In our current cultural climate, anger, and especially rage, is considered unacceptable, unwanted, and dangerous. With this rigid categorization, there isn’t a lot of room for us to soften and connect to our emotionality, let alone learn from it. However, as a therapist who believes in the healing power and wisdom of emotions, I hold the perspective that all emotions are valuable; they teach us about our history, our environment, and provide us with the necessary information to heal, integrate our past, and move forward as more connected and authentic versions of ourselves.
It is important to create discernment between what emotion-focused therapy (EFT) calls maladaptive and adaptive emotions. In terms of anger, a maladaptive response might look like violence, extreme self-criticism, and hate. Conversely, adaptive anger might look like assertiveness, awareness of personal boundaries, and protection. Maladaptive anger is usually in response to trauma, such that the adaptive process was interrupted and we were unable to articulate or complete our emotional reaction to a situation in a safe environment. Both of these reactions are teachers, and overtime, the goal of emotion-focused work is to understand why these emotions arise, label them, accept them, tolerate them, and learn to regulate them.
During emotional upheaval, it can be incredibly challenging to step into curiosity instead of avoiding or supressing. This phase is often the topic of many therapy sessions, and if you struggle to feel or even name emotions, you are not alone.
So how do we make sense of this? The therapeutic space can be a beautiful container to explore our emotions, however what happens outside of therapy is equally important. And anger, in all of its forms can act like a guidepost. So, the next time you start seeing red, tune in, and if it feels right, consider the following steps:
First, acknowledge anger’s existence. This creates a dialogue and the process of building relationship with our emotions. Secondly, recognize whether the anger is directed outwards or inwards: are we other blaming or self-blaming? Thirdly, and I like to offer, with one hand on heart, ask anger what it needs. When we hear the core need of the emotion, such as a boundary violation, injustice, or a perceived failure, we can begin to transmute anger to something more vulnerable. Because more often than not, anger is protecting us from a deeper type of pain like sadness, shame or fear. Once the need has been located, we are now in the unique and wonderful position to meet that need. And learning how to meet our own needs is perhaps one of the most beautiful gifts of personal growth. Indeed, as we learn how to compassionately attune to our emotions and honor their needs, we might notice we no longer fear them, or feel the need to repress them. And perhaps, we might even learn to welcome the wisdom and insights they provide for us.
If you are struggling to understand anger, or if you are hoping to learn from and gain more insight into your emotions, the team at Okanagan Clinical Counselling Services is here to support you.
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