Dealing with anger is probably one of the most difficult parts of recovery for me, having grown up in a family that denies the existence of anger. Even with an addiction to help keep a lid on things, unexpressed anger has a way of leaking out all over the place. Sometimes that suppressed anger erupts in a sudden rage that claims our maturity and sometimes even our sanity. More often we bleed off the excess pressure indirectly by yelling, giving someone the finger, or some other form of temper tantrum. Like many others, my suppressed anger leaks out as sarcasm, profanity, and the urge to act out sexually.
Simply stated, if you don’t learn to deal with anger, you’re going to relapse. Most of us know that, but how exactly does a person “deal” with anger? Here’s how I do it.
- Recognize I’m angry.
- Say, “I feel angry.”
You can find some good resources to help you manage your anger online at the American Psychological Association and at the Mayo Clinic online. They work but I can’t use them unless I start with these three steps.
Yesterday my husband played golf all afternoon. By the time he got home, the f-word had become 90% of my vocabulary, sprinkled with a few sob’s for variety. The kids were laying low in their rooms and I was in the process of burning the hell out of dinner on the grill. My husband asked if I felt angry and (of course) I said no since I honestly didn’t feel angry at all. He’s not the enmeshed, codependent partner he used to be, so he simply said okay and took over cooking the burgers, which was a healthy form of self-care at that point! Later, still not feeling angry, I dumped all his dirty clothes on top of his desk. This morning he couldn’t find his shoes – because they were dumped on the desk under the clothes. It wasn’t until he came into the kitchen laughing about it that I realized that I had been angry.
I made two mistakes here. First, I forgot that lots of profanity means I’m probably angry. Second, I forgot that my husband can often tell I’m angry when I don’t feel angry. The simple fact is that I’ve been suppressing anger my whole life. It’s going to take awhile before being angry and feeling angry happen at the same time.
How do you handle the huge waves of anger that happen? Maybe anger that’s been suppressed (by years of addiction perhaps) rolls over you. Primal scream therapy used to be all the rage but it actually works to increase anger, not dissipate it. So screaming “I feel angry” at the top of my lungs will do more harm than good. Instead, I take a series of cleansing breaths, just like lamaze class. I do that until I’m calm enough to speak without foaming at the mouth.
Say, “I feel angry.”
It seems kind of silly to just say this but for a person like me who grew up in a family that suppresses all anger, it’s important. There are many scary things in the world that can hurt me, but my anger is there to protect me. In and of itself there is nothing wrong with anger.
Recognizing, breathing, and naming work together to enable me to manage anger without resorting to a drink or a drug, without resorting to sexual escape, and without raging.