Some time ago I was talking with a client about her tendency to sit on her anger until it ignites like fireworks. Difficulty with anger is another aspect of disregulation which people with eating problems often have, a manifestation of ineffective emotional management and acting in extremes. Learning to express anger appropriately takes practice, but it can make an amazing difference in your life.
The extremes of cutting off angry feelings or letting them rip are learned in childhood. It’s not even always a question of suppressing anger; some people don’t even realize when they’re furious. Maybe you had a parent who stuffed her feelings or one who never thought twice about blowing his top. Or did your parent go from silence and withdrawal when hurt to uncontrollable outbursts? If these were your role models, you’re following in unhealthy footsteps. Lacking appropriate skills, not only could your folks not help you manage your anger, they couldn’t regulate their own.
When people are hurt, they often want to crawl into a hole and lick their wounds, believing that no one cares how they feel. Fearing punishment, shaming, or re-injury if they share vulnerable sentiments, they adapt and swallow their hurt which festers until it bursts or leaks out, ie, escapes in an unconscious, passive-aggressive way. Or they carry a chip on their shoulder or act self-destructively through eating and otherwise. That’s why it’s so important to recognize how you’re feeling 24/7. If you don’t know you’re hurt or angry, how can you express it appropriately and work through it?
Holding in anger or letting it out inappropriately only leads to feeling ashamed and inadequate. The way to learn how to handle anger is to practice. Some suggestions. Know what hurts you and don’t second guess it. If you feel hurt, accept it. If your tendency is to say nothing, push yourself to say something, any itty bitty utterance that will let others know how you feel. If your tendency is to blow up when you’re hurt, try very hard to rein in your feelings. The fact that you’re trying to subdue your rage will help you choose your words more carefully and modulate your tone.
Expressing anger is not an intuitive skill but a learned behavior. Notice people who don’t get pushed around but who also don’t go overboard with anger. How do they manage to be assertive? Rehearse what you want to say to people who have hurt you. Practice over and over until you find the right words and tone. Write down what you want to say to cleanse your heart and put your feelings out there into the world. Then say it.