I remember the day I realized I had anger issues. It was thanksgiving. The family all came over to my house, everyone brought a dish but I did most of the cooking- I got a brand new oven and was glad for the chance to use it. There was limited space in the kitchen, and everyone was trying to reheat the food they brought. People kept bumping me and every time I turned around, there was someone in my way! My little sister had a pan on the stove, but when she went to turn it on, she lit the wrong burner. One of my plastic containers was on that burner and it instantly melted and started to burn. She turned it off immediately, and everyone was suddenly silent. They were all looking at me. She was looking at me. Waiting for me to shout. Waiting for me to kick them out of the kitchen, to accuse her of ruining my stove, to tell them all off for getting in my way. My sister was afraid of me. And I could feel it.
I think when people hear the words “anger management issues” they tend to think of big, red-faced masculine men who beat their families and/or drink. They think of physical violence, and rage. And I think it’s really easy to justify your own anger, to say that you have a REASON and that you don’t need to “control your anger” because it’s not like you fly off the handle and hit people. But that’s not the only face of anger issues.
I’m a 26 year old woman. I struggle with depression and anxiety, and I’m a very soft soul. I care deeply about people, I try not to hurt the feelings of others. I am never violent. I rarely yell. I am not a “angry person.” And yet my sister was afraid of my anger. Because anger hurts when it comes from someone you love.
My anger has always stemmed from my insecurity. I tend to take things very personally. I get upset when I feel like people don’t understand me; which sometimes would lead to arguments with my mother where we were both saying the same thing, but I still needed to correct her because she didn’t understand that I understand. I got angry when I was overwhelmed, when I was scared, when my anxiety was high. I used to lash out at people when I hurt their feelings because I was so distraught that they were hurt by me and how DARE they be offended by what I said because OBVIOUSLY I didn’t want to hurt them. My anger made me unpredictable, it made me frustrating, it made me scary.
Anger doesn’t make me feel good. Anger doesn’t get me what I want. Anger alienates the ones you love, and makes you feel alone. Anger makes it hard for others to trust you. They don’t trust you with their feelings, they don’t trust you with the truth, they don’t trust you with their safety.
Anger isn’t defined by hitting people. It isn’t defined by testosterone. It isn’t defined by whether or not your feelings are righteous. Anger is a just pressure inside you; it’s undirected energy. And that energy can be channeled into other things. It can be channeled into empathy (I understand why you did what you did and I forgive you). It can be channeled into self improvement (I’ve said something wrong and I recognize I can present myself better). It can be channeled into helping others (you have done something to hurt others, so instead of attacking you I will offer my support to them).
There is so much you can do with that potential when you recognize that anger is simply one way of translating all that energy you feel. When people say, “redirect your anger,” they don’t mean to angrily draw or angrily punch pillows or angrily go for a run. They mean, let that energy flow through a different channel. Recognize that “anger” is not a poison created by the body, it’s just a negative label given to a source of energy and motivation that limits its potential.
I laughed, I shrugged. I told her the plastic will wipe right off, and the Tupperware container? Heck, now it looks kind of like an art piece. No big deal. Why don’t you heat your food in the microwave while I clean off the stove and we can all take turns in the kitchen after that.
I still struggle with my anger, sometimes. But I’ve found so many better ways of handling it in the years since that incident. I am more loving, more patient, more understanding. I am quicker to forgive. And I don’t feel helpless as often as I used to, and I don’t feel powerless. Suddenly I’ve got an extra reserve of energy to put towards things that I care about, that make me happy, that make my world a better place. And I realize it’s not that I didn’t have that energy before… I was just burning it away with anger instead of using it for something.