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From Foe to Friend: Befriending Our Anger

The Uncomfortable Truth About Anger

In my practice as a therapist, what I’ve observed is that most people are generally uncomfortable with the emotion of anger, whether it’s their own or someone else’s. Sitting with their anger, expressing it, communicating it, and sometimes even just acknowledging that they are angry makes them squirm uncomfortably in their seat. Oftentimes, we are taught that anger is not an acceptable emotion, and we grow up without any models of healthy expression of anger. 

Anger, along with sadness or anxiety, are often labeled “negative” emotions. However, emotions don’t have any inherent moral value. They are merely a natural, physiological response that serve a very important function – they help us to deepen understanding of ourselves and our needs and values. So how can we reframe the way we look at and experience anger?

Approaching Anger with Openness and Curiosity

Many times when we are experiencing anger, we are quick to question, invalidate, or deny it. If you’ve ever found yourself thinking “Well, I’m not exactly angry – just frustrated,” or “Why am I so angry over this? It’s not that big of a deal,” you are definitely not alone. 

The first step to befriend anger is to approach it with openness and curiosity, rather than self-judgment or denial. There is a significant difference between “WHY am I so angry?” versus “Why AM I so angry?” The latter is an open question rooted in curiosity, whereas the former is a loaded, rhetorical question with an underlying implication that your anger is unreasonable and invalid. 

Questions to Explore Your Anger

  • What exactly am I feeling? Utilize tools such as the anger iceberg or the feelings wheel to help find the word that describes your emotion of anger best. 
  • What message is my anger sending me? Has a boundary been crossed? Have I been disrespected or mistreated? 
  • What does my anger tell me about my needs, preferences, and/or values?
  • Does this situation remind me of another familiar dynamic that I’ve struggled with? Is a past wound or insecurity being triggered? 
  • How does it feel to acknowledge that I am indeed angry? 

Understanding the Function of Anger

Like infants cry when they need food or a diaper change, anger also alerts us of a need. It demands our attention, prompting us to focus on not only the source(s) of arousal, but also on the impact said source(s) have had on us. 

In short, anger is both a sign of the presence of, and a call for the practice of self-compassion. 

A Sign of the Presence of Self-Compassion:

When anger arises, it tells us “I don’t like being treated this way. This doesn’t sit right with me. This isn’t fair. I am hurt.” Embedded in these messages is the underlying belief that “I deserve better than this.” It is our bodies’ way of telling us that we KNOW we deserve to be treated with respect and care. 

A Call for the Practice of Self-Compassion:

You may have noticed that when you are feeling angry, it can be intense, sometimes all-consuming, and distressing. Your heart might beat faster, maybe your face flushes, thoughts spin, and perhaps you even shed some tears. This is how our body asks us to practice self-compassion. 

Practicing Self-Compassion in the Face of Anger

Self-compassion can take on many forms. Largely, there are two types – self-soothing and action. 

Self-Soothing:

Self-soothing may include acknowledging and validating our own feelings, utilizing coping skills such as exercise or meditation, or perhaps journaling about our feelings. It’s important to give space to these feelings and acknowledge their validity. Again, it’s important  to come from a place of wanting to understand ourselves better, rather than from a place of self-judgment, shame, or avoidance.

Action:

Self-compassion in the form of action may look like setting a boundary, standing up for yourself, asking for a need, or communicating the impact of the other party’s actions. This gives us the opportunity to find some healing and the other party the opportunity to show up for us. This type of self-advocacy may even help to strengthen the relationship and allow for deeper understanding of one another. And other times, self-compassion may even mean leaving the relationship if it’s become harmful. 

Conclusion

Anger absolutely can feel scary and uncomfortable. However, it is also absolutely a part of the authentic human experience and the full range of emotions that we feel. With an open, curious, and self-compassionate approach, we can learn to become friendly with our anger and fully reap the benefits of its function.

Seek Individual Therapy at Yellow Chair Collective in Los Angeles or New York

If you are seeking therapy specifically tailored to your needs, consider reaching out to the culturally sensitive therapists at Yellow Chair Collective. We understand that different parts of our identities and histories can show up in different parts of our lives, and that it can make navigating relationships difficult. We also understand that there may be unique cultural and contextual factors that may influence your experiences.

At our Los Angeles, CA, and New York City, NY-based therapy practice, we have many skilled, trauma-informed therapists who can provide an empowering therapeutic experience. For your added convenience and simplicity, we offer online therapy for anyone in the state of California or New York. We know that guilt and shame are painful experiences, and that the path to finding meaning and figuring out how to be a good person can be challenging. We want to support you on your journey. Follow the steps below to begin.

Other Services at Yellow Chair Collective

There are many options for treatment using online therapy in California and New York, it just depends on what you’re needing. And while we certainly service Asian American folks, we also work with individuals from other cultures, too. So, whether you’re needing support in overcoming anxiety, burnout, trauma, or PTSD, we can help. Likewise, we serve teens and couples in need of support, too. So when you start online therapy with us, you can bring your whole self, including past struggles, cultural impacts, and more.

Begin Working With an Emotion Management Coaching Group in Los Angeles, CA, and New York, NY

Our team of therapists is happy to offer support groups and therapy across California and New York. Join the Emotion Management Coaching Group to  gain a deeper understanding of emotions and their functions, learn to build healthier relationships with emotions, and gain new tools for coping. You can join a support group with YCC by following these simple steps:

  1. Fill out our registration form here 
  2. Be notified when signups are open for the next cohort
  3. Start learning emotion management skills alongside a community