Be Angry: How To Be Productively and Fruitfully Furious
For the first 21 years of my life, I was unaware of a wave of silent anger building inside of me.
I thought I had a lot of reasons to be angry. My family life was tumultuous. I was in and out of unhealthy relationships filled with manipulation, infidelity, and sexual abuse. My sister was in and out of rehab with a destructive heroin addiction. My emotions were a rollercoaster. I was sad, confused, frustrated, heartbroken, bitter, but never angry. Anger’s absence was so noticeable I started to question my own sanity.
Witnessing fits of rage in my family lead to an unhealthy suppressive relationship with my own anger. I was afraid to feel it and express it because I didn’t want to be like them. It’s not that I never felt angry, but I pushed it down so quickly that it had no time to bubble to the surface.
Not only that, but my anger was being drowned out. My love for and dependence on the people that hurt me gave feelings of heartbreak and confusion priority in my headspace. But the problem is that when anger is left alone, it hardens into heavy, persistent bitterness.
The difference between anger and bitterness is that bitterness is quiet and still. Psychology Today defines bitterness as “unforgiveness fermented” and “a chronic and pervasive state of smoldering resentment.” It makes itself at home in your body. It’s like an invisible apathetic tumor that doesn’t care about being noticed and doesn’t need credit as long as it has one hand on the wheel.
Anger is very different. It’s loud and dynamic. It’s a fiery beast that wants to be heard and wants to be seen. Fury is continually looking for an exit. That’s why in moments of rage, we scream hate into the faces of loved ones and drive our fists through walls.
Anger is a present feeling while bitterness is focused on past hurt and residual pain. When anger is ignored long enough, it becomes pot bound. It surrenders to its quieter, darker brother: bitterness.
My last and worst breakup was the tear that broke the dam. In an instant, all the anger that had been lying dormant inside me was released in a passionate rage. I was truly angry for the first time in my life. I felt like I was on fire.
I went to see my therapist, already halfway pissed at her as I pictured her anger management suggestions. I didn’t want to be told to meditate or buy a coloring book or try aromatherapy. (If those things work for you, keep using them, they are valid and very respectable.) Those methods had worked for me in the past, but this felt like a much stronger beast than anything I’d encountered before.
Her advice? Be angry.
Anger is a powerful energy. It can be harnessed, or it can be wildly damaging. My rage was spastic and uncontrollable inside of me because it wanted space to move. So I gave it space. I moved with my anger instead of letting it move me.
I learned how to take advantage of my anger to work with me rather than against me. And eventually, I let my anger and the lingering bitterness go.
I lived to tell the tale, so I offer you my experiences and permission to be angry. If you’re like me and have a hard time kicking anger out and making room for peace when you’re enraged, take my advice and burn through it productively.
Engage with your anger.
I don’t mean feed your anger. Feeding and engaging are two very different things. When I feed my anger, it’s like I’m kindling a fire: it’s not going to burn out. I might be burning through the wood, but I keep adding more. I find more reasons to be angry and let the feeling build without actually addressing it. If I could tend a fire like I tend my anger, I could keep a campfire going for years.
PsychCentral says we should see our anger as information. It is sending you a message about you and your environment. Engaging with your anger means finding out what it wants and why it’s there.
When my anger finally exploded, it manifested itself very physically. My body knew what was wrong, but my brain was uselessly overwhelmed. My heart was pounding, it felt like there were a million angry bees in my chest; I was fidgety and my body craved movement; I lost my appetite, and I didn’t want to sleep. I knew without a doubt that what my body was feeling was anger, but if you asked me why I was angry or what had happened, I became incoherent.
Because anger is such a fiery emotion, sometimes the smoke clouds our mental processes. All the dots were there, but I couldn’t connect them. When I thought about why I was angry, all I saw was his face. The anger I felt became a person and an event. To truly understand my rage, I needed to understand what about that person and that event was so upsetting to me.
So what do you do?
Simplify your anger.
Anger is a hungry emotion. If it goes unchecked, it starts latching onto other memories and experiences, and suddenly your anger towards one thing has turned into twenty. Then, you’re just confused, overwhelmed and angry at the world. Maybe you don’t even know anymore what set you off in the first place, but you know you’re exasperated.
If you can’t pinpoint the origins of your anger, it becomes incredibly difficult to figure out what the hell you’re going to do about it. Let your rage communicate to you what the root of the problem is so you can productively act.
When my anger was unleashed, I spent some time alone in my room, in silence, and I talked with my anger for a while. For me, talking is how I make sense of my existence and my experiences. Some people write, meditate, draw, walk, make lists and diagrams, sing, dance, build. Whatever it is that you do to process life, do it.
I kept asking myself “why” at every corner, I turned until I could bring my awareness back to the most fundamental origins of my feelings. I realized that I wasn’t mad that he stole my credit card or cheated on me with my roommate. Yes, I was angry at those things, but that was the tip of the iceberg. My anger ran much deeper.
What I was furious about were the patterns of unhealthy relationships in my life and for giving him the power to hurt me. I was angry because I was insecure enough to love an undeserving and inconsiderate person more than I loved myself. I was angry at the lies and the manipulation that laid the foundation for my failed relationship and those that came before it. I was angry because I knew I deserved so much more.
Confronting my anger revealed my life’s realities I was unwilling to face and the power to finally change them. Anger can put you under a spell, or it can break a spell. The difference is whether to feed it or listen to it.
Finally, turn anger into action.
Give your anger a purpose. It wants a purpose. Anger doesn’t like being stagnant or neglected. It took giving my anger meaning for it to no longer serve any purpose in my life. Here are some things I’ve done:
- Hired a boxing coach
- Finally found a therapist
- Wrote an open letter to all the people that hurt me that it would be unproductive to confront
- Found the courage to confront the people that hurt me
- Called a senator
- Got a restraining order
- Went for a walk
- Went for a 7-hour hike
- Went on a 3-month backpacking trip across the US and Canada
- Wrote a song
- Wrote a poem
- Painted 30 pictures in 30 days
Turning anger into action doesn’t mean ignoring or brushing off the feeling and the sources of that feeling. It means using the anger to motivate change while still honoring your pain. I was a victim of the people that hurt me and the unfortunate things that happened to me, but I wasn’t a victim of my reactions and coping mechanisms in the aftermath.
I’m also not telling you this is supposed to be easy and that in the face of anger and rage, you should just jump up and silently box your pain away. I hate toxically positive and optimistic messages just like the next person. It took me months to deal with my anger. But I channeled my rage into productive action while working through intensive therapy and introspection.
We can sit with our feelings for a time, but eventually, we have to get up and do something with them. Otherwise, they become as destructive as the circumstances that brought them into our lives in the first place.
“You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.”
I had conversations I didn’t want to have. I learned to forgive people who never apologized. I admitted things to myself I didn’t want to admit. I went to therapy every week, maybe even twice a week. I cried. I wrote. I took a lot of hot showers. I cried some more.
But I learned a lot about myself, and I didn’t let my anger control me. I also learned to love myself and respect and honor my emotions in much healthier ways. I gave my angry energy a productive outlet and learned to move with my anger until our relationship thawed.
You may read my advice and find it isn’t for you, and that’s okay. We all deal with our emotions in different ways. I wish I could more calmly approach and control my anger, but that doesn’t work for me. I’ve learned I have to get down and dirty to make my anger work for me and find relief.
There isn’t one healthy way to cope with anger. My coping mechanisms are a conglomerate of methods I’ve learned along the way. But whatever you do, coping mechanisms need to confront your anger in some way, not just suppress it. Calming it is necessary and beneficial, but it can’t resolve the root of the issue if sources of anger go unaddressed.