I remember once being so angry at a boyfriend for something he’d done that I wanted to skip the break-up and get right down to taking him off the planet! My friend Jackleen, a very intuitive person and the voice of reason in my life, commented, “You know, what David did really wasn’t that bad. I’ll bet this is about something that happened a long time ago, involving a different person.” After stewing a bit, I realized she was probably right. I reluctantly drew in my claws. The problem was, now I had to take a deeper look at why I was so mad, and more importantly, WHO it was that had triggered my anger. David had been a jerk, too, but even though it looked like he was to blame, he really only deserved about 5% of the fury and pain I wanted to fling at him.
That’s how the anger beast works most of the time. When you are really mad to the point of raging (you know what I am talking about!), and it’s clear the target of your feelings didn’t do anything to deserve that level of reaction, you can figure this is about someone or something else that hurt you in a similar way in the past. Since that person or situation is long gone, however, you explode at the one in front of you now.
This is not to say that the person you’re dealing with now didn’t do anything wrong, so don’t make the mistake of dismissing your feelings and letting the other completely off the hook for unacceptable actions. Some women, with excessive guilt about overreacting, apologize for getting upset about completely out-of-line actions on another person’s part, or worse, completely discount that they had any reason to be upset! Obviously, this isn’t a healthy way to handle conflict either, and the answer lies somewhere between inflicting corporal punishment on someone and being a doormat.
So…what should you do when the monster jumps out?
Experiencing that intense, terrible, fury – the type that makes you feel a bit out of control – is your first clue that something else is being triggered. There are few in-the-present things people do to you that warrant such extreme rage, so chances are that some older hurt is being activated.
Next, force yourself to do the nearly impossible…WALK AWAY!! Actually, walk away quickly, and if you are armed in any way, run—before you do irreparable damage to the relationship. I know how hard this is, but you have to do it.
Go and take a few moments, hours, or even days if necessary, to get calm. Nothing needs to be handled immediately, and you won’t lose anything by taking a breather. Always handle your instinctual emotional response first.
There are a couple effective ways you can become more cool, calm, and collected. While in a quiet state (or as quiet as you can get), ask yourself when this situation, or something similar, has happened in your past. Then, look at the initial event—what occurred, who was involved, and how it was similar to what is happening now. After this, journal like crazy about how you felt at the time.
Once you’ve done this bit of work and you are capable of having a composed and rational conversation, i.e., one that does not involve the f-word, go and talk about it with the person involved or with some other, trusted confidante.
I once had a client come to me after discovering that her husband had been cheating. She hadn’t confronted him yet because she was afraid she would explode. I told her to journal about her feelings. She came back two weeks later with a journal completely filled with one phrase: “F*** you, John.” No joke, she must have written this over 100,000 times! I wouldn’t have believed it was possible if I hadn’t seen it myself. Once my client did this, though, she said she felt a lot better, and she and her husband were able to have a calm talk before scheduling an appointment for marriage counseling for the two of them, as well as one with her lawyer just for her.
If you don’t like to journal, bring the anger to your conscious awareness, and then purposefully direct that energy to some form of exercise, like running or weight training.
Remember, “E-motion” is just energy in motion. Don’t make the mistake of stuffing it down, because this simply doesn’t work and will actually make things worse. The forceful energy of anger needs to be channeled in a healthy direction, or it will default to an unhealthy one.
In the case of my own fury with that old boyfriend David, I spent an afternoon throwing rocks in the ocean until I wore myself out. I couldn’t move my arm the next day, but I did feel much better and ended the relationship without too much drama by saying, “I’m sorry, but that behavior just doesn’t work for me, so this is where we will have to part ways. I wish you the best.” This was a long way from where I had been just 24 hours before!
I know dealing with anger effectively is hard, and it does take practice. Trust me, you will likely fail at this a few times before you get it right, but working on it until it’s a habit is the best thing you can do for your relationships. All of them.
Don’t let the next person who hurts you take the fall for historic injuries you haven’t put to rest. This is unfair to them and multiplies your pain. Put in the effort to heal from past anger beasts so that your relationships are more loving, workable, and based in the present—after all, right now is our only true reality.
Jill Thomas CCHT
Healthy Habits Hypnosis