Anger is a very powerful emotion. If used in a constructive way, anger can be the fuel behind starting a movement, reforming a community, or learning new healthy coping tools. However, if used in destructive ways, anger can be the energy behind an addiction, mental illness, and unhealthy relationships.
How Is Your Anger Being Used?
So, how do you know if you’re using your anger in a constructive or destructive way? Well, the first place to start is to determine whether you have a problem with anger. Some people have learned to manage their anger appropriately. They’ve learned to let themselves feel it and then express it in a healthy way. However, there are some obstacles to having a healthy relationship to anger. These include the following:
- Unresolved trauma
- Living in a culture/family where anger was not permitted
- Frequent occasions of being hurt and not having opportunities to express that that hurt
- Experiences of pain
- Beliefs about oneself and others
Often, when we are accustomed to managing anger in the same ways (and these may include ignoring anger, repressing anger, or exploding your anger onto others), we tend to continue those same patterns again and again. It’s not until we become aware of how we are managing our anger that we have the opportunity to change. For instance, for some, feeling angry can be a cover up for their vulnerability. Because you are less likely to feel vulnerable when you’re angry, it can become a coping mechanism to get angry when you feel a more vulnerable emotion, such as sadness. This is commonly true for men. The following are emotions that can sometimes get covered up by displaying anger instead:
A common pattern for women is to not feel anger at all. Women are often conditioned to be good, accepting, and forgiving people. When they are frustrated or angered, they tend to repress this anger rather than allowing its expression. However, the inability to express anger (no matter whether the obstacle is conditioning or vulnerability) can create conditions of mental illness and/or fuel an addiction.
With addiction, anger can continue to be turned inward until it becomes destructive, and this kind of pattern can continue to worsen with addiction. Addiction is an illness of self-harm. Although there are many factors that go into the development of an addiction, repressed anger can certainly be one of them. You may be angry at your parents, siblings, aunts, or uncles. You may be angry at life because of circumstances that were out of your control. You might have a lot of anger to work through.
In recovery, there are opportunities to gain some perspective on anger, particularly by exploring your relationship with it. However, if you’re aiming for long-term sobriety, and if you tended to get angry when drunk, then you might need a safe way to express your anger. You may need a way to effectively express it. You can do this by talking it out with someone you trust, diverting your anger into projects and goals you want to achieve, and working with a therapist about the underlying roots of your anger. You can also learn about the ways that you might be turning anger inward. This could in situations where you feel that your needs don’t matter, when you feel like you need to hurt yourself to feel better, or when you feel you need to be punished for something. When you recognize these patterns, it’s important to work with a therapist to change these patterns and beliefs.
It’s important to know that anger is not a bad emotion. You don’t have to avoid expressing anger. However, if you’ve always been used to expressing your anger aggressively while drinking, the above mentioned techniques might be useful for managing your anger effectively.