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What Emotion Lies Beneath Your Anger?

Sometimes we feel such intense anger so quickly that we forget it may be a response to a more primary and fragile emotion. And too often we turn to food to make ourselves feel better by trying to comfort our initial distress or by attempting to reduce our anger to more tolerable levels. Here are three emotions which may trigger anger:

Fear
Fear is a common anger activator. For example, a client related how her pre-teen daughter had gone off on her bicycle without telling her parents where she was going and was missing for an hour. My client was naturally anxious about her whereabouts and well-being and drove all over town looking for her. When her daughter returned home as if nothing was wrong, my client was furious with her. My client eventually admitted that she’d felt scared that something had happened to her daughter—her fear had morphed into anger the minute her daughter walked into the house.

Hurt
When we’re hurt, we often want to lash out and hurt the person who caused us pain. It makes us feel less vulnerable and more powerful. Hurting the person back is our way of saying, “I won’t stand for this. You think you can do this to me? Well, here’s a taste of your own medicine.” Anger is our armor against repeated hurt. Never mind that often the other person hurts us unintentionally, we’re on the war path to defend our honor and regain our wounded pride. Maybe a co-worker heads for lunch with your office mates without inviting you, so the next time you go out for a bite with them, you don’t invite your co-worker. Or your partner arrives home late at night without calling in, and you purposely don’t come home til the wee hours of the morning the next chance you get.

Helplessness
Helplessness can be the worst feeling in the world. It makes us feel insignificant, small, powerless, and paralyzed. When we feel helpless for long enough, we even may fall into despair and give up on life. A great antidote is to become angry, which makes us feel big, strong, powerful, and invincible. Sometimes we allow ourselves to become angry just to feel the opposite of helpless, to erase feeling as if we have no impact on others or that we can’t do anything to help ourselves.

Next time you’re angry, especially when it may lead to mindless eating, reflect on whether you’re feeling one of the above emotions—then find another way to deal with it. You won’t know how to react unless you dig deep and identify the underlying emotion.