I've had many clients tell me, "Julie, my anger is out of control."
I ask, "What makes you say that?" I often hear things like, "The other day I was so angry I wanted to punch someone." "Well, did you punch someone?" is my next question. The answer, "No." Then your anger is not out of control. Simply feeling it does not equal out of control. Going off and punching someone — that's a different conversation.
But feeling angry is not bad. And allowing ourselves to consciously express that anger is actually very healthy, both emotionally and physically. Pent-up anger makes us sick. Healthy expression is good.
The problem is we aren't really taught about healthy expression, so we end up stuffing it. It seems we are either taught to avoid this feeling along with several others completely, or we have witnessed some really not fun expressions of anger, which makes even considering expression seem terrifying.
As a matter of fact, the whole idea of avoiding negative feelings that we are taught makes me want to scream. Excuse me for a minute while I go find a pillow to scream into. OK, there, that's better. I've also been known to take a tennis racket or a fist to a pillow. (Ask my husband.) It must be an amusing scene to watch, but, hey, it works. Even when I was a child, I could be found chucking a ball against the bricks of the house when I was really mad.
Anger is there for a reason. Go with it instead of against it. You might be surprised about what you discover. Here are five healthy ways to express it.
1. Vent to a friend (it's very therapeutic!).
You may want to give the friend fair warning that you are really going to get into it. When you do vent, really exaggerate it.
However, if it becomes constant venting, always about the same topic, it's no longer therapeutic. At that point it becomes recontamination, which is not good for our mind, body, spirit, or the friendship.
2. Write a letter.
Getting these feelings out on paper can be really beneficial. Once dumped out onto a page, it can stop stewing in our bodies and rolling around in our thoughts. The clarity we get from writing is an added bonus. Again, for the first writing really get into it. You can always edit later if you do decide to send it.
3. Scream into a pillow or in your car.
I have learned you might want to announce the scream first — I've scared the crap out of my brother with this one on the phone when, out of nowhere, I screamed. (He is used to it now and knows I do it when I am tense or angry and need a release.) Also be warned you might find yourself laughing uncontrollably after a good scream.
4. Use the tennis racket method.
Make sure you use a pillow that can handle the force of you hitting it with a tennis racket. I personally have an old ottoman that is perfect for this method. If you do this, pause when you are finished and notice what you feel in your body.
5. Talk to the person you're angry with in a healthy way.
That means watching out for name calling and blaming. You might need to try methods 1 through 4 above to prepare yourself for this one.
Once you've allowed anger to move through you in a healthy and safe way, you'll find yourself clearer about how to move forward. You might also be surprised to find you feel physically better.