The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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October 6, 2000 Issue
Counselor's Corner

'How can I deal with my anger?'

There are many positive ways in which we can channel our angry feelings

By Janet Flood

QUESTION: It was a relief a few weeks ago to read a column in The Compass about how to deal with anger. Walking away, taking a time out, and devising plans to change things, I can do: getting rid of the pent-up feelings is much more difficult for me. Why do I feel this way - isn't it a sin to be angry? How can I let go of the feelings without hurting others or hurting myself? I feel that being a woman makes it even more difficult to express my anger. I would appreciate any suggestions you might have for me.

ANSWER: You are taking a big step for yourself by reaching out and talking about your feelings of anger. In the book, Dance of Anger, author Harriet Lerner defines anger as "a signal, one worth listening to." She goes on to state that "just as physical pain tells us to take our hand off the hot stove, the pain of our anger preserves the very integrity of our self. Our anger can motivate us to say 'no' to the ways we are defined by others and 'yes' to the dictates of our inner self." (Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner, p. 1).

Through my life experiences both as a counselor and as a woman, I believe that anger is a normal, natural and healthy feeling that signals some injustice has or is occurring in one's life. The feeling, no matter how intense, isn't 'good' or 'bad', it just is. How an individual expresses that anger, however, can be destructive or empowering.

You mentioned your concerns about hurting others or hurting yourself. These are rational and normal concerns. In our society, women are often discouraged from expressing their anger. Because they are viewed as nurturers, peacemakers, and protectors, direct expression of anger is viewed as unladylike, unfeminine and irrational. Women often fear and repress their anger because it may bring about disapproval by others, especially by the men in their lives. When this repression occurs, the energy from that anger can be kept inside, leading to physical and emotional problems such as stress-related illness and depression. Repressed anger can also become explosive, leading to verbal or physical abuse of others.

When you ask about ways to let go of the feelings, I assume you mean: How do I release the energy I feel building up inside of me when I feel angry? The following are some specific suggestions I have given to clients, and that I have taken myself:

-- Do some deep breathing exercises to calm your body down.

-- Call a supportive friend to talk about the issue causing the feelings.

-- Journal, or draw pictures about the event or your feelings.

-- Hit a pillow, a punching bag, throw darts.

-- Go for a walk, bicycle ride, work out at your local gym.

-- Take a cold shower or relax in a hot bath.

-- Work on a chore (cutting the grass, for example) or a hobby.

Earlier I touched upon two styles of expressed feelings, one being an aggressive style, blaming others for one's feelings and striking out, and the other being a passive style, refraining from expressing any negative emotion.

There is a third, more effective style - assertiveness. You can use this style of expressing feelings by owning your own feelings and telling the individuals involved in a forthright and direct manner how you feel: "I feel ... because ... ." That helps diffuse the situation because you do not go on the attack; rather, you talk from your own point of view. Indeed, more times than not, this strategy can open a dialogue through which intense feelings can diminish, and clear thinking and problem-solving can more likely take place.

I hope these ideas help you in learning both how to accept anger as a normal and natural human emotion, and how to release the energy that can accompany this anger. If there aren't supportive people in your life to talk with, please reach out and call your local Catholic Social Services office. The people there are friendly, supportive, and willing to help you in this task. Good luck!

(Flood is a social worker in the Menasha office of Catholic Social Services.)

Send questions to Counselor's Corner, c/o Catholic Social Services, P.O. Box 23825, Green Bay 54305-3825. All questions will be answered in print or through the mail. Identities will remain confidential.

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