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  • Ashley Peterson, LPC

Relationship Status with Anger... It’s Complicated by Waseem Amin

What’s your relationship with anger? How do you feel about this feeling - what’s the ‘meta emotion’ there? How do you feel when you notice that you’re starting to feel mad at someone or about something? Do you suppress it and bottle it up, knowing that it could all come out in a volcano later? Do you let it out instantly, taking all the anger out on whatever or whomever happens to be around?

It’s not uncommon for this emotion to be viewed as volatile and even evil, prompting many of us to reflexively want to push it aside instead of processing it. Others might experience anger with such intensity that they express it instantly and explosively. So viewing anger in a negative light is totally understandable because of how potent it can be, but it doesn’t always have to be that way. I think one of the most helpful things we can do with this emotion is to fully accept it as it starts to come up for us. We can shift the ‘meta emotion’ from frustration with ourselves or shame for showing anger —> to acceptance of the fact that we experience anger. It’s human, normal, inevitable, and (like all other emotions) it serves an important purpose: telling us that there’s a need we can pay attention to. Accepting anger paves the way for us to understand this need and become more in tune with ourselves, and it avoids the cycle of getting angrier because we tried to shove the anger down or stew in it.

So what next? How can we recognize this need and maybe try to do something about it? More often than not, I’ve found that anger is actually a secondary emotion that tries to protect us from a more vulnerable primary emotion underneath it, like hurt or sadness. Asking ourselves about the root of our anger could help us see insights about our worldview and how it led to these emotions. For example, someone’s anger at a friend for being late to their meetup might be rooted in thinking that this friend doesn’t value their time together. So beneath the anger, this person could actually feel hurt by the (perceived) lack of reciprocity in their friendship that this incident highlighted. They might feel sad that they’re not being appreciated in the friendship. Their reaction could then be passive aggression towards the friend or more simply aggression, but neither of these things is helpful to either of them. If, instead, the person communicated this hurt, which is more vulnerable and uncomfortable in the moment, they might end up having a more honest conversation about the hiccups in their friendship and work on connecting more authentically.

All this is to say that anger isn’t inherently bad. No emotion has to be bad in and of itself, and we all have the right to feel our feelings. It’s what we do with our emotions that’s consequential. It’s harder to face the vulnerable place our emotions might be coming from, but more often than not that’s what ends up being healthiest for ourselves and for others around us in the long run.


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