As Tony Robbins says, You cannot heal what you are unwilling to feel. To heal our wounds, we must feel the pain. And that includes the pain of anger.
How to Deal With Anger
Here are some tips for how to deal with anger.
(1) Acknowledge it
Our culture creates such a stigma around anger that it can be difficult to acknowledge it is even there. In the worlds of personal development junkies and seekers of the spiritual path that I inhabit, anger is the most taboo of the taboo emotions.
Pursue happiness. Live in gratitude. Open to love.
Yes. Of course we desire to feel all of those pleasant things.
And, also, none of those things erases the reality of anger.
Anger is real. It’s here, under the surface.
Like any pain, anger is an alarm that tells us something in our life needs to be fixed. It can be an effective catalyst for change, if we allow it. As a first step, we must acknowledge it.
(2) Feel it
You cannot heal what you are unwilling to feel. — Tony Robbins
Allow yourself to feel it, even if it’s painful. Resist the urge to medicate, numb, or escape the pain. The pain here is both emotional and physical.
All emotions show up in the body. So “feel it” literally means “feel it.” Pay attention to what happens in your body.
Notice where the emotion sits in your body.
- Where does your breath feel stuck?
- What sensations do you feel in your body?
- Where do you feel tight?
- What is gripping?
We each have different patterns of physiological response. Maybe you get a certain twinge in a particular spot each time you get angry. It helps to notice your response.
How does it show up, for you?
(3) Get out of the story
If you feel anger, you likely have a story about why. Someone or something is to blame. That “someone” may even be yourself, which creates a special kind of anger.
We often want to look for the reason why we feel angry. Or if we are helping a friend we want to know why they feel anger.
Don’t look for the story.
Our stories create a rationalization for our anger. We often seek out someone to listen, a person who is willing to indulge us in our story, so we can validate our anger by telling the story. Or, even better, so they can validate our anger for us.
What if the story is not relevant or necessary?
The story reinforces the anger we feel. And because all stories are lies, what we do when we tell the story is we reinforce the emotion and prolong the pain by telling ourselves
Let go of the story, and be with the emotion. The pain is not in the emotion, it’s in the story you tell about it.
The less you immerse in the story, the more quickly you can progress through the painful part. Psychologists say that an emotion lasts about 90 seconds. We prolong the emotion with the story.
(4) Accept it
Our need to tell a story to justify our anger comes from the cultural stigma around anger. It stems from cultural conditioning that it’s not ok to feel angry unless we have a reason.
We want to hear those magic words: you have a right to be angry.
What if we could say that without the story?
What if you can just accept your anger for what it is, without needing a reason?
Emotions arise for many reasons. We don’t even know why. You feel what you feel, then your mind finds a story to back it up. You see what you seek. If you’re looking for a reason to feel angry, you can find many.
Of course, people will tell you that in your moment of anger, and then they will turn it around on you: find reasons to be grateful, or happy, or in love.
I’m not saying that — at least not here.
What I am saying is this: you can feel what you feel without needing a reason.
I know this is hard. We don’t feel permission to be angry or sad or other “negative” emotions.
Please read this next part very carefully, and take it in:
You have permission to feel what you feel. You do not need a good reason. You do not need any reason. Whatever you are feeling is valid, and you have a right to feel it.
Repeat this mantra to yourself:
I feel anger and that is ok.
(This applies to other emotions too.)
(5) Watch your language
We tend to create identity around emotions:
I am happy.
I am sad.
I am angry.
Language matters. Emotions are temporary. Identity is permanent (or, at least, harder to change).
The strongest driving force is the need to stay consistent with our own identity.
You are not your emotions. You feel your emotions.
Feel anger. Don’t be angry.
There’s a huge difference.
(6) Be With It
Be with the anger. Don’t judge yourself for feeling anger.
Don’t start the Archery Game, shooting the second arrow at yourself, getting angry at yourself for feeling anger. This is a game you will always lose.
The best way to be with the anger is to breathe into it. Just breathe. As best as you can. Notice where the breath goes and where it stops.
(7) Investigate it
This is not an invitation to tell a story about what someone did to you or how life betrayed you. Don’t ask why do I feel anger? or who is to blame?
Look in yourself with gentle compassion. What’s going on inside you?
Here are 3 places to look:
Anger is often a way we seek control. It makes us feel powerful when we otherwise feel disempowered.
What (or whom) am I seeking to control?
Beneath anger is often fear. Fear makes us feel victimized; anger makes us feel powerful. We use anger to gain back what fear takes from us.
What’s the fear beneath the anger?
We have many unconscious rules for how people should act or what should happen in a given situation. When people or circumstances violate these unexpressed rules, or expectations, we may get angry.
If you feel anger because a person isn’t acting the way you believe they should act, ask yourself:
What are my expectations for how this person should act in this situation?
Feel It to Heal It
Allowing yourself to feel your emotions is the first step to healing. When you feel your emotions, you can work through them with more ease and grace.
Try these tips for yourself and let me know how they work for you.