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The Benefits of Making Space for Anger

Mary-Lauren O’Crowley, NCC, LPC

I recently found myself instructing a patient who had expressed feelings of anger to utilize relaxation techniques in an effort to mitigate the emotion. The patient responded by telling me that relaxation, including meditation and deep breathing, had proved useless; they still felt angry, overwhelmed, and worked up. This got me thinking — why are we so quick to fix or get rid of anger? And why must the “fix” involve doing the opposite of what the emotion firing inside of us would like us to do? 

As a therapist, I am constantly reminding my patients that it is okay to feel whatever emotion comes up, and yet, I found myself wanting to extinguish the anger, as if acknowledging that it was, in fact, negative, harmful, and undeserving of space. So instead, I decided to change my approach. In lieu of relaxation techniques, I wanted to see if we could find a way to channel that anger in a more adaptive and healthy way, one that would keep both the patient and those around them safe while also allowing for the natural expression of emotion. 

In researching anger, its purpose, and how to effectively hone it, I found some very interesting tidbits. Anger is necessary to keep us alive. Anger is innate and allows us to protect and defend ourselves from a perceived or real threat. What’s more,  anger also serves as a powerful motivator. When we feel anger, we tend to then feel a sort of need to do something about it. If channeled correctly, anger can be empowering, specifically in the case of social justice. Finally, anger helps us deal with stress and tension, and, as an appropriate and safe discharge of anger, it can, in fact, calm the body. 

Fight, flight, or freeze is a process overseen by the nervous system which, when allowed to play out (as in the case of expressing anger through “fight”), the body naturally returns to a state of homeostasis or balance. Now how, then, do we go about expressing anger safely? Read on to learn more.

How to Safely Express Anger

Break or Throw Something (Again…Safely!) 

Do you have a backyard, a work shed, or another open space where you can throw, hit, or break something that you would not miss? Try channeling your anger or rage into a controlled demolition. Some items you may be comfortable breaking or destroying include old electronics, glasses or mugs, or other items that have sat idle and unused in a dark corner of your home. 

If this is not a safe or appropriate option for your given situation, try something more creative. Rip up a piece of paper, scribble angrily into a journal, or cover a canvas with an image or colors that adequately represent your feelings. Try giving anger an outlet rather than working to suppress it or deny it and see how the anger shifts and changes. 

Scream or Yell (In Private) 

Screaming can be incredibly cathartic. Sometimes we may feel the urge to scream at someone around us; however, most of us know that this is most certainly not an effective way of dealing with our anger, so why not scream into a pillow? Screaming into a pillow allows us to use our voice to express our anger without needing to aim that anger at another person. You may even consider talking to the pillow and giving yourself the opportunity to outwardly express some of those less than appropriate musings. The ones that we all find ourselves thinking about from time to time but dare not say out loud for fear of the consequences. There is no harm in thinking, yelling, or screaming out loud so long as you are mindful of your surroundings and careful not to aim your anger or frustration at another. 

Do a High-Intensity Workout 

When we become angry or enraged, particularly for prolonged periods, and our nervous system enters the fight, flight, or freeze response, our body then becomes flooded with stress hormones including cortisol and adrenaline. These can lead us to feel even more jumpy, anxious, keyed up, or flustered. A high-intensity workout gives the body an opportunity to exert force and channel the intensity of our anger while helping to burn these stress hormones off. 

While anger can, in fact, be adaptive and healthy when expressed safely, and can even give us insight into where we may need further healing, those who experience chronic anger or severe anger outbursts that lead to problems in daily functioning should seek professional treatment. If you or someone you know is struggling to manage their anger effectively, please reach out to the intake specialists at Symmetry Counseling today! They can pair you with one of our very skilled therapists in Chicago who can help you on your journey. Contact us today!


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