Everybody gets angry sometimes. It is just natural. In fact, anger in general is one of the four main categories of human emotion, along with sadness, happiness, and fear; every human feels one or more of these emotions at almost all times. Anger is an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something that the individual feels has done him or her wrong in some way. It’s our body’s way of telling us that we need to address a problem; it encourages us to move closer to pleasure, and farther from pain. It’s good to be angry on occasion – anger helps us to express our feelings of discontent, and holding angry feelings pent up inside of ourselves is a recipe for disaster and is usually just an explosion just waiting to happen.
So, although anger is a natural part of being human, left unchecked, it can become a major problem. Addiction recovery almost always involves working through some type of anger. This anger may be directed at oneself, at other, specific people, at less specific entities (“the courts” or “law enforcement” or “the education system”) or at society as a whole. Individuals in recovery that are traveling down a healthy path to a new clean and sober lifestyle need to learn how to recognize anger as it arises, to determine the source of their anger, and to process it and express it in a healthy and productive way. It simply must be managed constructively in order for the person to move forward. Unprocessed anger is strongly tied to relapse, and whether a person holds in his or her anger, or whether he or she violently lashes out at others, it can be a trigger. Repressing anger is a lot of work emotionally, mentally, and physically, and it is bad for one’s health in all those areas. On the other hand, expressing one’s anger aggressively, either through yelling or actual physical violence, can cause a wide variety of problems in personal and professional relationships and legally, too. It’s best that people in recovery first seek to understand their angry feelings, and then begin to develop a plan to deal with that anger in a healthy and productive way.
Why We Are Angry
Without getting into personal specifics of every individual, the fact is, there are many reasons that people in general – and specifically people in recovery – may feel a great deal of anger at their situation, other people, and the larger world around them. First of all, it’s important to know that anger usually comes from one of two places: a place of fear, or a place of pain. Secondly, it’s interesting to consider the fact that depression – a condition felt by many current and former substance abusers – is really just anger turned inward at oneself. As mentioned above, anger is normal, but it can be misdirected. People who are actively abusing drugs or alcohol, or people who have just entered a recovery program may be feeling angry for a variety of reasons. They may fear the future ahead of them, or they may be afraid of future failures. They may be experiencing pain from repercussions from their past actions. The individual may be experiencing pain from withdrawal that is inspiring anger, or may be feeling an emotional pain from being unfair to others, or from the memory of bad things they said or did in the heat of the moment to someone they love.
Many individuals working on their recovery have suffered from traumatic experiences and they may be harboring some anger about their past situations, or they may be suffering internally from repressing these experiences. Some may come from families that have histories of escalating in anger during difficult times, and an outward and inappropriate expression of their own anger may be a learned behavior. Perhaps the individual has internal anger about their own mistakes and missteps, and he or she directs that anger outwards at others in an attempt to diminish his or her own suffering. Or, it’s also possible that someone involved in substance abuse and addiction shielded his or her own anger with drugs or alcohol for so long that the healthy ways to deal with anger have long been forgotten. No matter what the cause or reason for anger, there are healthy and productive ways to explore and express this emotion, and thankfully, they can be learned and then implemented.
How Anger Effects You Physically
Although anger may seem to be a purely mental and emotional force, it also affects us physically. When we get angry, our bodies release hormones called catecholamines, which give us a burst of energy. Also, our adrenocortical system becomes aroused, which can make us feel on edge for even several days following an angry outburst, and our blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of adrenaline all rise, too.
For someone who is frequently angry, this can take a toll on his or her physical health, and at it’s worst, it can even increase your heart attack and stroke risk. Even initially, due to these physiological changes, the individual may experience insomnia, exhaustion, and heart problems. Each of those things can, in turn, put a strain on relationships, increase the likelihood that the individual will use drugs or alcohol, and incite violence. Further, they can result in job loss, alienation of friends and loved ones, and increase one’s risk of being a victim of violence as well.
How to Intercept Anger
In order to deal with anger in a healthy and productive way, we need to be able to recognize when anger is rising within us, and also be aware of situations and emotions that may lead us into anger. Anger can be caused by so many things, including feeling unloved, misunderstood, or helpless, criticism, exhaustion, feelings of being treated unfairly, being used, or being trapped, and even certain places and people. If we know that a certain feeling or experience can incite anger, then we can do one of two things: we can avoid that situation, or we can figure out productive ways to deal with it before it happens, and then put that plan into actual when the time is right.
How to Manage Anger
There are many things that we can do to deal with anger in a safe or healthy way. Not all of these suggestions will work for everyone, but at least one or more of these will likely be effective for every individual. Try each one and put together a combination and plan that works best for you. If you need to, write it down and keep it with you so you can refer to your list of practices in the heat of the moment if necessary.
- Take a break or a walk and get away from the situation or individual for a few minutes while you cool down.
- Take a moment to count to ten silently (or aloud!) before responding to a difficult situation.
- Mindfulness meditation can help you to be more aware of your feelings and can help you to control yourself emotionally, mentally, and physically.
- If you don’t feel that meditation is right for you, simply take some time to take deep breaths and focus on the in and out motion of your breathing to help you de-escalate a situation.
- Sometimes all you need is a distraction; if you find that you are getting angry about something, read a book, watch a movie, or play with a pet.
- Often just a little comedy or humor is all you need to get past a difficult moment. If you can find something to laugh about, the problem may soon seem less of a big deal.
- Going for a run or participating in some other type of workout will help to raise your endorphin levels and you will quickly begin to feel better naturally.
- Spending some time in nature and experiencing it’s beauty can often be helpful and can remind us how small we are in the larger world.
- We often get wrapped up in negative self-talk, but flip the script and spend some time expressing gratitude for all you have and mentally listing all the great things about yourself.
- Sitting down with a notebook or laptop and journaling about your feelings can help you to express them in a quiet, non-violent way and can help you more quickly get to the root of what is causing your anger.
- Attending anger management classes can be a great help to you in your quest to learn ways to express yourself in an effective manner.
- Seeking help and counseling can further help you work on these issues one-on-one with a professional who specializes in managing emotions.
Nineteenth-century American theologian Lyman Abbott said, “Do not teach your children never to be angry; teach them how to be angry.” Anger is a natural, and normal emotion for all humans. It is right and good that we feel it and embrace our own feelings. However, it is also important that we express these feelings internally and externally in a healthy way for the safety and happiness of others and ourselves. Through taking time to evaluate our situations, learning new ways to communicate, and developing new ways of coping with anger, we can do just that.
At Clear Sky Recovery, we want to help you to take the first steps on your recovery journey. Our ibogaine detox treatment is ancient yet innovative, and has helped countless individuals make a new start. Our staff is experienced and effective, our facility is beautiful and tropical, and we are standing by to answer your questions. Please contact us today.