In the previous post I talked about why wanting revenge is stupid. I also mentioned how revenge and anger tend to go hand-in-hand, so I wanted to follow-up that post with a post about anger. According to Dictionary.com anger is defined as:
A strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong; wrath; ire.
When we suffer from a traumatic experience such a bullying, we feel wronged, and we can get angry as a result. We'll either feel angry at the time of the bullying or later in life as we're trying to process what happened to us. This is a completely normal reaction, and it can be just as good for us as it can be a bad thing. The important thing is to understand our anger and take control of it. In this post we'll try to get a better understanding of anger, why we experience it as a result of a traumatic event, and how we can better deal with it.
Anger is an emotion that we all experience at times. It's actually crucial for our survival. It's a defense mechanism that alerts us to something that we perceive as threatening. You're probably aware of the fight-or-flight response where your heart beats faster, your breathing gets heavier, and your muscles tense. The body prepares us to either fight or flee. This is mostly a good thing. We'll talk about how it can be a bad thing later in the post.
Anger is a short-lived reaction; however, it can occur frequently. This isn't to be confused with bitterness, which is a sustained feeling. We'll talk about the differences between the two at a later time. The problem with anger comes when we can't control it, or when we overreact. This can be especially problematic in a public setting. Have you ever seen someone fly off the handle in public? It's not very pretty is it? Typically that person has something else going on that caused them to react that way in the first place. That's the thing about anger - it's never the actual problem. It's just a reaction; a symptom of a much larger issue.
Using anger in a positive way means taking the time to understand why we feel angry and what the best way to deal with it is. It means that we have control over the feeling rather than it having control over us. You might use your feelings of anger to be assertive and take a stand for what is important to you. Others are more likely to respond respectfully if you take this approach as opposed to you screaming irrationally at them. Think about it - how do you react when someone yells at you to try to get their point across? Probably not very well, and who would?
If we express our anger by being verbally abusive or acting violent, no one is going to respect us. The best way to earn the respect of others is to show that we are in control of ourselves. You might think that lashing out is going to make you feel better, but it's not. It's just like wanting revenge; it's a short-lived satisfaction that will only make it harder for you to overcome your issues. Don't be your own worst enemy. I know it's hard to have the patience that is required to make improvements, but the payoff is worth it. The key is to try to have some small wins along the way so that you feel like you're making progress. One small win you can have is becoming less angry and enjoying the peace that comes with that.
Others might express anger in the form of suppression. This would be when you keep it all inside and brood over it. This can be really unhealthy because it can lead to depression or even physical illness. We're always going to be faced with situations that make us angry so it's about learning the difference between a threatening situation and a non-threatening situation. It's also about controlling how we respond once we determine which type of situation we're facing.
Anger and Trauma
If you were bullied, then you've no doubt experienced anger from it. It could either have been during the time of the bullying or later in life as a byproduct of what happened. Chances are that unless you've confronted your feelings and dealt with them, the way you react to threatening situations today is influenced by what happened to you in the past.
I know about this all too well. I was so angry from being bullied that I didn't even know just how deep the anger ran. I suppressed most of it at first, which did not make me feel good at all. But then, over time it eventually started to make its way out and it wasn't pretty. I definitely didn't have control over it and I would overreact all the time. I took everything personally and wanted to get back at anyone who I thought had wronged me in the slightest. Once I started driving, I had some serious road rage issues. I started cursing a lot. I would slam doors or throw things in an attempt to release the anger. Overall, I was in pretty bad shape. I couldn't understand why I was reacting these ways or what to do about it. Thanks to therapy and just working on unresolved issues on my own, I was able to control the anger and now I experience a lot of peace within myself.
As mentioned above, anger is a normal reaction to feeling wronged, and being bullied is certainly a wrong done to us. I was one of those people who got annoyed by every little thing but I wasn't really angry at all the people I was taking it out on. I was angry at the people who bullied me and I was transferring that anger onto whoever was there to receive it because I wanted someone to pay for wronging me. I didn't understand the difference between a normal situation and a threatening situation. Everything was threatening to me. When you've been wronged you can become trapped in a reactive state like this and it can be a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD can occur when we experience a traumatic event that compromises our well-being and creates an intense fear response.
Being bullied as a child can interrupt our emotional development. We can suffer this intense fear response to the point of it becoming the norm. As a result we might feel like we don't have control. This then gets displayed in the form of anger. Some people blame themselves for the bullying, and as a result they may internalize their anger and shut down emotionally. Some people may also blame their parents for what happened. Regardless, anger that stems from trauma can be a major problem that can lead to many other major problems. It becomes important to deal with the anger so that you can learn how to respond with the right emotions.
Dealing with Anger
Harboring anger all of the time can make us sick. If you remember the fight-or-flight response that I mentioned above, you can probably imagine how experiencing those physiological reactions all of the time can be bad for you. Research has linked chronic anger to the development of depression and anxiety, sleep problems, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Needless to say, it is important that we take care of ourselves now so that we don't suffer later. Let's look at some strategies for coping with and better managing anger.
Accept responsibility. Here's the thing - we are responsible for our own feelings. Yes, they may be caused by someone else who did something to us that we didn't have control over, but ultimately we are responsible for the way we react and the way we process our feelings. It is up to us to recognize how we feel and why we feel that way so that we can properly manage those feelings. When we feel angry we are placing the blame on someone else rather than dealing with it ourselves.
Change perceptions. Similar to accepting responsibility, if we can change our perception of a situation which makes us angry then we are more likely to feel less angry. Road rage is a good example of this. For instance, if we get angry when another driver cuts us off, then we're allowing ourselves to get angry at someone we don't even know. It's silly because that other driver isn't trying to wrong you, they're just expressing their own issues while they happen to be driving and you happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. It's all about them and not you. Instead of getting angry, you should just tell yourself that the other driver is having a bad day and not trying to wrong you. It's not personal.
Replace anger with assertiveness. Being assertive is about being in control and standing up for yourself without being aggressive. If you can be more assertive then you can eliminate the anger that you experience from feeling like you don't have control over a situation. It's definitely a much better way to deal with others.
Redirect to something positive. Sometimes you can get so angry that you might want to cause damage to something or cause harm to someone. We all know that acting on that won't solve the problem. Sometimes the best thing you can do when you're angry is to redirect that anger. If someone has made you feel bad about yourself by telling you that you're not good enough or that you can't do something, then prove them wrong! Instead of being angry and wanting revenge, focus on you. Turn it into a positive.
Count to 10...or 100. Thomas Jefferson said "When angry, count to 10 before you speak. If very angry, a hundred." The idea is that doing this will distract you and you'll calm down a bit, which in turn may change your mind about how you want to respond.
Those are some strategies you can try on your own when you're feeling angry. Of course, you should also seek professional advice if you need someone to help you. Whatever you do, make sure that you deal with your feelings of anger or else they will deal with you. It's hard to move on and heal when you harbor anger. Actually, I think it's impossible. Remember, anger isn't a bad thing, but you have to be in control of it.
Please leave a comment and let me know if you have any stories or questions.
A note about comments:
Please keep in mind that all comments are moderated to ensure mutual respect. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation.
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I just read this and broke down into tears. So I was raped as a child. Then raped and bullied emotionally as an adult. My bullies were so mean to me. I ended up being so angry. I ended up closing my heart to being loved because I was afraid of being hurt. I got saved last year and have since began my journey to healing. Some days it all comes back and I cry to Jesus. Other times I have nightmares but I am kinder and more loving and know nothing is too big for God. I confronted my work bullies. They laughed at me and that made me even more furious but I feel it is time to let go and every night I ask God to heal my heart and soul. I don’t want to be angry anymore. I love life and people and I am tired of second guessing myself. I pray it ends at some point and I believe it will. I feel so much better and stronger now. I always remind myself how strong and beautiful I am. I also have people who love me and are so kind to me and focus more on them. Most importantly, I have Jesus. He gets it. He totally does and before I know it, it will all be over! I know.
It has been a very long time. I am going to be 60 in another 5 years and i just recently wrote a letter to a boy that bullied me in High School. The effects of the abuse, especially the emotional, damaged my self-esteem in terrible ways and i have carried intense anger all of my life. I still have the letter because it was very therapeutic to write it and it is self-healing. When it comes to emotional scars the only one you can heal is yourself. I know this wrong, but i have thought of revenge and in the letter i let him know that. Anger is an intense emotion and i have always had a lot of it. I am hard and i dont forgive to easily. I dont believe in forgiving any person who has left long-lasting emotional scars. No one helped me except a slew of psychotherapists and psychiatrists. I am forever grateful for all the therapy I got and forever grateful to the people who had loved me and helped me along the way. The physical abuse is bad, but when you are hurt emotionally, mentally, nothing is worse than that.
I still have this letter and i dont know if i am going to send it. I feel awkward. I was thinking of addressing it to his wife to let her read it before he reads it, but i know that doesnt really make too much sense. I feel like a wimp still. Like I am running away and hiding. I have felt this way all my life. Never wanting to commit. Afraid of getting to close to anyone for fear of being hurt. It always brings me to a very dark place if i get emotionally hurt.
I know how you feel. I have had the same experience from the past. And now my wife has betrayed me.
I loved what you wrote! Thank you!
I too wrote a letter to my bully, but did not send it. We have similar experiences and i have the same feelings as you. The bullying was so damaging to my esteem. I was depressed and angry as hell. I still have the anger. It doesn’t go away.
I agree with what you’re saying about anger in a lot of ways, but tell me this, why is it not okay to tell the person you are angry at. You say we are responsible for how we react, and I hear that all the time. That we have to own our mistakes and that we should try to think of something positive to say and I’m hearing the same words from so many. But if you can’t express your anger, then how can you deal with it? It has to go somewhere. I’m not talking about when you are in a rage and are out of control, because I agree, that can just cause more harm for everyone involved and solves nothing. And why is it okay to tell a counselor about your anger and why you think it inside of you. But you can’t tell the person that was harming you. I guess I just don’t buy that we allow people to harm us or that it is us causing our own pain. Or that we are responsible for how we react to harm from others. Yes, we cannot go off on others in a fit of rage and try to harm them back, but why isn’t it okay to deal with the hurt you feel which anger only covers up, by telling the person that hurt us in the first place. And I find it so frustrating that they can continue bashing you behind your back and telling lies about you, but because we are the good ones, we have to look for positive ways to deal with it. Sometimes isn’t it okay to just somehow tell the world your side of it? I’ve been told so much and so often lately that I will never be free of the pain unless I forgive the person and just “let it go”. And the way I feel is I have always tried to do the right thing, I’ve forgiven, turned the other cheek, and let things go, but sometimes it happens just that one more time and you wonder, when is enough enough? Isn’t there a time to stop and say, “NO MORE!” A time to stop letting someone walk all over you, knowing that you’re not going to do anything about it. I guess I’m close to that point now, I just for once want to be heard too. I’m so tired of always being the nice person and letting some of these jerks walk around like nothing ever matters. They don’t stop with just us, they keep moving through life hurting others and causing pain everywhere they go. They thrive on it, so when is it okay to stop and take a stand for yourself? I want to have my say too, I want to make them hurt enough that they might finally realize what they are doing and if not, then they have to be exposed to the world so they can’t do it to anyone else. And it isn’t revenge I want, I’ve never in my life actually wanted to hurt another person, I still don’t. It doesn’t make me feel good at all. But by golly, I also don’t feel good just letting it go all the time either. I’m tired of always being the one that has to turn the other cheek, and forgive and let go and all that good stuff. I want and deserve respect as well as the next person and I won’t sacrifice my honor or integrity to make someone else hurt, but somewhere it has to stop. Sorry, I promise you, I really do understand what you are saying and most of the time I would agree, it’s just been a real bad several months for me and I had to let off steam. I’m so tired of always having to be the nice one. I feel like my anger needs to be expressed in order to let it go, but it needs to be expressed to the one I am angry at. Only problem is they won’t listen or even try to understand, and they like it that way, some people are just toxic and shouldn’t be let out of their cages. I’m done now and I did like what you have to say and I wish there were more people like you who take the time to speak their mind and tell their truths, and share their wisdom, you are a good person. Right now maybe I’m just a bit rebellious and I feel better just speaking it out loud. Thanks for listening and keep up what you are doing.
Melissa Wilson says
Hawk, thank you for sharing how you feel when it comes to anger and having been wronged. I’m sure others can relate as well. First off, you are right that in order to deal with anger you have to be able to express it. If we keep it bottled up, it will only fester and get worse. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with letting who you’re angry at know how you feel. Now I wouldn’t necessarily lash out at them but if you think it would help you to let them know then that’s what you should do. Sometimes it can help to just write them a letter but never actually give it to them. Ultimately it’s about finding healthy ways of expressing the anger and only you know what feels right to you. I like the focusing on assertiveness and redirecting to something positive strategies, but sometimes that doesn’t work until we’ve addressed the issue with the person who is the cause of the anger in the first place. Again, in a healthy way though, and hopefully they won’t respond in a way that causes you to feel more anger. If they do, then that might not be the best strategy, but you never have to let someone walk all over you. It’s about setting healthy boundaries, and this is where assertiveness can help as well. Anger is a challenging emotion. Some anger is good and normal, but other times we recognize that it’s not serving us and we have to find a way to release it. I wish you the best in your journey to do that and I hope you are able to find some peace.
I agree totally with Hawk. I believe you should definitely speak your mind and let the person who hurt you know how the effects of their actions (or non-actions). Just don’t do it in anger. Wait until you calm down. Then lay out the facts, express how you felt/feel, and give the other person an opening to apologize, explain or otherwise connect. What you must realize is that your effort may not have a good ending. You may not ever hear back from the person who hurt you. Or you may get defensiveness or counterattacks — why it was all your fault to begin with. That is the point at which you have no choice but to let the anger and the relationship go. It’s sad to lose a relationship or realize that your ideas of that person may have been wrong. Did you ignore signs along the way? Did you choose this friend for the right reasons — because you liked, valued, respected, and trusted them? Look inside yourself, too, and be honest about any role you may have played in enabling the betrayal and hurt. Int he future, try to be more discerning in choosing people to trust.