By: Nancy Travers, LCSW
Q. Sometimes I get very angry at the most stupid things. I handle my anger by running away from the problem by either sleeping or taking it out on my lover. What methods can you offer to better manage my anger?
A. Great question. I am glad to see you reach out for some help in understanding how you have been feeling lately. In today’s world with all the pressures people face on a day-today basis like finances, relationships, and work, anger can be just below the surface for many of us. Let me start by saying that I believe most of use the emotion of anger to cover up other feelings such as hurt, fear, pain, disappointment and frustrations. We can use anger to avoid people in our life, avoid talking, or to avoid a difficult situation. Anger can be a powerful emotion that can deplete us of our emotional reserves that we use to handle daily stressors.
In your question you state you are currently handling your anger by sleeping or taking it out on your lover. I am wondering if there is more than anger going on. An increase in sleeping and irritability could be signs of some depression that you are experiencing. The issue of sleeping more can have several meanings such as avoiding your thoughts and feelings, being drained from your feelings of anger, depression, or a combination of these. Some other signs of depression to look at are you experiencing changes in appetite, feeling hopeless, and loss of interest in activites you have previously enjoy. If so, it could be helpful to seek some counseling to identify if there could be an issue of depression.
Next, let’s take a look at avoidance, could there be something in your life that you are avoiding. Your question states you get angry at stupid things, it sounds like things and issues have built up. What is behind the anger? Is there an old issue that has not been resolved with your lover, at work, or with your family? Are you angry with yourself? There are times when we are angry with ourselves for not doing something or expressing our feelings and we turn that anger out and point it at somebody else. If we follow the trail of anger it often starts with smaller issues or resentments that we have not expressed or resolved and they start to build one on top of another like building blocks.
It can be difficult and scary to express feelings of hurt, sadness, and disappointment. That fear could be fear of rejection or abandonment. Fear of rejection and abandonment are usually deeply rooted in us and part of our core beliefs. Core beliefs are the tapes in our head that can gives us negative messages about ourselves like; I am not good enough or I am not lovable. These messages can guide us in how we hear messages from others and then how we respond to those around us.
I am wondering if your struggle with anger is a new problem or has been a problem for you in the past. It is often helpful to take inventory and look at what has worked in the past for you. How have you resolved issues of anger in the past? What is preventing you from using those skills now to resolve your feelings? Do you feel your old coping skills were helpful or successful in the past? Expressing our feelings, especially anger, to those that are closest to us is something we all do. It feels safest to unload our stuff at someone who knows us, often we are hoping they will read our minds and solve our problem. We often think to ourselves we are being very clear, and then when that person doesn’t read our mind it can trigger more intense feelings of anger and frustration.
Which brings us to the topic of communication and communication skills. What needs and wants do you have that are not being meet? I often hear people say; “they know” or “they should know” if they really knew me, loved me or cared about me they would know what is wrong. When we think this way we are expecting people to read our minds. Ah wouldn’t that be great and so much easier. My response to mind reading is using good communication skills. It is helpful to first identify what is your want or need, then to say what you want to the other person. I recently told a girlfriend it is no different then sex, we need to be clear with what we want and express that to our lover; I like when you touch me here, etc. Being able to say I am felling hurt and sad when you ________, fill in the blank like; speak to me in that tone of voice, or when you can’t make time for me. The key to communication is being able to figure out what you want or need, let the person know you need some of their time to talk, and start your conversation with I feel.
Now, let’s look at how you do relax and release your stress. What have you done in the past that has worked and been helpful to you? Do you exercise, go for a walk, talk to a friend, or watch a movie? Or do you use temporary fixes like go out to bars, use alcohol or drugs to cope? In order to figure out what we want or need we need to be able to clear out the clutter and noise going on in our heads that confuse us or cloud the real issue. In your question you say you are currently handling your anger by running away. What are you running away from? Does it fell too scary face? What is the worst-case scenario that could happen if you didn’t run? Often when people run it is fueled by fear and anxiety and we want to make those feelings go away as quickly as possible. People can often be very successful in making those feelings go away but then the real underlying issue is not addressed and unfortunately will rear its ugly head again in the future.
In conclusion, I would make the following suggestions fist, anger is a powerful emotion. And one that needs a second look to determine the underlying emotions fueling the anger. You are not alone with this issue; it is common for many people. What is underlying the anger, such as feelings of hurt, sadness, or disappointment? Next seeking short term counseling to determine if there are some depression issues. What are you angry at; a specific event or action or who are you angry at; yourself or someone else? Looking at your problem with anger; is this a new problem or an old existing pattern with anger? Identifying your wants and needs that are not being meet and expressed. Using good communication skills to express your wants, needs, and feelings. Finally, looking at how you are coping with stress and finding healthy ways to release your stress and clear your mind. I want to wish you great success, you deserve it!
Nancy Travers is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She specializes in all types of relationships; We all want them, We all need them; How to get em and Keep them. Nancy’s office is located at 1600 Dove Street, Suite 260, Newport Beach, CA 92660.
For more information or to make an appointment, call 949-510- 9423 orÂ contact us.
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As seen in The Blade magazine September 2005.