All About Anger: The good, the bad, and the self-loathing

Understanding Grief / Understanding Grief : Eleanor Haley

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I originally intended today’s post to be about forgiveness. You know how sometimes you learn a new word like kerfuffle (a disorderly outburst or tumult) and all of a sudden you start seeing it everywhere? That’s how I feel about the concept of forgiveness; I’ve been running into it everywhere both in my personal and professional life.

Forgiveness is a good thing; when done right its salve can bring inner-peace, harmony and empowerment. But for very unique and complicated reasons, many people struggle to reach a place where forgiveness is possible. A big correlate to this, especially for grievers, is anger and after thinking about it I quickly realized I couldn’t write a post on forgiveness until I first address anger.

So this post is all about anger – take a seat and get ready to practice some deep breathing (just kidding).

First things first, let’s de-stigmatize the concept of anger. Everyone gets angry - I know it’s not pretty or delicate or flattering to admit – but it’s true. Sometimes anger can be a good thing and sometimes it can be bad, its classification usually depends on how it’s dealt with.

Although anger looks different on everyone – some grit their teeth, some remain calm, some turn red, some even laugh – what goes on inside the brain is generally the same for everyone. Very simply, chemicals are released and a quick and careful balancing act plays out between the amygdala who wants to throw this pair of scissors across the room and the frontal lobe who says "now now lets not be brash."

Why we get angry:

The answer to this depends on the person, the time, the day, and the weather. The anger bell curve is pretty wide because we all have different tolerance levels for adverse events and what one finds infuriating another might take in stride. In general though, anger does serve a purpose and often times this purpose is one of the following:

1. As a defense mechanism: Sometimes we choose anger as a means for ensuring the trigger doesn’t happen again. It’s a way of saying, “I’m not going to take this” to both yourself and to the offender. If you’re afraid to let your go of your anger, perhaps it’s because you don’t want to risk falling prey to the wrongdoing again.

Anger is also a way of trying to assert control, even though sometimes it's aimed towards events we have no control over such as the death of someone we love.

2. To change behavior: Asserting anger towards someone else might result in the other individual changing their behavior. If I give you the silent treatment for forgetting my birthday, perhaps that will teach you to keep a closer eye on the calendar.

This also applies to injustice and/or circumstances that don't seem fair. Anger is a red flag response that tells you something is wrong or out of balance and ought to be changed. Keep in mind, often life just isn't fair and circumstances can't be changed, in these cases you have to find something else to do with your anger.

3. To deal with problems in a relationship: Getting angry often serves as a jumping off point for fixing problems in interpersonal relationships.

4. To deal with guilt, shame, and regret: Sometimes people harbor resentment towards themselves for being inadequate or making mistakes. Grievers are especially susceptible to feeling angry at themselves because of regret, guilt and blame that can't be resolved with deceased loved ones.

5. Because you’re already late and you got in line behind a disorganized coupon lady. Crap.

Anger can be beneficial:

Whether or not anger can be classified as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is dependent on what you do with it. If you react by creating a kerfuffle and refusing to talk calmly then we might classify your anger response as ‘bad’ - lamps have been broken, Jason Priestly posters have been torn clean in half, and all involved parties are left to stew. On the other hand, if when you feel the anger bubble up you identify the trigger and allow it to serve as a catalyst for positive change, then we might classify your anger response as ‘good’.

The benefits of anger echo what we have established as its ‘purpose’. Anger can serve as a catalyst for constructively:

  • Addressing negative circumstances and events in your life.
  • Resolving differences.
  • Identifying and fixing problems and maladaptive patterns in relationships.
  • Protecting and avoiding undesirable or threatening events, individuals, and circumstances.

Additionally, studies on anger have shown that:

Anger can also be harmful:

Anger can negatively impact our physical and emotional wellbeing, our ability to interact in society and our personal relationships if it is triggered too frequently, bottled up, or dealt with poorly.

Also, the natural but constant anger response can cause damage if you experience prolonged anger due to constant triggering and/or the inability to let go. Chronic anger overworks your nervous system and inhibits your bodies ability to deal with some of the more severe effects of adrenaline.

  • Poor physcial health: Those who experience anger regularly are at a higher risk of experiencing coronary artery disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, stiff arteries and muscle tension. The risk of liver and kidney damage is also increased
  • Poor emotional health: This is most common for those who turn their anger inward resulting in depression and anxiety. Women are especially at risk of this, I guess because of societal pressure and internalized expectations about behavior.
  • Isolation/poor social support: Directing anger in-ward can lead to bitterness and passive-aggressiveness; anger expressed outwardly is just plain aggressive. I mean honestly, if Oscar the Grouch didn’t live in a world of muppets do you think he would really have any friends?
  • Feeling out of control: When you feel like you can’t control anger triggers or deal with them properly your feelings and emotions can start to feel chaotic and frantic.
  • Constant emotional arousal: An inability to focus on anything but your inner emotional state may leave you feeling out of touch with the outside world.

How can I positively deal with anger?

The anger response is as individual as, well, the individual; but not all anger responses are created equally. Here are a few suggestions for dealing with anger in positive ways:

  • When you’re angry with someone else: Don’t just vent and yell, instead identify why you are angry and communicate your reasons. Self-awareness and communication will help you find a clearer path towards a solution.
  • When you’re angry with a circumstance that can be changed: Identify what about the situation is making you angry and set out a plan to change those aspects of your life.
  • When you’re angry at a circumstance that can’t be changed: Being able to identify the things you can’t change is an important step in finding acceptance and making peace. Many people find themselves banging their heads against a steel wall and grow frustrated and angry. You can’t break down that wall so find a way to go around it, under it, over it, or love it.
  • Count to ten: This sounds way too simple but the anger response happens in seconds, give your complex brain a chance to process the anger and calm down.
  • Find constructive ways to calm down: Exercise, meditate, listen to music, dance, shut yourself in the bathroom - whatever works.
  • Talk to someone: Discussing the incident can help you to calm down and find perspective.
  • Take a deep breath (or two or three or four): Breathing deeply will bring you into the present with your emotions and ease your body tension.
  • Take a minute: Running away from your problems may not be the best plan, but when your so mad you can’t see straight it doesn’t hurt to take 5.
  • Avoid anger triggers: If you know that looking for a parking spot at the mall on a busy Saturday afternoon is enough to ruin the rest of your day, then don’t go to the mall on a Saturday afternoon. There some things are really not worth the frustration.
  • Let go of negative or corrosive relationships: Some people will, without fail, find a way to make you mad. There are those who you'll want to keep in your life because you love them anyway, but there are others you can let go - sayonara.

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19 Comments on "All About Anger: The good, the bad, and the self-loathing"

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  1. bev  December 29, 2020 at 8:59 pm Reply

    It is so difficult when the person(s) that hurt you fails to acknowledge it or worse negates, dismisses, blames or attacks you.
    I am in the same place with family members. They all have others, as I don’t and seems they can afford to just dump rather than attempt repair any relationship with me.
    They have always been the angry ones while I would just feel sad. That is not the case this time. I am sorry that it seems to bring up that, as well as other betrayals and pain from the past.
    I have until now, always been able to see their behavior as a response to their own pain and directed at me. This time, it’s too personal, as I just cannot understand or believe that someone that “loved” you could be so quick to dispose of and worse, make it all about you and take zero accountability. I am in the same place of anger but not sure how to get past it this time. Your stating that getting together felt more like a performance is also spot on. It feels like they just don’t feel as invested in the relationship or are shallow. But the attacks and smear campaigns are so hurtful. That reflects on who they are that they need bring others into it with one perspective only- their own. As far as I’m concerned that makes them dangerous. Aside from this time, what helped me in the past was knowing that while I was sad they were consumed with anger and hatred. I preferred to feel sad as I did rather than full of poison, as they. But this time, I do feel angry. It feels so unjust and unfair. I think sadness is anger directed inward and anger is pain directed outward. I guess sadness made the feeling easier to reconcile, as less personal than anger, that seemed so disproportionately theirs. I hope that since you wrote the post, you are feeling a bit better. You did not do anything wrong in trusting them with your vulnerability. They made you feel safe enough to do so an that may be just as likely to help build a friendship, as in this case- it was to damage and destroy it. People who feel the need to smear you, as I have learned from experience- often do choose those they believe are most vulnerable and who’s trust they violate. I think if they felt it was truly justified, they would not feel the need to have others jump on the bandwagon based on their one sided truth and cruelty. Try as I have to believe that their stooping to the level they have, is validation that they’ve sunk to a whole new level. I would not think anyone would respect that kind of behavior. Rise above them, as I tried to do. It may not work this time but it did the other times. I am grateful t know who they are with greater certainty- that the would stoop to that level.

  2. Dana  September 4, 2020 at 9:23 pm Reply

    I came across this article because I (like most people) am having a really hard time navigating some of the interpersonal changes that have taken place throughout this pandemic. A year or so prior, I was feeling really misunderstood by my 15 year friend group during a time my mental health took a huge decline. It didn’t really help that I had an even harder time expressing my feelings due to being gaslit in the usual forms of “I didn’t say anything when you did ________”, them outright calling me judgmental, or reminding me that they also had an arsenal of things they resented me for in the past. Communication got a little bit better in our late twenties, but I’d be lying if I said I felt safe expressing myself due to our history. I didn’t know how to address the lack of emotional safety when so many people seemed to have envied us having such a long term friendship. It felt very ambivalent once we breached the superficial stuff. I feel bad sometimes because they were there for me when my mom and I had a very volatile patch, but it seems like outside of emegencies and talking about other people, we could never really get the accountability thing down. I always seemed to be the person that was too sensitive. They kept things bottled up for the most part, and expected me to be a little bit more adaptable in situations that weren’t really for me. I tried to have a honest conversation with one (of 2) after she asked to hangout. I told her us hanging out kind of felt like we were performing closeness, to which she lashed out and said she thought we were just going through life changes. She blocked me on social media and started a smear campaign (not her first time) and our mutual friends have once again started to distance themselves. I’m really lonely and don’t have the easiest time opening myself up to intimacy (due to my childhood and this particular friendship) but I really *really* want to get past the point where I’m this angry. Especially since I feel like there is such a lack of accountability on their end. I spent so much of my friendship with them ashamed of my upbringing, my economic status, and my form of expression. And they seem to be perfectly fine making me out to be a hot mess on top of everything else they know about my upbringing. Some of it might be having to be “okay” with the times I accepted behavior and failed to advocate for my emotional safety.

  3. Miriam  June 16, 2020 at 6:08 pm Reply

    This is the post I needed to read tonight! Thankyou for writing and thanks to those of you brave enough to comment. Your comments gave me the much-needed relief of laughter after 3 years of gruelling complex grief, trauma and multiple betrayals. I recently had a very ‘ugly’ public outburst towards an unsuspecting woman who is part of the family involved in suspicious circumstances surrounding the shocking traumatic death of my sister and so I’ve been trying to work out how I could be so vicious and cruel to someone who isn’t even to blame! So I’m not laughing at anyone here but laughing as I tragically see myself in so many of you and so just to say Thankyou and somehow we’re not alone xo

  4. Aj  August 19, 2019 at 6:23 am Reply

    I lost my husband eight months ago after a lengthy illness. I have spent my life taking care of people and sacrificing what I needed to help them. All of the sudden I am so angry I have alienated Friends and family. I have Been sick and feeling alone but don’t ask for help. I have a therapist who I see once a week. I’m angry because for years I have helped others and and they continue to expect me to be the same. My son says I act like I’m fine and I simply explode. This is like me. I have fired my doctor and whoever happens to say a cross word. I am sick and fired my doctor because of her refusal or insensitivity to Treat me because she is to busy. I throw things scream and feel such bitterness Toward life. People take advantage of me because I have always helped. I can’t keep firing people but I don’t want people using me anymore or encouraging people to use me. I know that what I have done wrong in the past is helping and givingall I have To others but never to myself. Idon’t blame them Because this is what I do. I blame myself. They simply take what I insist on giving. Does anyone else feel this way? I have never known such bitterness and hatred. I am 70 years old and what do I do. I want to run away but know I will only take the problems with me I pray each day for God to take me. People tell me I have to be around to care for my grandsons who I love very much. I just wonder when it’s time for some one to take care of me at least for a little while. I am ashamed of all these feelings. God isnt helping. I’ve tried to live my life caring for others and maybe that’s what the anger is about. I have formed relationships based on my giving And now when I need help I am unable to ask admit what I mean. I think they should know. I wish this life would end. Once I called the suicide hotline .The woman could not have been over 20 and obviously had no idea what to say or how to help. Forgive me for this rant and obvious self-pity. I can only say this to strangers. Please don’t mention Therapy since. I am at therapist which makes it harder. My doctor said she didn’t understand why I needed help since I am a trained mental health professional . of I am going to stop this rant as I am becoming angry at my phone for making so many mistakes in my dictation. Crazy isMy it?

    • Julia  October 14, 2019 at 8:25 pm Reply

      If I was you, I’d get a massage or facial if you can. Spoil yourself a bit. All those years of having the physical comfort of your husband and now you don’t have that. My friend’s father died suddenly a few years ago and she is a beauty therapist. I told her to give her mother regular facials and it seemed to make things better.

      You’ll be ok.

    • Lori  October 21, 2019 at 3:26 pm Reply

      AJ, I just had to respond, I am so struck by your suffering. I’m so sorry you find yourself in this situation. It’s not fair, of course you’re angry.

      In a way I admire you for firing or lashing out at people — I’ve never had the courage. I’m not grieving a death, but lost relationships, and my rage is immense. The overwhelming physical sensations are difficult to bear, I have no idea what to do with them other than use gravol or clonazepam to sedate myself (taking turns between the two means I won’t get addicted, or so I tell myself…). Sometimes I smash things or go into the forest and scream at the top of my lungs. This does not seem to bring the relief I seek, only makes me feel more frustrated and pathetic and powerless. I’ve also had the experience of seeking help and been shuffled into the office of some social worker therapist half my age and — I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true — with far less than half my intelligence.

      It’s funny, like you I censor myself and don’t usually express anything that could be construed as angry or self-pitying, because I’m scared it will make people dislike me. And yet the very things you’ve expressed that you call self-pity, and your comment about rage at your phone, elicit in me such a warm feeling of affection towards you.

      I really hope your son is perceptive enough to recognize that you’re walking through hell and are simply doing the best you can with this anger that you haven’t chosen to feel. At the same time, I wish for you the blessing of distraction because through decades of falling repeatedly into these periods of intense grief-rage, the only thing I’ve found that really seems to help is to give my mind something so challenging to work on that there’s simply no mental slack available for it to be simultaneously spinning its angry narrative or ruminating. For me at the moment that’s playing a musical instrument or doing language-learning exercises. If I earnestly give that my full effort and attention for an hour, I will be able to have a few hours of calm afterwards. (It probably helps that I really love music and language.) I wonder if there’s some exercise you could engage in, related to something you have genuine interest in, that could completely demand your attention like that.

      Wishing you moments of peace that become longer and more frequent with each day.

    • DP  January 14, 2020 at 1:56 pm Reply

      AJ – I really wanted to respond to your post. You sound so tortured. My mum died of cancer just before Christmas and I was the only one that was there when she died at home. It was very traumatic for me bit no one seems to comprehend that or how deeply its affected me. In the last week or so I have felt so angry and mainly taking it out on my partner, who hasn’t really been very supportive or patient with me. He goes on about his feelings and his mental health and how its affecting him and I’ve gotten so angry that hes focusing on himself instead of being there for me. Im angry that hes being selfish but also angry at myself for feeling this way towards him, particularly as I spun out of control last night and nearly bashed the bedroom door in when he shut it in my face. As I type this, I’ve had no contact from him and dont even know if I have relationship after my appalling behaviour. I’m not usually an aggressive or angry person but its eating me up inside. I even got angry with the bus driver who was a bit rude to me yesterday. . I’m normally polite and caring but now I dont give a crap who I upset. I had heated words with my sister today but she was great and calmed me down (she has much thicker skin than me) I’m hoping to start counselling soon. I hope you find peace AJ. You must be missing your husband so bad. I miss my mum.

    • Lisa  April 26, 2021 at 11:56 pm Reply

      Wow,I am days away from the 11 month marker when my 54 year old husband of 19 years died in ny arms from a heart attack. I am 50 years old. I found this site because I googled “I am so angry inside that it is scaring me. ” Your post sounds exactly like me and how I am now feeling. I have always been a giver from as long as Ican remember. I also give 200% when I help others. I too have asked God to hover over me and see no change. Although I work M-F job 9AM to 5PM I find as this grief continues I am isolating myself from others. I am content with my 3 fur babies…my dogs. I too for the first time recently asked when will someone just do something for me? I feel like it is common sense that “someone” would just do something to make a difference in my life during this relentless grief. **Because like you, I would not just do one thing for someone going through this, I would do many things to help. . . I may just show up and be a shoulder to cry on or just a listening ear. I may offer to do the laundry or clean if needed. I would just “be” for them. I live to make others feel better. Where is that so called Karma?? Because I am not seeing or feeling any of it. I hope that your life got a little better since you posted this comment. Wow, when I read it I couldn’t believe the similarities. Take care…you made a difference in a stranger’s life. I was feeling crazy, now I see that I am not the only one who yearns to be treated as you treat others…treatment that can really help during such a difficult time in life.. becoming a widow.

  5. Naijah  March 18, 2019 at 9:56 pm Reply

    I’ve been keeping my anger in for a long time now. Sometimes, a bit of it comes out on accident and I get yelled at. I want to talk to my mom about this but, I can tell she doesn’t care if I’m mad or not. My siblings are always bothering me, especially my little brother. He’s always kicking and hitting me for no reason multiple times. I tell him to stop but he doesn’t listen so, when I hit and kick him back, my mom yells and hits me. But, I guess that’s my fault. I should have just dealt with it because I obviously deserve it.

    • Ave  February 2, 2023 at 8:24 am Reply

      Hi Najiah, I don’t know if you’ll see this response after a couple years. It’s definitely not your fault! Parents must care about their children’s feelings, but many don’t know how or have so much of their own anger that they don’t know how to support their children. Go to therapy if you can. If your first therapist doesn’t work out, that’s ok. Keep searching until you find someone who speaks in a way you understand. You are not your anger. Your anger is like a thermometer in your heart, telling you something’s wrong outside of you. Do not be afraid or ashamed to tell someone who can help what is happening in your family. The more you understand what is going on by going to therapy, the more you can help your little brother be kind, and help your mom.

  6. Andrea Kaat  February 21, 2019 at 12:21 am Reply

    I too share Helen’s struggles but my question is how is it okay to accept the behavior
    of people who go out of their way to get under others skin but not the feeling of being Angry at the people who push those buttons on others and are straight up A holes to your face . Why the double standard here?

  7. Sandra floyd  February 8, 2016 at 5:43 am Reply

    I lost my Grandson 2 years ago, he was 19 and full of life. I just want to scream, I get into my car and drive to scream, so that no one hears me. Not ideal, I know,

  8. Manette  February 5, 2016 at 10:57 pm Reply

    Lately I’ve realized that I’m angry at my friend for dying. I’ve definitely experienced anger since her death but this is the first time in almost 16 years that I’m angry at her. I know it’s stupid because her death was an accident but I still feel angry at her for dying and leaving us here trying to pick up the pieces and live on without her even after all these years.

    • Susanitamn  July 3, 2020 at 8:45 am Reply

      I usually try and be a people pleaser often putting others before myself but then something will happen I think is very unfair to me and I blow up yelling crying etc uncontrollably. Then I feel horrible as I’ve damaged relationships and I think I hate myself. I want to hide forever and have even considered suicide. When I get so angry I don’t seem to be able to even think for a moment, count to ten, etc. It’s just all instant reaction. How can I learn to do anything more productive than just lose it?

      • Litsa  July 5, 2020 at 1:53 pm

        Absolutely you can work on this! This is exactly what anger management counseling is for and it can be very effective, even for people who think that they will never be able to control their anger. I would encourage you to look for a counselor or therapist in your area who specializes in anger management. There is also a book we like and recommend called ACT on Life Not on Anger: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Guide to Problem Anger that may be useful. And please, if you are ever thinking of suicide, call or initiate an online chat with the national suicide hotline. They can be found here or by calling 1-800-273-8255.

  9. Orlo  February 5, 2016 at 9:59 am Reply

    I met a woman who seemed to take an instant dislike to me. I was honestly clueless about what I might have said or done to her. As time went on, I learned that her son had died tragically four years earlier, and she had recently broken up with a long-time love. Although I lost my husband, my sister, and my best friend to cancer during the last few years, I have learned that even faking a smile helps signal your brain to release healing endorphins. I guess she just didn’t want to look at someone who appeared to be happy.

  10. Helen Zz  September 16, 2015 at 3:42 pm Reply

    I want to express my anger and vent. I don’t want to “deal” with it without first expressing it. I think if I express it, just to get it out, then it will help me deal with it. But I don’t want to upset anyone. I wish I had the chance to shout and scream without fearing I would hurt anyone. So all of this means I avoid it. I was hoping your article could offer some suggestions about how to express anger. Could you write about this?

    • Litsa  September 17, 2015 at 7:44 am Reply

      That is a great suggestion for a post Helen! We will definitely add that to our list of future post topics. You’re definitely not alone and struggling to express anger. Like so many other emotions that are stigmatized, or that make other people uncomfortable, we have a tendency to stuff them down! Stay tuned for a post on this!

  11. deb  October 15, 2014 at 11:38 am Reply

    this is been very helpfull thank you


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