Everybody gets angry – it’s a normal human emotion, like sadness, fear or joy. And there is nothing wrong with anger, despite its bad reputation and the damage it can cause. Like all emotions, the problem is not the anger, but the ways we either try to suppress and swallow it, or let it come spilling out, harming ourselves and those around us.
One of the main lessons I teach my clients in schema therapy is how to feel, express and so release their anger. And that’s not easy, because most of us have a problematic relationship with this most volatile of emotions – we may have grown up in a family where anger was never permitted expression, so we learned that anger was scary and shameful, to be kept inside at all costs. This means we now swallow our anger, which is not good for our health, physical or mental.
Or we might have grown up in a family that expressed anger too freely or even violently, with lots of screaming, breaking things or hitting. So again we are now probably afraid of anger, seeing it as threatening and unsafe, because we associate bad things with it. We may either have learned to hold it in, or followed our family’s example and now explode all over the place (using attack as the best form of defence against other people’s threatening behaviour), raging at other drivers or screaming at our partners/kids. This too is not good.
I only have two rules for anger expression with my clients:
1. When expressing anger, they don’t hurt themselves.
2. When expressing anger, they don’t hurt anyone else.
Bearing these rules in mind, here are two ways to let your anger out safely and healthily (releasing all the energy from your Angry Child mode, which is the part of you that is so furious). First, try writing an angry letter to the person that has hurt or upset you. This may be your boss, partner, friend, colleague – or a person from the past, such as a critical parent. Write it on a blank Word document, allowing yourself to say whatever you need – swear as much as you like, use capitals and exclamation marks. Don’t censor in any way. When you’re done, print the letter and tear it into tiny pieces or burn it, imagining all that hostility and frustration leaving your body as you do. (And remember this letter never gets sent! It’s just for you and to release all that bottled up anger energy).
Second, get a towel and twist it until it’s really tight. Then keep twisting, saying ‘I am so angry with you!’, ‘I am so *!**!** angry with you!’ over and over, twisting the towel util your arms get tired (this should be hard work!). Make sure you stick with ‘I’ statements and the way they have hurt or upset you, rather than just blaming or attacking. You will eventually find that all the anger drains out of your body and you feel tired. And other feelings might bubble up too, like hurt or sadness. Let them be there and have a cry if you need to. This will help you feel better (and be soothing for your Vulnerable Child, which is the part of you that feels all the hurt, pain or fear that lies beneath the anger).