How do you expect to get on with your life while you’re holding on to all that anger and frustration? Wouldn’t you like to know how to let go of anger and frustration so you can get on with your life?
You can’t will it away. You can’t ignore it. You can’t wish it wasn’t there or pray it away with some sort of magical thinking.
The trouble – as I learned after a lot of therapy – is that suppressing anger was a psychological/mental/emotional mistake. I suspect it was probably also a spiritual mistake to suppress my anger, but I’m honestly still learning about the spiritual dimension of anger so, if you’ll agree, may we leave that aside for another article someday?
Stiff Upper Lips
Big bad emotions like anger, rage, grief, even fear, just weren’t allowed in my family of origin. They weren’t “right” for some reason. Never mind that human beings are hardwired to experience these emotions and to respond to them appropriately. Growing up in my family, they were verboten.
Happiness was alright, and sadness to a certain extent provided I could be sad and keep that stiff upper lip. But I wasn’t allowed to be angry. Passive-aggressive, sure; but not angry.
Is that mixed up or what?
Have you ever heard that “depression is anger turned inward?” That’s what happened to me.
Has that happened to you, too? Or maybe you’ve got so much anger and frustration so close to the surface that the smallest little thing triggers you into a seething rage? Keep reading.
Connecting to Anger
It sounds strange now, but I was an adult before I really learned how to connect with my very own anger. There was a lot of it. Still is. And I’ve lived a good long time already.
So what changed for me?
At first, when a therapist rightly observed that I was “an angry young man” I denied it. I knew how to use powerful emotion! Watch me badger those poor Customer Service people on the other end of the phone. What an asshole I could be.
Well, I was being an asshole, but it wasn’t anything to be proud of.
I had to learn to really feel the anger, all the way to my very own pinnacle of fury but to not act on it. It was hard to put the brakes on my reaction to triggers. Anyone, I thought, would be enraged by the same stuff that sent me over the edge. How wrong I was!
It took time – years, actually – before I started to have a more manageable, healthy connection to my very own anger.
Now, I feel blessed in many ways to be able to feel angry. It’s so much better for me than feeling depressed. Yes, I still feel depressed as well. But the thing is, these are just emotions.
What Emotions Are For
Sadness, fear, joy, and anger are primary emotions. Every one of us can feel them to some degree, and every one of us naturally responds to them.
The primitive part of our brain that processes a response to triggers at this very basic level has only one job: keep us safe, thriving, and procreative. Next time you encounter a reference to “the lizard brain” or “the croc brain,” you can show off to your friends by explaining that this is the two almond-shaped structures in our brain called amygdalae and that they’re just doing their job.
The big thing that the amygdalae do for us is prime us to respond to threats and opportunities. If you have the urge to hit on someone at the bar, that’s your amygdalae at work. If a terrifying movie makes your heart race and skin crawl, that’s also your amygdalae. Feeling butthurt when someone cuts you off in traffic? Thank your amygdalae.
How Emotions Work For Us
Emotions are like a residual effect of this primal response to triggers. A racing heart is a necessary physical response if we need to run away from a threat, so that’s part of what your amygdalae do. We feel that as the emotion called fear.
Same for anger, except that this emotion feels more confrontational or defensive than fear. In the prehistoric far distant past, anger was necessary to motivate us to protect ourselves or our tribe. Anger still does that today.
Can you imagine me suppressing all those emotions that were actually just connected to my very necessary and completely natural responses to threats and opportunities? What a mess I was! But that all changed when I began to give myself permission to feel things. First, to feel things at all (!) and later, as the “bad” feelings became more familiar, to feel them more deeply.
What To Do With Anger
This may sound counter-intuitive, so just treat it like a thought experiment for now.
When you feel anger, just go with it. Let yourself feel as angry as you can. Please, please, please do that without hurting people or breaking things. If possible, put the brakes on the activity that you might otherwise connect to anger. If you really need to act out your anger in some way, physical activity is a great outlet. Take on the punching bag, or run wind sprints or long distance, swim, take a martial arts class. One organization that helps military Veterans really use their anger well is P.O.W. San Diego, where mixed martial arts is the vehicle for physical release and camaraderie is the connection that reminds all the participants of their shared humanity.
However you need to, feel your anger. Fully. Instead of holding on to anger, let that stuff to move through you. Who wants to suppress anger and have it turn into depression? No thanks.
So…just do it.
Allowing Your Own Anger
At first, if you’re new to this practice, allowing yourself to feel anger will seem weird. Then it will seem overwhelming. When it gets too much like that, it’s really great to have a battle buddy coaching you through. But you were born with all the equipment you need to do this, so just use it and trust that it’s all OK. Provided you and others don’t get hurt, you might even consider breaking things in an “anger room.”
Just do it. Let it out.
Same goes for frustration. When you can link your anger and frustration to an obvious trigger, you can be confident you’re doing it right.
Let it ALL out. You’ll know when you’re finished. You’ll be tired. You won’t be quite as angry or frustrated anymore.
And not to worry: there will be many more opportunities to repeat this practice – the practice of properly and completely feeling anger and/or frustration. Seriously: have you seen the world these days? Who wouldn’t be angry or frustrated?
Well, maybe Tibetan monks. Even though their country has been stolen from them, the Dali Lama himself still loves to laugh…and you can’t laugh fully if you’re holding on to anger.
To let go of anger and resentment, feel them fully. Let them flow through you. Don’t hang on to them. You can’t hang on to anger without it turning in to depression, and who needs that? Feel it all. On purpose. At least for that moment. And you can trust your amygdalae to take care of priming you for whatever comes next. That’s what it does. It’s just a feeling. Powerful, yes, but it’s only brain chemistry.
Oh…once you do that, you’re ready to get on with the rest of your life.
And you can spend the rest of your life getting really good at this practice. Life will give you plenty of opportunities to do that. Eventually, you will be able to laugh like the Dali Lama, without fear, anger, or sadness, and then be ready to greet the next feelings your amygdalae primes you for.
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Still unsure about
How To Let Go Of Anger And Frustration So You Can Get On With Your Life?
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