Hey, it’s Graham here, and I’m feeling cranky today so let’s talk about anger. Now, there are two mistakes you can make with anger. The first one is to suppress it, pretending you don’t feel angry and just push that emotion down. And the second one is to just spew your anger out so that you express it destructively. Now, today I want to talk about the first one of those, which is suppressing your anger, and why we do that and why it’s not a good idea and what you can do about it.
So if you’re anything like me, you grew up in a household and a family and a situation where anger was expressed very destructively. Essentially, I had a mother that was verbally abusive when she was angry and would just spew vitriol at people in a very hurtful manner and a father that would respond with violence sometimes when he was angry. And so living in the family where I grew up felt like walking around on eggshells a lot of the time because I never knew when the next explosion and the next stupid argument was going to flare up.
Now, as a result of this, I made a decision in my head that anger was just a bad and evil thing and that I would never get angry because I didn’t want to ever be like my parents. The problem with this is that when you go out into the world having made a decision that you’re never going to be angry, it causes you a whole lot of problems. One of the problems is that you lack the defense that anger gives you. Anger is a defense mechanism that notifies you that somebody is doing something that violates your values or is dangerous to you or is potentially harmful in some way that you don’t like. And anger motivates you to stand up for yourself, to tell them what you think, to put your fists up, to do whatever you need to do in order to protect yourself in that situation.
If you had decided that anger is just a bad and evil thing that you are never going to experience and that you’re going to suppress, then it’s a little like flying out into the world like the Starship Enterprise with the shields down going into battle. Obviously with no defense mechanism there, you’re going to feel very anxious any time anybody threatens you.
We know when we don’t feel angry, when we don’t feel our anger, that we’re lacking this defense mechanism, and therefore it makes us feel tremendously anxious just out in the world generally. So if you have some kind of anxiety problem or you’re feeling threatened, you feel unsafe in the world generally, have a look at maybe whether you’ve got some anger that you’ve been suppressing.
The obvious telltale signs of this are typical people who I meet and myself included, they walk around saying, “Look, I just don’t get angry,” and often we’ll rationalize this to ourselves by saying, “Well, you know, I’m a nice person. I don’t like being angry. You know, I’m a good person so I don’t normally feel angry.” And often we’ll even be proud of this when in fact it’s a massive problem. It’s a big character deficit.
Now when I meet people who say, “I just don’t get angry,” I often find myself getting very irritated with them because I can see deep down there’s something going on inside. I can often see them starting to get angry and instead of actually saying “I’m angry” will start putting a smile on their face or they’ll start to doing a nice person thing, and it’s just completely inauthentic. It’s fake, and frankly, yeah, it pisses me off. And it’s part of the reason why I’m in a bad mood this morning.
So if you have been repressing your anger, it’s going to cause you a whole heap of problems in your interactions with other people. You’re more likely to suffer from anxiety. You’re not likely to stand up for yourself. You may end up with physical ailments from suppressing emotion. And what tends to happen when we suppress an emotion is one of two things.
One of them is that if we try to suppress one emotion, we end up suppressing all of them. So if you try to squash your anger down, chances are you’re going to end up repressing your happiness, your joy, your peace and your love as well, and you’re just not going to have a very enjoyable life.
The second thing that can happen if we repress and emotion is that it comes out in some other way. So in my case, when I repressed anger, it came out as sadness. I didn’t ever really see a whole lot of sadness in my family growing up, but I figured that it’s at least a less destructive emotion because sadness only really affects me and yet anger I saw hurting other people.
So I didn’t consciously make a decision that I’d replace anger with sadness, but it’s just what happens when you go and push emotion down. It’s got to come out some other kind of way.
What happened for me was I felt sad when people did things that threatened me. Now, you can imagine how well that went down when I turned up to primary school and at high school. Any time somebody bullied me, instead of me being angry and standing up for myself, I would feel sad and I’d start crying, and of course bullies just loved that sort of shit so you end up just get bullied more and the whole thing just spirals down into anxiety, unhappiness, misery and low self-esteem.
If you’re one of those people who has repressed your anger, you feel like you never get angry – hang on, there’s one other telltale sign I want to give you, which is often an experience I would have, is I’d have some encounter with somebody where they would say something I didn’t like, maybe they didn’t listen to me or they didn’t validate my point of view, they just wanted to argue or they were just plain difficult to get on with. And rather than feeling angry at the time, I would just play the nice guy or try to sort it out or use some conflict resolution skills or even just do whatever, and what would happen is for the next few hours later I would be absolutely fuming and I wouldn’t even recognize it as fuming.
All I would recognize is that there’s a voice going on in my head going over and over and over the argument, trying to work out what I should’ve said or I should’ve said that or I should’ve hit them with this or some kind of way that I could hurt this person, essentially, that had made me angry. And in fact the only person I was hurting was me by going over this crap in my head.
So the solution to this is actually to express your anger constructively in the moment when somebody does something that you don’t like, that threatens you, that makes you feel unsafe or whatever triggers that anger for you.
And the simple way to do this is to just say, “Look, I feel really angry when you say whatever they’ve said,” or, “I feel really angry right now.” And you may choose to walk away, you may choose to stay and talk about the thing that you’re angry about. But whatever you do, you need to express the fact that you’re angry in a way that’s constructive.
If you express anger with violence or by attacking somebody else with some verbal criticism, then invariably what you end up doing is hurting somebody else, and if they’re somebody else that you care about, you then go into a shame spiral where you’re going to end up feeling ashamed later of the fact that you’ve hurt somebody that you care about.
You might not notice that at first if you’re particularly angry with them and particularly if you’re not used to expressing your anger you may find that it takes a little bit of practice with this for you to get good at just saying “Look, I’m feeling angry with you right now” and allowing the anger to pass.
I remember having an experience of this when I was doing an acting class where I was in an exercise with a woman who really pissed me off, and we got into a big screaming match during this exercise. And I remember just feeling absolutely livid towards her because she’d been so unreasonable in attacking me during the exercise. And suddenly in the exercise I noticed that she was actually feeling hurt for a moment and I said to her, “Hey, you’re not angry, you’re hurt,” and she said, “Yeah, I am hurt,” and she began to cry. And in that instant I suddenly felt compassion for her and the anger that I had been expressing and that we’d been showing each other just completely vanished. And afterwards I didn’t have this thing going on in my head where I’d play over and over and over the conversation because we’d said that we were angry with each other and we’d got past that to work out what was really going on underneath.
So I’m going to come back with another video about anger later on, but for now just start expressing the anger. Start noticing when you get angry and be prepared that at first it may just be a tiny little hint of anger. You may just be mildly irritated or just a tiny bit unsettled. That’s anger. So rather than saying, you know, “It’s okay,” actually say, “Yeah, I am angry.” You don’t have to be in full flight of fury and rage in order to be angry. Even just a mild irritation is a form of anger, and once you start saying “Look, I’m angry about whatever it is you’re angry about” and just being direct, you’ll start to learn how to express your anger and that will help you to get more in touch with it.
So get out there and start expressing your anger and be more real with people about it. To learn more about unlocking repressed anger and learning to stand up for yourself, check out section 2 of The Confident Man Program.