A couple weeks ago, I had a pretty big rage blackout that turned out surprisingly well for one of my friendships. I’m not recommending this as a typical solution, but it is amazing what can happen sometimes when you let your true emotions come through, especially for those of us who are well-practiced at pushing down our anger or feeling guilty about having it in the first place.
Suppressing your anger
Growing up, many of us learn to suppress our anger, largely when dealing with our parents or other authority figures. Being a “good” person or student becomes a goal in both school and at home, where kids who are respectful, quiet, and hardworking are rewarded and those who act out are punished. Especially as girls, we are taught to be kind, polite, and sweet and women who get angry or speak their minds are often labeled as “bossy” or “bitchy” or “a real piece of work”.
I’ve only recently started to realize how this has translated into my suppression of anger as an adult. I’ve been reading a book called “Taming Your Gremlins” that talks about the relationship we have with anger and suggests simply noticing what happens in your body the next time anger comes up. I very quickly realized that I was quite averse to feeling anger and was quick to nip it in the bud whenever I felt it!
Maintaining positivity has become a huge part of the health and wellness movement and is something that I often promote for both others and myself. While I’m generally very in favor of keeping a positive attitude and letting things go, there are ways in which this can be detrimental if applied to every single situation.
I have built a big part of my personality around staying positive, around coming from a place of love and understanding, around trying to see things from other people’s perspectives. While these are all great things to strive for and are ways that I would generally like to interact with the world, there are times where I allow my desire to stay positive cloud my ability to express my true emotions.
The thing is, it’s ok to not always understand where someone else is coming from and it’s ok to be hurt or pissed off by someone else’s actions, even a close friend. We are human, we can’t always see things from someone else’s perspective and even if we think we can, we might be getting it totally wrong anyway. Sometimes people do things that hurt us, that push our boundaries, that just don’t make sense, and it should be ok to express that to someone without ending a friendship.
Now, obviously there is a difference between expressing your anger in a healthy way and having a short temper that causes you to explode at every little upset. But anger is a totally normal emotion that has been turned into a villain that many of us are afraid to experience. It is important to learn to pick your battles and to let the little things go but also to take a stand and speak your mind when something really matters.
Sharing your anger lovingly
Of course, sometimes we feel anger for reasons that are really not the other person’s fault. Anger is often a gut reaction that happens out of fear or habit and it is helpful to pause, breathe, and assess the situation to see if our anger is truly justified. Our emotions generally have a lot more to do with our beliefs and past experiences that they do with the person we are interacting with. But if we find after this evaluation that we really do feel the need to be heard by the person we feel anger towards, then it can be useful to express that anger in an honest and loving way.
And yes, anger can be expressed in a loving way!
How you ask? Rather than sharing judgements and assumptions about the situation, start by simply sharing the facts about what happened and how that made you feel. For example, let’s say you have a friend who canceled last-minute when you had plans to go to a show together. Rather than saying something like “I can’t believe how inconsiderate you are, you clearly don’t care about our friendship at all!”, stick to the facts. Say something like “When you canceled on our plans last-minute, I felt hurt because I was looking forward to spending time with you” or “I worry that our friendship isn’t important to you because this is the third time you have canceled on me this month”.
Anger often has a basis in fear and sharing that fear with the other person shows vulnerability and can make them more receptive to hearing what you have to say, rather than simply attacking them. Dig deep within yourself and notice why you are angry – usually there is something below the surface that drives our anger, like a fear of rejection or a fear of not being enough. Be honest and share that along with your anger and you may be surprised how people react. Nobody likes to hear that they have hurt their friend’s feelings, even if they don’t understand why – help them to understand without attacking.
Sharing honest emotions in a loving way shows the people in our lives that we care enough about them to speak our truth. It shows that their friendship matters enough to us that we are willing to work through a difficult issue and repair whatever needs repairing. If I get angry at some stranger or someone who is not important to me, I’m probably not going to take the time and energy to tell them because it isn’t really worth it.
In addition, expressing your anger in a loving way is sometimes the motivation someone needs to really make a change or step back and examine how their behavior is affecting others. If their actions are upsetting you, it’s possible they are upsetting other people in their lives as well who haven’t felt like they could say anything. Sharing those feelings honestly may be the most loving thing you could do for your friend.
If we want to be allowed to express these kinds of emotions, we need to be ok with receiving them as well. I am fortunate that the friend I totally blew up on the other day is an understanding person who is willing to see past emotional outbursts and actually thanked me for being so real with him, even when what I said what hurtful and untrue (which is not highly recommended). Rather than simply getting pissed off right back at me and terminating the friendship, which would have been very easy to do, he asked if we could talk in person, expressed his own anger at what I had said, and also expressed his love for me and his desire to understand why I said the things I did. Again, I was very lucky that he was willing to work through it all with me and we both came to a place where we were able to forgive each other and move forward.
Being able to receive anger from a friend is an important skill! Usually our first reaction is to become defensive and point out how and why the other person is wrong to be angry at us. But this is the ego talking and generally does not lead to a healthy resolution or any sort of growth.
When someone shares their anger with you, try to see the fear behind it and also the love behind it. Notice what it is about your behavior that the other person is reacting to and do your best to see it from their perspective. Thank them for being honest with you, even if you don’t agree with their evaluation of what happened or you think they are being unfair. And then be honest with them – let them know exactly how their anger makes YOU feel, and know that it is ok to be angry back!
Of course, if you just get in a cycle of being angry at one another and not listening to each other, that won’t necessarily get you anywhere productive. Do your best to remember that there is a possibility you were wrong and that your actions could have been hurtful, even if it wasn’t intended. Your intentions don’t change the fact that this person is feeling hurt.
To sum it all up…
While it’s not healthy to live in a constant state of anger or to blow up at every little slight you perceive, anger can be a useful emotion and can even build trust and closeness in a friendship when expressed in a loving way. The biggest thing to remember is to take a moment when you feel it and go below the surface to notice where your anger is coming from. If you really feel like it needs to be shared for you to feel some resolved, then share it!
If it doesn’t feel like it’s worth sharing, then you need to let it go. Don’t allow your anger to fester and cause resentment and don’t tell someone it’s not a big deal when it is. And in return, appreciate when others are honest with you about their feelings because it means you can trust them to tell you when something is wrong!