A Psychotherapist Explains How To Know What's *Actually* Behind Your Anger
I got on a call the other day and found myself feeling a little on edge. Now, as a Black man in America, I don't have the privilege of showing that I'm on edge. This is one of the many jewels of wisdom Granny Georgie passed along to me. Showing that I'm on edge could threaten my life. But I felt my heart rate increase, my mouth become dry, a wave of heat pass over me. A few minutes in, I recognized that I needed to stop talking. I knew my anger was masking something else.
How to know what's behind your anger.
I'd been doing some work with myself in front of the mirror and thinking about loneliness. At the time, I'd been staying in Detroit with the Pistons, away from my wife and kids. I love working with the guys. I feel joy in that. But in the afternoons after practice, I typically drive to my apartment and know I won't engage face-to-face with another person until the next morning. At first, I didn't think of this situation as problematic. I love my job. I like spending time with myself. I know my wife has everything handled at home. But something started bubbling up.
So I had to sit with myself, look at myself in the mirror, turn off the music, turn off the media, and think, What am I feeling? The best description I could think of was lonely. I felt lonely, maybe for the first time in my life. On that phone call, I was able to direct myself into silence.
I stopped talking, reminding myself of my earlier conversation with myself, and said—that's loneliness. I was able to bring the true feeling forward into consciousness. That's powerful because doing so can stop me from entering a tense conversation or even an argument. I don't have to tell the other person what's going on. I can choose to share that information or not. I might even end the call with, "Hey, this isn't the best time for me to talk. Can we talk tomorrow?" But I had access to the truth of what was going on. And from that awareness, I could move with intention.
So get curious about your anger.
I have players who sometimes present with anger. I move quickly to curiosity about the root of that anger because I know it's often a secondary emotion. "I hear you're pissed. Is that anger because you're disappointed in yourself? Is it because you're sad about something?" They don't always go with me immediately, but if we sit with it a little, we often find something. "I'm upset that I busted my butt and didn't get the result I wanted."
Once we get to the root of the anger, then we're able to play with that primal emotion. Now we're on the playground. Or maybe the battlefield. I find anger often masks disappointment and sadness—two emotions that are hard to discuss. For many of us, it''s easy to talk about being angry. Fuming. Wanting to punch the wall. But anger doesn't come out of nowhere. Scratch the surface a bit and you'll often find some variation of sadness.
Being angry in certain situations is natural, and it can be an appropriate and healthy response to many situations. In my role as a therapist, I normalize that emotion. Your suffering is not unique. Many others are having the same struggle. But where did this anger come from? We have to get to the sadness and disappointment underneath it. But then the question becomes, What are you supposed to do with this heavy anvil that is drowning your soul?
How to process those emotions.
My wife is Jewish. Being around her family I've learned the custom of sitting shiva, sitting with mourners in their intense period of grief. It's not about having answers. It's not about affirming. It's about community, presence. It's just about being, which is one of the greatest gifts we have to offer. I'm here, and I'm going to stay here. I am continuously sitting shiva for the grief and loss of people and relationships, and the grief and loss of the old versions of ourselves we're now outgrowing.
As a therapist, my first priority is to be with you and give you my presence. Oftentimes, that's all you are looking for. In your overwhelming sadness, the most comfort you can have is often the true, unshakable presence of someone else. If you have someone who can give you that, grab hold of it with all your might.
Taken from HOW AM I DOING?: 40 CONVERSATIONS TO HAVE WITH YOURSELF by Dr. Corey Yeager. Copyright © 2022 by Dr. Cory Yeager. Used by permission of Harper Celebrate, a division of HarperCollins Focus, LLC.
Dr. Corey Yeager is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who merges his two passions—athletics and therapy—as Psychotherapist for the Detroit Pistons.
He is the author of the upcoming new book, How Am I Doing?: 40 Conversations to Have with Yourself (Harper Celebrate; 10/18/22). His research centers on better understanding the plight of African American relationships, while educating service providers to utilize the family system context while facilitating meaningful change in both their personal and professional lives.