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Repressed anger is a pertinent topic when it comes to the relationship between the highly sensitive person and anger. Repressed anger can manifest in various forms, including depression, people-pleasing behaviors, paranoia, and passive-aggressive behaviors. Repressed anger usually stems from childhood trauma or social conditioning. A person with repressed anger might have immature or aggressive parents and be silenced, shamed, or punished for expressing anger at a young age. With practice, however, one can learn to process and release repressed anger, learn from it and make the best use of it.
The relationship between highly sensitive people and anger is a much-misunderstood topic. Due to traits of their personality, heightened empathy or childhood conditioning, many highly sensitive people have repressed anger, and do not know how to deal with their emotions healthily.
<<This article is written by Imi Lo>>
What is Repressed Anger? The Highly Sensitive Person and Anger
Highly sensitive people and anger have a complex relationship because many see anger as something bad, something they need to suppress, hide away, or quickly undo. Contrary to common impression, however, anger is a natural emotion— not good or bad, it just is, and it serves a function. It can be useful if the highly sensitive person can learn to notice it and receive the message anger is trying to deliver to them. When someone oversteps our boundaries, anger teaches us to say no and to protect ourselves. In assertive anger, we are harnessing the very human and natural emotion to reinstate our boundaries and fight for our birthrights. Anger just is, and being able to be angry when someone oversteps is a sign of psychological health.
Many highly sensitive people confuse anger with aggression or violence, but the two are different. When anger emerges, there are many different paths we can take in our reactions, and aggression is only one of them. With practice, a highly sensitive person can learn to express their needs and frustration healthily and gracefully without resorting to outbursts and violence.
A highly sensitive person may mistake anger as the opposite of love and affection. The assumption is that if we love someone, we should not get angry at them. But that is far from the truth. Anger is in fact, a part of a mature loving relationship. In a healthy and authentic relationship, there is room for us to express anger, upsets and complaints. In a childlike form of love, people are either good or evil. Highly sensitive or not, children are only capable of thinking in a black or white way. For example, children have a hard time comprehending how the person who was nurturing to them could also be mean or unavailable. As we mature, however, we would learn to hold both sides of a paradox in mind. In mature love, we know our partner has both merits and flaws. We can adore them and feel disturbed by some of their behaviors at the same time. We can love them and be angry at them at the same time. Truly loving someone does not mean we never feel angry at them, but it means we learn to negotiate boundaries and master the art of forgiveness with grace and compassion. It is, therefore, an error to assume being angry infers a character flaw.
“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”
Externalized Anger and Internalised Anger
There are generally two kinds of relationships between the highly sensitive person and anger, defined by how they process it. One way is to ‘externalize’ it outwardly, through speech and behaviors, and the other way is to ‘internalize’ anger by containing it within one’s psyche and body. When done in a rigid, extreme, and dysfunctional way, both externalizing and internalizing have negative consequences. Typically, it is said that men tend to externalize their anger whilst women internalize them, though, in reality, this is not always the case.
Externalized anger— The Inability to contain anger
When most people think of anger, they think of ‘externalized’ forms of anger, such as someone shouting, punching things, or acting aggressively. In psychiatry, dysfunctional externalizing involves the lack of self-control and dysregulation. Someone who externalizes their anger may act violently or harshly at others, with little ability or potential to self-reflect on what they have done.
A highly sensitive person who tends to externalise their anger may be irritable all the time, easily annoyed and triggered. When they were young, they may be argumentative, defiant or have other conduct problems. They may also act out by taking drugs, engaging in reckless behaviors or breaking the rules and the law. At their worst, they could even intentionally hurt others to release their resentment.
Externalizing anger is not always unhealthy. It can also be done in a kind and diplomatic way. Healthy externalized anger can look like assertiveness or necessary boundary-setting. Furthermore, people who do not suppress their anger know it when they feel it. Once they have externalized their anger, the feeling leaves their system. It does not get stuck in the body, remind stuck or fester. For people who repress their anger, however, the opposite happens.
Internalized anger (Repressed anger)— The Inability to get angry
A highly sensitive person who internalizes their emotions suffers internally within themselves. As they divert their anger towards themselves, they often suffer from depression, anxiety, and somatization (emotions turning into bodily pain or physical ailments).
People with repressed anger may find that they rarely feel angry but experience chronic lethargy and numbness. The problem is that whilst the process is largely unconscious, it takes a lot of energy to suppress and re-divert anger. They are tired because a lot of their essential life force is consumed by denying what they ought to feel.
Another problem is that on the flip side of anger are precious human feelings such as joy, excitement, and passion. When a person suppresses anger, they may find many of their other desirable feelings get numbed out too. They find it difficult to get excited or passionate; they may be disconnected from their own needs and desires. They may even find it hard to feel or express affection for others.
Highly sensitive children who internalize their anger may experience deep depression but cannot find words to express it. They tend to isolate themselves, struggle socially, or resort to other copings such as self-harming, selective mutism or restrictive eating. To these children, there is no channel for them to express how they feel, and they cannot afford to express anger towards their parents, who can’t tolerate it. The only way to cope, therefore, is to blame themselves for feeling angry. This creates a vicious cycle where whilst the highly sensitive child is blamed for their deteriorating academic results and mental health, they have no way of seeking help. When these children grow up, they are more prone to suffering from disorders related to internalization, such as Quiet Borderline Personality Disorder or chronic depression.
Another well-known fact about repressed anger is that it can cause physical strain on our bodies. Holding back anger creates inner tension, which can then cause a wide range of psychosomatic ailments, such as indigestion, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, frequent migraines and even cancer. As reported by the College of Nursing, University of Tennessee: There is evidence to show that suppressed anger can be a precursor to the development of cancer, and it contributes to cancer progression after the diagnosis.
Why Do We Have Repressed Anger?
Why has the relationship between the highly sensitive person and anger become dysfunctional? This is not a conscious choice. Most likely, they have repressed anger because they have learned at some point in their life that it is not okay to directly express it or to even feel it.
Metaphorically, their feeling of ‘channel’ for anger is blocked. And this is not their fault.
We live in a culture that celebrates and reinforces the idea that children should be ‘good girls’ and ‘good boys’. Our parents, alongside teachers and other institutions, are keen to mould us for compliance and obedience. Whenever we tried to express our anger, perhaps by screaming and throwing things, the grown-ups were quick to shut us down.
Mature and competent parents understand that life, as well as bringing up children, involves a degree of chaos. They understand that not everything can or need to be under control, and do not get anxious when their children get frustrated. Unfortunately, not all parents can allow their children to air this natural emotion and teach them how to process it. Because they have never been taught how to deal with anger themselves, many parents are wary of anger. They might equate anger with chaos, aggression, and losing control.
In other words, the highly sensitive person is unable to feel or express anger now because, as a child, they were discouraged, punished, shamed, silenced or ignored when they tried to express themselves.
There could be multiple reasons why our parents punish us for this natural expression.
Perhaps they tend to take things personally. When we were upset about something, they felt criticized and then acted out defensively or punitively.
Perhaps they cared a lot about how we reflected on them and saw our anger as something that made them ‘lose face’. In their attempt to make us ‘good children’, they prematurely shut down any signs of our frustrations and upsets. Even if we were bullied at school, discriminated against by our teachers, or hurt by our siblings, we were not allowed to cry, to tell anyone, or to complain. We were constantly told we should be grateful for everything and that ‘good boy or girl doesn’t get angry.’
Perhaps when we were younger, our vulnerable and deeply depressed parents have in so many ways— through their tears and frequent break-downs— let us know they couldn’t take on anything more mental load, let alone our anger.
Perhaps we had aggressive, violent, and unpredictable parents, and we knew better than to add anger to anger.
Perhaps we have a difficult, bullying, or even psychopathic sibling, who would undoubtedly punish us with physical and verbal violence if we ever dare to compete with them for attention.
Perhaps our parents meant well, and everyone tried their best, but there were poverty, illness, and constant crises, so no one had any energy to pay attention to how we felt.
Maybe our parents did not mean to silence us, but they don’t know what to do with their own anger other than to act as though everything is fine. Or maybe we have a parent that is terrified of conflicts and would placate others while bottling up resentment. No one has ever modelled healthy assertiveness to us or told us it is okay to say no.
Perhaps our parents have threatened to abandon us if we continue to be angry. With the looming threat of being disowned by the only people we depend on, we have no choice but to shove all angry feelings to the deepest, unconscious corner of our psyche. Back then, we could not afford to let anger threaten our relationships with our caregivers. But for many of us, even as grown and independent adults, the fear of anger continues to haunt us. Unconsciously, the message ingrained in us is that anger would lead to enormous conflict and even the end of a relationship. Thus, we do not feel we can afford to assert our rights and ask for our needs to be met.
As a result of one of the above scenarios and childhood conditioning, the relationship between a highly sensitive person and anger becomes thwarted, and now they are not able to express even the slightest frustration. Unfortunately, by cutting off from anger, they are simultaneously cut off from the ability to be assertive, express their needs, speak up when things are not right and say no when others overstep.
Another consequence of having repressed anger is that we transfer our original fear of abandonment and the need to placate our parents to people in our lives now. All authority figures that come into our lives, be it our boss, or mentor, the pastor, become people we are deeply afraid of offending. Even with friends, peers, colleagues and random strangers, we dare not speak up when our lines are crossed. We either turn to blaming ourselves, bottling up bitterness, or simply cutting off from relationships without ever expressing our concerns.
Despair is anger with no place to go. – Mignon McLaughlin
Forms of Repressed Anger
Repressed Anger that Turns into Depression
Do you feel sad for seemingly no reason?
Do you often feel hopeless and empty?
Do you no longer feel excited about activities you used to enjoy?
Do you lack energy and motivation, even toward the goals you have set?
Do you lack sex drive, appetite, or sleep excessively?
Do you feel guilty even when you have not done anything wrong?
Have you been experiencing an underlying current of sadness for a long period of time?
This is not a diagnostic test, but the above questions point to potential depression. The cause of depression could be trauma, bereavement to chemical imbalances. Repressed anger is one of the less-known causes of depression.
Psychoanalysts and psychologists have long known that when anger is repressed and turned inward, it turns into depression. People who have this tendency find themselves feeling sad and down about everything and everyone when actually they are angry about something or someone. This is not just a theory. Research has validated that inner conflicts about anger are an underlying cause for depression.
Being threat sensitive, a highly sensitive person may have an underlying sensitivity toward rejection and fear of abandonment. They fear if they directly express anger, they would be rejected or abandoned by their loved ones. Guilt and the fear that anger will disrupt relationships override all other natural feelings. When anger is suppressed, repressed, and redirected inward, it could fester and turn into toxic shame and guilt. Whether consciously or unconsciously, this shame and guilt pave way for depression.
When attacked or abused, the highly sensitive person with repressed anger may employ a defense mechanism known as ‘identifying with the aggressor’, where a part of their psyche takes on the aggressor’s voice and attacks and continue with the abuse in their own mind. They may find that they have a ‘critical inner voice’ that tells them nothing they do is right. Their inner critic may attack their ability, appearance, and achievements… just like their critical parents, bullies or teachers once did. When the cycle of self-criticism and self-hate continues, it could even lead to suicidal urges.
Turning anger inward is especially common among highly sensitive persons and empaths. Their natural compassion has caused them to focus excessively on others’ needs and emotions at the cost of proper emotional and energetic boundaries for themselves.
Repressed Anger That Turns Into Subjugation
A highly sensitive person whose repressed anger turns into subjugation may be out of touch with their anger. They see it as a ‘bad’, even immoral, thing. They are afraid of conflicts and the power of their own rage. Whenever anger emerges in them, an intense inner conflict also emerges, and simultaneously there is a force to squash it all down. They may immediately switch the focus onto other people’s needs, or ‘what the situation needs from them’, rather than their own needs. To avoid conflicts, the highly sensitive person usually opts to be the peacemaker and mediator in any given situation. They will do anything to maintain peace and harmony.
This tendency is especially common amongst highly sensitive people who are also gifted. Their life experiences have taught them that they are ‘too much,’ ‘too dramatic,’ ‘too outspoken,’ ‘care too much about small things, etc. To fit in or even just to survive, they had learned to silence their voices and disown their power. They might have been naturally exuberant, passionate, and have a strong sense of justice. However, they have eventually learned to become afraid of their own power. In many conscious or unconscious ways, they try to curb their own excitement and energy. They may procrastinate, overeat, overindulge, etc., rather than dedicating to the causes they truly believe in.
For the highly sensitive person who has held repressed anger all their life, they are no longer aware of it when anger emerges inside. Even if, to others, they should be angry, or they even look angry, they deny feeling it. It is not that they are lying, but because anger is such an alien emotion to them, they are genuinely shocked when someone says they might be experiencing anger.
Most of the time, they appear to be extremely ‘nice’ and easygoing. However, if you push them too far, they can suddenly lose it on you.
Their blocked anger channel is caused by factors that are partly nature and partly nurture. As a child, they kept their head down so as not to upset an already depressed parent, or provoke an aggressive parent. Their role in the family is the mediator or the invisible one, and they would do everything to not bother anyone with their emotional needs. To achieve the goal of being completely invisible, they have learned to numb their feelings, drive and desires. They would rather appease others to keep the peace than to express it and risk having a conflict.
Anger is an essential life force. On the other side of anger are passion, drive, and healthy desires. People who suppress anger too far may eventually feel numb, lethargic and empty. They are disconnected from their ‘source’ and feel lost without an anchor in life. They may have a ‘dreamy’ quality to them. Whilst they can easily fit into any social group or tag along with the agenda set by their partners or family, they have lost their sense of individuality. This can result in chronic confusion in one’s sense of identity. Ironically, the sense that they have lost themselves to merge with others fuels more resentment that they are not able to digest.
Repressed Anger That Shows Up as Paranoia
Paranoia is a less-known impact of repressed anger, but the fact that mis-diverted anger could lead to intense anxiety is something psychoanalysts have long known to be true. What sometimes happens when someone has repressed anger is that they project it onto others. Rather than acknowledging that something has caused them to feel hostile, they project these feelings onto others and perceive others to be hostile to them. This happens unconsciously, so the person is not aware that they are angry at all, but instead, they feel intensely anxious about someone or something harming them. They experience the world to be a strange and dangerous place and find it hard to trust anyone.
Whenever they assert themselves even only mildly, they experience an irrational fear that others will retaliate and harshly punish them.
They are also deeply afraid of being on the receiving end of anger. Assertiveness feels like a threat to them. When other people assert their boundaries, even kindly and gently, they experience them to be aggressive and hostile. They are highly reactive, thus have little tolerance for honest communication.
This tendency to project outwards often points to an issue in shadows, a Jungian concept. People with this tendency are not acknowledging their own hostility and instead project these tendencies onto everyone around them.
In truth, anger and the urge to act aggressively are natural human tendencies. By engaging in Shadow Work, they may learn to re-integrate disowned parts of their psyche and project less onto others. To start, they could learn to see anger not as immoral or negative. They can learn to separate anger as a natural emotion from harmful and aggressive actions. Then, whenever they feel paranoid or intensely anxious, they could ask themselves if the situation actually warrants anger or assertive actions instead. This inner inquiry may not take away the anxiety instantly, but can give context to their paranoia, and potentially get to the previously mysterious root of their overblown anxiety.
Repressed Anger that Turns Into Self-Righteousness
Repressed anger is a form of anger not easily seen from the outside. This kind of anger is quieter, and even if expressed, it is worded as ‘frustration’, or ‘annoyance’. Deep down, however, a person may be bottling up deep resentment. When repressed anger is paired with perfectionistic or obsessive-compulsive tendencies, it may manifest in a self-righteous way, where the person becomes highly critical of themselves and others and set unrelenting standards.
People who are highly perfectionistic bottle up resentment for two reasons: One is their own frustration and accumulated self-hate for not being able to meet their own standards, the other source of anger is other people’s sloppiness or lack of ethics. When they have dedicated their lives to doing the right things to a high standard, it is understandable that they feel resentful when others don’t and seem to ‘get away with it.’
Most of the time, people with self-righteous anger do not appear ‘angry’ but overly civilized, controlled and tense. They may unconsciously and secretly punish other people by being critical, moralistic and demanding, but would not know that the root of their way of being is bottled resentment.
Because they do not like thinking of themselves as an ‘angry person,’ they rarely express or admit feeling resentful. When they feel it is justified, however, they may blow up in a kind of rage that surprises everyone around them.
Someone who holds repressed anger in a passive-aggressive form tends not to express their anger and resentment directly. This behavioral pattern may and often does overlap with other forms of repressed anger described above.
People with passive-aggressive anger are not able to assert themselves directly. Instead, when they are upset, they consciously or unconsciously act stubbornly and passively and silently punish others.
Passive-aggressiveness can have many forms and often involves withholding behaviors. They may forget something, carelessly neglect their responsibilities, procrastinate or perform badly in a task. They may give their partners a cold shoulder, make sarcastic comments, forget their promises, or refuse to comply with any request. They may humiliate their partners by portraying them in a negative light amongst friends and family. Someone with passive-aggressive anger can also subtly guilt-trip others and make others feel responsible for upsetting them. They can also unintentionally ‘gaslight’ others to make them feel they are defective in some ways.
Passive aggression is closely linked to guilt. Because passive-aggressive people think they are wrong for being angry, they become secretive, hostile, and sulky without admitting to themselves that they are angry. Underneath their self-deception is bottled resentment.
Passive-aggressive anger can damage relationships silently and gradually. Those on the receiving end of passive-aggressive anger feel punished and attacked without knowing why. When their partners resort to withdrawing, communication stops and they are left feeling helpless. Without communication, the partner of someone passive-aggressively angry could not know what they have said or done wrong and are left stranded with no real way of solving the problem. Even with the best intention, they do not know what they can do to improve the relationship with someone who holds passive-aggressive anger.
“Sometimes I think there’s a beast that lives inside me, in the cavern that’s where my heart should be, and every now and then it fills every last inch of my skin, so that I can’t help but do something inappropriate. ”
Symptoms of Repressed Anger
To summarise, the impact of repressed anger can include the following:
— Psychosomatic symptoms and physical ailments such as headaches, chronic cough, and digestive issues
— Emotional numbness
— Depression or dysthymia
— Lingering sadness without clear reasons
— Lack of motivation, chronic procrastination
— Urges to hurt oneself
— The inability to stand up for oneself, and thus let others take advantage of them
— Having unreasonably high and unrelenting standards
— Having a harsh inner critic
— Inability to relax or have pleasure in life
— Confused sense of self and identity confusion
— Being abused or used by others due to inability to assert boundaries
— Paranoia and intense anxiety
— The tendency to judge others
— Alienation and social isolation
— Self- sabotaging behaviors
— Sudden outbursts that surprise others
— Lack of satisfaction in relationships and friendships
— Broken relationships, affairs
“It is not the actions of others which trouble us (for those actions are controlled by their governing part), but rather it is our own judgments. Therefore remove those judgments and resolve to let go of your anger, and it will already be gone. How do you let go? By realizing that such actions are not shameful to you.”
How to Release Repressed Anger
Let Yourself Feel Anger and Understand It
You have avoided getting in touch with anger because you were conditioned to become afraid of it. Deep down, you believe that anger is something immoral, harmful, and detrimental. But it is time to correct these unconscious assumptions.
Reclaiming anger as a life force starts from realizing that ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away, and suppressing an emotion does not mean it will disappear. As anger repression is a habit, it may take some time to undo the ongoing pattern of repression. There is first an intellectual understanding that anger is not a bad thing. You may consciously learn about the function and benefits of anger, then set an intention to befriend it. Then, little by little, you can experiment with widening your window of tolerance towards anger. In the beginning, this may mean you learn to sit, breathe, and feel your feeling, however unpleasant, for a few minutes. Then, you incrementally lengthen how long you can tolerate feeling anger without cutting off, dissociating or going into denial. Activities such as drawing, journaling, and writing letters (you don’t have to send them) can help. Some people find physical actions such as screaming or punching a pillow useful, as they can help you release pent-up energy without hurting others.
The next step is to process try to find the root cause of your anger without over-analyzing or rationalizing. If you are used to suppressing your anger, you may reach a stage where you become completely disconnected from the real triggers for them. Even when people insult you or abuse your goodwill, you do not recognize it when people are crossing your boundaries or are acting manipulatively and abusively. Thus, you are also not aware that anger is building up inside. You can journal your day-to-day activities, then conduct chain analysis (a DBT skill) to understand the linkages between events and your feelings. You can also reverse the disconnection by working with someone you trust and modeling their ability to express righteous anger healthily.
You may try to pay closer attention to other people’s reactions when you tell them about your day. A lot of people with repressed anger ‘outsource’ their anger without realizing it. For example, you may talk about how your manager treats you terribly, but you narrate the events without any emotions. Your partners or loved ones, on the other hand, become angry on your behalf. In their words, you might have shifted the ‘burden of angering’ to people close to you without realizing. It is not your fault, and it is not a conscious act, but in the long haul, this behavior can strain your relationship. For the sake of your personal growth and the healing of your intimate relationship and friendships, it would be best if you reclaim your anger and responsibility for it.
Notice Anger Displacement
If you find yourself frequently getting angry in your intimate relationship and friendships, or if you are overly sensitive, easily offended, and highly reactive, you may be transferring repressed anger from your childhood onto people in your life in the present day.
Your anger finds its deeper root in your early life. However, it is natural and human for us to transfer the original upset towards our negligent or abusive caregivers onto people closest to us now. This is because, as illustrated above, it was not safe for us to express anger toward those we depended on. But the anger did not just go away when we pushed them down; they were buried inside of us and festered. Eventually, our repressed anger would find a way to get out, even if it means we lash out at those we love today. In psychoanalysis, this process is known as displacement— as it did not feel possible for us to be angry at the original offender, our parents, we transfer our anger onto people in our present-day life. We tend to lash out at our intimate partners because we feel safe in those relationships. It is also because the level of attachment is more intense in our romantic relationship than it is in everyday friendships, it is more likely to bring up our deep attachment anxieties. When the displacement of anger happens repeatedly and pervasively, it can negatively affect our ability to have good relationships and close bonds.
When we engage in transference or displacement, our psyche is trying to work through something. It is a sign that the anger that has been bottled up can no longer be hidden.
To protect your current relationships, it is essential that you notice displacement as it happens and put a pause on it. When you feel triggered, take a pause, and ask yourself— ‘Is this a familiar feeling?’ Close your eyes and tune in to how you feel— both emotionally and physically — then ask: ‘Does these feelings remind me of a time earlier in my life?’ ‘Did I use to feel this way as a child, or as a teen, at home and in school?’ ‘What was it that I needed then, and what is it that I really need now?’
By engaging in deep self-inquiry, you may realize that the majority of your anger finds its root in the past. While your partner might have irritated or disappointed you, their actions had not warranted your intense rage. You may want to utilise techniques such as talking to your inner child, expressing to an empty chair to get back in touch with, and processing your repressed anger. This is best done in the presence of someone or a professional you trust.
You can also calmly explain to your partner the reason you are sensitized to certain triggers and the hurt they bring up. As long as you make it clear that you are not blaming them, it is likely that this conversation would bring compassion— ideally both from you and your partner towards your inner child.
By healing the original wound that occurred in childhood, you may find that while your loved ones are imperfect and have irritating qualities, you would no longer be triggered to react disproportionately.
Learn to Express Anger Healthily
After you have learned to feel your anger and find the roots of your repression, it is time to express your anger healthily and productively. Repressed anger from childhood wounds aside, anger is a normal emotion that could emerge in your everyday life now. To maintain healthy boundaries, you should know it is within your birthright to feel, use and express anger. Expressing your anger does not mean becoming aggressive or acting out. It does not mean becoming highly irrational and hostile. Anger does not have to take over who you are. You are the sky, and anger is a ‘cloud’ that floats by or weather that will eventually pass. In fact, the more you can healthily use your anger as a way of being assertive, the less likely it is for you to become aggressive.
You may not be able to control events that trigger your anger, but you can control what you do with it and how you express it. When you first feel anger emerging, take a few deep breaths. Take a step back and digest the anger in your own time, and not in front of those who offended you. After you feel and process the ‘raw’ anger emotion in your own time, you can think about how you can express your upset to others in a way where you can be heard. You may want to think about the underlying needs that were being deprived in the event and express that instead of focusing on what the other person did wrong. You can make a draft by journalling and figure out how you want to say it before you do. Remember, the goal is to get your needs met and to protect yourself, not to punish the other person or take revenge. It is in your power to express your anger respectfully. And with practice, it will get increasingly easy.
Use Your Anger Productively
Anger can also be a wonderful driving force. On the other side of anger are drive, love, and protection. It represents an essential life force that helps you find your passion, achieve what you desire in life, protect your rights and stands up for yourself.
Instead of letting it bottle up inside of you, you can harness the power of anger productively. Perhaps you can use anger to motivate yourself into doing something that would better your life. You can channel your anger into a speech, a piece of artwork, a song. You can let it inform you what your life’s calling is.
Embedded in anger is an important message. If someone has repeatedly hurt you, use anger as information, it is telling you that what they offer is not what you want. If someone has betrayed you, you may vow to always treat yourself better than the way they treat you.
‘Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.’ – Ambrose Bierce
Summon Self- Compassion
If you tend to see anger as ‘bad,’ you may further judge yourself for getting angry and hurt yourself with what the Buddhist calls ‘the second arrow’. (The hurtful event is the first arrow, and the shame, guilt and condemnation you bring on towards yourself for how you feel is the second arrow) Remember, you are not alone in your anger, and that anger has nothing to do with how good or bad a person you are. Feeling anger, therefore, does not mean you are a bad person, or that you have any reason to feel ashamed. Even if you do not understand why you are angry, it doesn’t mean your anger is not legitimate. You do not need other people to validate your feelings, instead, make efforts to enquire deeper into the root of your rage. Even if on the surface your anger seems ‘unjustified’, know that the feeling itself is always legitimate. If the triggering event seems minor, it may be because some deeper, older wounds were brought up. Rather than blaming yourself for being unreasonable or ‘oversensitive’, see beyond the surface. Perhaps even your adult self has no reason to be angry, your inner child was hurt. See if you can extend the deepest compassion towards yourself as you would to a vulnerable child.
Relinquish Perfectionism and Extend Compassion To Others
Often our anger comes from our unconscious expectations. The higher our expectations, the more easily we are triggered to feel disappointment and rage towards ourselves and others.
Forgiveness is not a requirement, but learning to forgive can open the path toward freedom.
Anger helps you assert your rights and boundaries. Once you have expressed your needs and the other person has apologized (or even if they refuse to), anger has fulfilled its function, and there is no reason for you to hold onto it. There’s a difference between getting mad at someone’s actions and hating them as a person. Holding hatred in your heart hurts you more than others. If you can remember how imperfect we are all and that we are all wounded in this imperfect, precarious world, you may be able to extend compassion towards the other person’s fallibility. People who are hurting hurt others. They are probably doing their best; even their best is very limited. You cannot change everyone else for the better, but you can choose to relinquish rigid perfectionism and give yourself the gift of freedom and peace.
Being a highly sensitive person and having anger do not always have the most straightforward relationship. Once you have learned to befriend anger, you will stop treating it as a dangerous or wrong emotion. You will no longer be afraid of it and can harness its power and learn something from it. With practice, you can become good at identifying anger and knowing its underlying reason. Then, you can use anger as a driving force to help you protect yourself and speak up for yourself. You can use anger to get in touch with your emotional needs and get them met. On the other side of anger are passion and protection. Once you have learned to harness the gifts of anger, you will have a new ally that helps you live a more fulfilling life.
“I would not look upon anger as something foreign to me that I have to fight… I have to deal with my anger with care, with love, with tenderness, with nonviolence.”
Written by Imi Lo
Imi Lo is a consultant and published author with extensive and international experience in mental health and psychotherapy. Her books Emotional Sensitivity and Intensity and The Gift of Intensity are available worldwide and in multiple languages. Imi has two Master’s degrees; one in Mental Health and one in Buddhist Studies. She works holistically, combining psychological insights with Eastern and Western philosophies such as Buddhism and Stoicism.