Engaging Anger - Part 1 : AvoidantMay 09, 2023
Anger is an emotion, neither good nor bad... it just IS. However, what you do with it can be. Read more about that concept here.
When used appropriately, anger is an extremely helpful indicator that something is not quite right and needs your attention. In her book, Boundaries for Your Soul, Allison Cook demonstrates how to "befriend all emotions with appropriate boundaries."
In religious systems, however, emotions are often viewed as "untrustworthy." Men and women often feel pressured to suppress negative emotions, instead of welcoming them as a God-given warning sign of something deeper begging to be seen, heard and cared for.
The result is emotional illiteracy and immaturity, which has devastating consequences.
When Rachel started her recovery journey from betrayal, she quickly realized that she would have to face those consequences in her own life. For her, anger was the most challenging emotion to navigate.
Thanks to the hard work she did in therapy, group and on her own, she has learned to welcome anger with boundaries as a productive voice in her overall health.
Now passionate to see other women question their assumptions and unhealthy narratives about anger, she has written a four part series about the role of anger in the lives of Christian women. Men, these principles apply to you too, so pay attention!
Thank you so much Rachel for your time, effort and insight!
Here's part one.
"Before Recovery, I was Anger Avoidant"
Unpopular Opinion: Anger is Healthy
I once had a student give an informational speech on “How to Succeed on the Football Field.” His final point: Get Pissed.
I found this element of his speech comical, and as he talked about the athletic field being a place where he was allowed to channel his anger and people wouldn't think it weird. At that time, I found myself nodding my head, thinking of my own athletic experiences and how coaches would also encourage aggression, saying things like “We’re ahead, let’s now go for the kill” and “your heel is now on the head of the snake - crush it.”
In certain, specific situations, it seems anger is welcomed or even necessary to “get the job done.”
BUT: Anger often feels Uncomfortable - or Unwelcome
Looking back, I’m also left recalling moments where my aggression in sports was too much: when I slammed a basketball down in frustration because my team wouldn’t run their routes, or when I heard a friend say “I like Rachel in class and hanging out, but I don’t like playing against her in gym…she….changes.”
As a result, I created a pattern of turning my anger inwards, towards myself, frustrated when I couldn’t make a play or when I had a game where my stats tanked because of my performance. At other times, I would judge and resent others for the issues I was facing, unwilling to address the pain the issues caused.
Neither the inner criticism nor the outward blame actually addressed the issue of dissatisfaction or disappointment. Anger would flare up and I’d try to snuff it out because it seemed to do so much damage to my self-esteem and my relationships with others.
Of course, this relationship with anger was well established by high school, because of lessons I learned about anger earlier in my life. I remember angry outbursts when my parents would chastise me for a situation I felt was out of my control. I often would rage after being told “go to your room and think about it!” No one was listening to my side and I couldn’t seem to get my point across. But when I upped the intensity, my parents shut it down. This taught me a dangerous dance with anger where I would flare up, storm off, then try to silence my anger instead of listening to it.
Practicing Anger Avoidance
That didn’t mean that my anger just slunk off when ignored. No, it sat there, festering and fuming, churning under the surface like the magma that sits beneath the crust of the earth. When a pain point happened, or I felt dismissed or ignored, or I received criticism that I struggled to process, anger would come up, bursting out to blame and shame others.
I’ve also really struggled when my anger rises up as I’m trying to parent. It usually comes when I’m feeling depleted, alone caring for my kids, and they are suffering from “one-more-thing-itis”. This happened a lot in early recovery, when I was doing really hard work for the sake of myself and my marriage. I felt I had little to give my kids for what felt like the constant request for attention they directed my way. I would reach a boiling point and snap: no more things! I can’t do any more! I am not available! Go to bed!
Then I’d melt in shame. How could I be so horrible? How could I traumatize them so? It was the classic double bind for my anger: I stuffed it down or let it boil over. I didn’t realize there was any other way to interact with it.
The irony? The more I avoided anger, the louder it got when it showed up. I needed to learn a way to interact with it MORE, to feel it and listen to it, in order to find a balance.
I venture that I’m not the only one who has developed an unhealthy relationship with anger.
Maybe you’ve had instances where you’ve danced with anger, or maybe you’ve never invited anger in. Wherever you stand in your relationship with anger, it is likely uncomfortable and unwelcome. Four years into my recovery journey, I’ve realized that this experience is especially true for women.
Opening the Door to Healthy Anger
With good intention, people have told you to contain or ignore your anger. Our Christian culture especially leads us to an unhealthy relationship with anger, one where you’d like to leave it behind. However, I believe anger is essential for the healing process.
But what if there was another way? What if our anger could teach us a lot about ourselves, our needs, especially how to care for ourselves? What if anger could be used to signal unhealthy patterns in our lives - patterns we could then choose to change with anger as an ally?
I know, I know - it doesn’t seem possible, right?
But it is.
We can harness anger as a powerful force for change. Anger has helped me set up key boundaries, like “I will not work and care for my kids at the same time; if my childcare cancels on me, I will have to cancel on my work.” (A lesson learned when trying to work from home during the pandemic with a 2 and 3-year-old).
Anger can help you, too. But first, you’ve got to get to know it, and to do that, I’d like to share more on how to flip the narrative you’ve been taught about anger so when you approach it, you’ll welcome it instead of rejecting it. Want to know how? Read more here.
What’s your dance with anger look like? Let us know by using the Feedback button below.
Rachel is a writer and educator, and has often been labeled a “force to be reckoned with”. She started recovery work after D-Day in the summer of 2019.
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