelings arise and we have been conditioned to fear that emotion, we may feel threatened by our own angry feelings, then our fight/flight/freeze/faint reaction may be triggered. Therefore, many adults were never taught how to manage anger, so when angry feelings arise these adults either repress that anger or have an adult tantrum ("flip their lid"). Typically, neither of these responses to anger helps us solve the issue that triggered our anger. (By the way, if you are a parent who wants to teach children how to manage all their feelings well, including anger, I recommend the book "Peaceful Parent, Happy Kid: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting" by Dr. Laura Markham.)

Repressing anger can lead to self-abandonment - an unwillingness to correct injustices or put up boundaries when violations occur. Alternatively, "flipping a lid" or exploding in anger often means we are reacting from a triggered place and harming others or ourselves by taking imprudent actions. There is a wise middle path we can take when anger arises: noticing our anger without judgment, taking the information we need from it, letting the anger go, and then taking action from a centered place with integrated input from our whole brain.

Counseling can help you learn the tools to cultivate a healthier relationship with anger, one that productively uses anger to motivate actions that solve problems. You are not alone in feeling anger and there are ways you can learn to perceive your anger more objectively and harness the energy from anger to create lasting positive change in your life for a more just and safe existence. Please contact me if you are ready to learn tools to feel and express anger safely and constructively.

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