Adversity, loss and grief are a part of life. And so is getting mad.
Chances are high that you’ll experience anger before this crisis is done. And far too often, anger gets a bad rap. It can be easily mishandled or misunderstood.
Growing up, I believed it was better to “be nice” than to be angry. I thought that expressing any kind of anger was automatically wrong and harmful. So when I was bullied by kids at school, I never confronted them or stood up for myself. Over time I learned to suppress my anger with good behavior and a happy face.
The problem with anger is that if you don’t learn how to express it in a healthy manner, it doesn’t go away. Unresolved anger festers below the surface and turns into a personal kind of poison.
If you feel like you’re not allowed to express anger, you may inadvertently turn that anger on yourself. Repressed anger disguises itself as a harsh inner critic, self-hate, shame or depression. Criticism, sarcasm and complaint can all be indirect methods of expressing unresolved anger.
Nursing your anger against others quickly becomes a poisonous spiral of bitterness, blame, grudge-holding and blow ups. The Bible warns about this self-destruction: “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not [kindle anger] for it only leads to evildoing…do not be quickly provoked to anger, for only fools nurse anger” (Ps 37:8, Ecc 7:9).
Frequent anger can also become a “prolonged release of stress hormones…that can destroy neurons in areas of the brain associated with judgment and short-term memory, and weaken the immune system” (Psychology Today).
How to Cope
Anger is what creates the power surge needed to fight injustice, stand up to abuse and protect yourself from harm. It is the adrenaline that mobilizes you to take protective and righteous action on behalf of those who cannot protect themselves.
Recognize that on its own, anger is a healthy emotion and part of your survival response. It’s okay to feel angry (Eph 4:26) as long as it doesn’t lead to destructive or harmful behaviors.
Anger can also be a secondary emotion because it masks our more vulnerable feelings. Instead of expressing or dealing with deep fear and sadness, we may slide into anger mode to feel powerful or justified. This distracts us from dealing with the real issue at hand.
Use your anger as a signal to yourself that there’s a need, problem or deeper emotion that’s not being addressed. Here are a few questions that can help:
- What triggered my anger?
- Am I feeling threatened? Is someone else being threatened?
- Are there feelings of fear or deep disappointment beneath my frustration?
- What goal, desire or need of mine is being blocked, dismissed or infringed upon?
- What am I doing with my anger? How is my anger affecting my thoughts or behaviors?
Taking a time out when you’re angry gives you the space needed to breath and calm down. Coping with anger will require self-monitoring and self-awareness in order to deal with the triggers, thoughts, emotions and its underlying agent.
If you want to deal with your anger in a healthy way, you must be willing to face the most vulnerable parts of yourself. Figure out what you really need and learn to express it in a calm and clear manner. Be assertive, not aggressive.
When we feel powerless and angry about our pain, we look for someone or something to blame. And there’s a lot of blame going around right now. Scan social media and you’ll see people pointing fingers at medical experts, a lack of testing, vaccines, quarantine extensions and government leaders for their personal misery.
At its core, the blame game is a coping response. Blame helps you avoid facing the uncomfortable parts of your situation or yourself by shifting your attention to someone else. Fixating on your injury or the wrongdoing of others distracts you from dealing with your own stuff. This is the very behavior that went down in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3:12-13; the original human response of “it’s her fault, she made me do it”.
Blaming others removes the burden of responsibility from our shoulders. Instead of realizing we are ultimately responsible for our emotions, blame shifts that role to someone else.
Taking responsibility for our inner discomfort can “heighten our sense of feeling alone as well as confused regarding the choices we make in our lives. It is the kind of anxiety that moves many of us to seek a distraction–including blaming others for how we live our lives” (Psychology Today). But blaming others and avoiding your own stuff keeps you trapped in a cycle of continual anger, fear and feeling victim to the behavior or choices of others.
How to Cope
Recognize that no one else is responsible for your emotions, behavior or how you manage them. People may play a part in triggering or hurting me but I alone choose what I will do with that.
Recognize there may be uncomfortable feelings you are avoiding like guilt, shame, disappointment, helplessness and fear. Self-reflection will help you regulate these and better understand your values and needs.
Instead of raving online, blaming or criticizing others (remember, that’s anger in disguise), learn how to self-soothe. Developing the ability to self-soothe when you are upset or hurt can help you feel better and process your pain in a constructive way. Forgiving others and cultivating a sense of empathy will protect you from bitterness, contempt and retaliation.
If you want to understand more about how blame affects you and your relationships, check out this awesome article.
When it comes to the pandemic, we are all being affected in some way. Let’s choose to be part of the solution as we seek to rebuild our relationships and society.
This post is part of a 10-part series on how to successfully navigate your emotions during a crisis. Check out the other emotions in this series below: