Thursday, November 13, 2014

Healing from Underground Anger

Despite old expectations that men don't cry and women don't get angry, anger is a healthy part of our experience. Yet, it can be very destructive- especially when it is unconscious. Unconscious or underground anger inhibits our ability to think clearly and damages our bodies and minds with stress- even though we might not be blowing up in the traditional sense of the expression.

Has underground anger been a problem for you? See if you identify with any of these patterns.
  • Do you have a hard time expressing anger but let it stew unspoken?
  • Are you often critical of yourself and others in your thoughts or words?
  • Do you tend to beat yourself up after unwanted events?
  • Do you deny yourself pleasure, downtime, or relaxation?
  • Are you prone to isolating or shutting down when you get upset?
  • Has anyone told you that you're too down on yourself?
Anger is equally about imploding- hurting ourselves with judgement, regret, and rigidity- as it is about exploding at others. In my experience, women often experience this internal, just under the surface type of anger. Women are also twice as likely as men to develop depression. Perhaps, there is some truth to the saying, depression is anger that went to sleep.

On the flip side, conscious or constructive anger allows us to stay in touch with our feelings, use our voice in the moment with others, tackle challenges, and promote a more safe and equal world for all. So, how do we make our underground anger into something more useful? First, we have to see it! And, then we have to calm down. With practice, you can notice when underground anger is hijacking your experience and change course to take yourself down a more constructive avenue instead.

Next time you see the red flags of underground anger in your life, try the following:
  • Applaud yourself for recognizing this old pattern!
  • Remind yourself that getting more mad at this point isn't helpful.
  • Instead, take a break. Return when you're calmer.
  • Focus instead on a soothing mantra, prayer, or intention.
  • Breathe deeply and count your breathes until you calm down.
  • If you can't walk away, ground and distract yourself until you can.
Once you're baseline returns to normal, you will be better able to revisit the situation. Anger typically elevates in response to unmet needs so have compassion for yourself for suffering in this way. Reflect on what you're needing and how to go about getting your needs met. You'll be setting yourself up for success by listening to your experience and responding skillfully, rather than running on underground anger.