Overcoming anger | are you angry with another or are you truly angry with your self?

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Quick summary: the answer to the title question is almost invariably “both”, but to move forward with the false dichotomy noted I am going to comment on how anger is often an emotion that we feel for ourselves…though we are often quick to blame something external for our feelings. Though the environment might have done something to encourage distasteful feelings, often it is how we reacted – how we chose to defend or not defend ourselves, which is the source of the deeper and perhaps more significant source of anger.

 

This notion was brought to my attention by a very wise colleague/friend of mine. She is a very intuitive therapist with a gifted ability to see people’s repressions within their energy fields (she may describe her ability differently, but that is how it has always appeared to me).

 

I am going to give you a very personal example of something that I went through in my life. It should be relatively easy to pick up why I was angry at others… what was more complicated (and ultimately more helpful) was to isolate how I was angry at my self.

 

I was struggling at the time and my colleague was in a similar emotional state as we shared a similar source of suffering… which I claimed to be from the crippled system that we worked within.

 

I felt trapped as in offering assistance I seemed to be required to expose myself to harm… the boundaries that common sense would have led us to create were made unavailable… the administration would not suffer as long as someone was filling out the paperwork… we must follow the broken protocol or be replaced… our therapeutic skill went mostly unnoticed… filling out the paperwork correctly was how we were evaluated (fortunately for myself I could play the paperwork game well… but it tore my emotional self apart to waste endless hours on completing form after form that had zero effect on therapeutic outcome (this too has been scientifically substantiated).

 

On average we were doing three times what is deemed appropriate to ensure the positive mental health of the professional (all of this is studied and clearly articulated in our ethical codes).

 

All of us had given way more than we had to give only to be kicked while down by the misguided and generally useless requests of the bureaucracy. An example would be spending a day helping children through trauma recovery only to have the end of the day filled with requests to justify why sexually abused children need therapy in the first place… hours would be spent filling out forms to ensure that the children where able to receive continued support… these authorizations would continually be sent back or denied… to remedy such we would have to give answers to irrelevant questions… it was all just a hoop jumping exercise… companies know that most people are unwilling to jump through too many hoops – the company will therefore avoid having to pay claims by simply being annoying – by asking for corrections and clarifications to information that was never relevant to recovery in the first place (this is intentional).

 

I made requests to have safeguards put in place as we were already understaffed and the swine flue was hitting our area pretty hard… having staff out do to illness required more work on an overworked workforce… my request was documented but nothing happened. I offered a suggested solution… nothing happened.

 

Of course I (and others) got the swine flu… after a couple weeks of being debilitating sick I returned to work only to receive a scathing email from upper administration about the amount of sick time I used… “It was irresponsible for me to have taken vacation time for thanksgiving as I should have saved those hours to prepare for an incident such as this,” was the message from the administration… then the HR department intervened and told me that they would be denying future vacation requests and wanted documentation on the validity of my illness (which I had). I was scorned for catching an illness that I knew I would get if safeguards were not put in place… they ignored my requests and my solutions and later berated me after I had been bed ridden for days…

 

Who was I angry at?

 

After working for this system for over a year and a half was I surprised by their actions?

 

I sought out my colleague for support… to help me to find insight.

 

She said very compassionately, “Will, maybe you are angry at yourself.”

 

I understood what she meant from a cognitive standpoint, but my emotional self was too distressed to feel the impact and truth of this message.

 

I now understand both rationally and emotionally…

 

It was in allowing myself to feel the anger and disappointment that I held for myself which propelled me into recovery.

 

I spent months ruminating in anger… anger which I believed to be from the bureaucracy… I could not heal… I had no power to alter that perceived injustice.

 

Then I looked inward and saw how angry my core self was… how disappointed and hurt it was…

 

I had given so much for so long to so many different people… and yet I lacked the courage or the self-compassion to defend my own self… to protect my own self… to allow myself to have the healthy boundaries that I helped to grow in those I cared for…

 

I was angry for not defending myself… I was angry that I would not allow my own health and wellbeing to be important enough to influence my decisions.

 

I was angry with myself for allowing myself to play the victim.

 

It seems easier to place your anger on something external… to relinquish all personal responsibility for your feelings… “they made me feel this way!”.

 

Recovery is found in personal responsibility… to be humble enough to acknowledge your part in the emotions you carry.

 

I have allowed myself to feel this anger… and by allowing I have emancipated myself from the crippling grasp of anger…

 

Anger held with honest meditation transforms into clarity of direction.

 

Just action requires humility.

 

One could get lost in endless ruminations about what they “should” have done… but free yourself from such uselessness and instead hold the confidence to say…

 

 “I will allow authentic expression and I will allow humility to guide me towards actions which will protect the boundaries I need for wellness.”

 

Power is compassionately understanding the source of your suffering.

 

You must protect your own health to protect the health of others.

 

I see now how I stood in front of a sea of arrows believing myself to be the archetype of the altruistic soldier of peace and health… I now allow myself a shield and I offer compassion to the thoughts in my head which suggest my shield to be selfish.

 

Pride is a tricky thing… pride wears many disguises.

 

There is always a choice and perhaps this is why we so often carry anger for ourselves… because we allowed ourselves to believe that we were powerless.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Anger and Arguments – Are you defending the topic or your self?

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Quick summary: as part of increasing your self-awareness I suggest that you take a look at the topics that really get you ‘heated’ with the goal of coming to an understanding of how you personally identify with that topic. In this self-exploration you might just find that your emotion has very little to do with the topic and is perhaps more related to: an unresolved occurrence from you past, or an attempt to create a stable sense of who you really are (your identity), or both. 

Note: therapists see therapists – In becoming a therapist it is very important that you become aware and come to a place of acceptance surrounding your identity and your past – this ensures that you can be present for your clients no matters what topics are brought up; the experience also gives the therapist irreplaceable insight into the process of therapy itself. 

This is the exercise:

1.) Name or list some topics that elicit a strong emotional reaction in you. Pick topics that do not directly pertain to you (ex. global warming, education, war, taxes etc… and not people cutting me off, being spit on, having my stuff stolen).

2.) Look for the underlying themes in the topics that you chose. Example, the themes behind ‘global warming’ could be selfishness, control, lying, deception, safety fear, injustice etc.

3.) Ask yourself – what does that theme have do with my past…in what way have I experienced that theme in my own life? Example, if the theme is ‘control’… when were you affected by control or a lack of control or someone being over controlling in your own life?

4.) Ask yourself – what does that theme have to do with who I am or what does it have to do with my identity (either the identity that you hold for yourself or the identity that society has placed on you)? Example, if the theme is selfishness do you think that you are selfish or has someone tried to label you as being selfish?

5.) What are the methods that you use to suppress your true feelings about that theme? Ex. you only talk about the theme in relation to other people and not in relation to yourself… you use rationalization to avoid your emotional reaction etc.

6.) Acknowledge this awareness and offer yourself the space to answer the final question. What do you need in order to come to a place of acceptance surrounding that theme?

  • Let yourself experience the emotional significance that that theme has on you.
  • If you ‘hold in’ the emotions you might put that emotion (project) onto other people or subjects.

 

Let me offer a personal example – I can have a tendency to get a bit over-involved with my political opinions; historically I would engage people using a significant base of information, a dedication to ‘rational’ debate, and emotional restraint.

Let me clarify, it is not that I am without opinions… I am simply trying to increase my awareness about what my beliefs have to do with me… to increase my understanding of my emotional reactions to subjects.

What were the political opinions that I was debating? … There were always underlying themes to all of the topics that I engaged.

 

I am not proposing that I was in no way defending the views which I engaged… rather, I am suggesting that I was defending my past and my sense of self as well.

 

The themes for my political interactions were as follows:

 

            – I wanted the alternative view to have a voice.

            – I wanted fair, predicable, and equal treatment of all beings.

            – I wanted people to understand the struggles of the more marginalized.

 

My methods of interaction were as follows:

            -I practiced emotional restraint (I talked in a ‘matter of fact’ way which suggested that I was not emotionally biased – ironic)

            -I was using ration and deductive reasoning (essentially the use of the scientific methodology to arrive at ‘objectivity’.)

            -I ignored the connection between the topics I was arguing for and my personal life.

 

What was I really defending? – My own self –exploration (done with the help of a therapist 4 years ago)

            Alternative views – I had difficulties in my sophomore and junior year of high school; I believed that my identity was viewed as unacceptable at the school which I attended.

  • I therefore was using politics as a way of defending the right for my teenage identity to exist by projecting my feelings on alternative political opinions.

 

            Fair, predictable, and equal treatment – this topic is really deep and has to do with many subjects including.

  • My perception as a teenager that I received unjust punishment for behaviors that I viewed as less socially disruptive than other peoples behaviors who did not face consequences (I was alternative and reckless, but I was never violent, oppressive, self righteous or abusive)
  • My reaction to attachment issues related to my adoption… and a reaction to the inherent double bind of an unwanted pregnancy.
  • My reaction to the chaos that influences the world and my fear of the unpredictable… such as death (almost every one has this).

 

Defending the marginalized – At the time when I was a bit overly political I worked for the community helping people with developmental disabilities to learn social and vocational skills (I did this for six years).

  • I would use politics as a way of defending my vocational meaning and worth. – “if social assistance was right then I was right.”

 

“By increasing my self-awareness around certain themes which are important to me I am better able to ‘care’ about those themes without reacting ‘unconsciously’ to them.” – Will

 

 

 

 

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Stating your internal feelings – acknowledge for acceptance – resistance is suffering

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Quick summary – are you crazy if you intentionally talk to yourself? What about all the unintentional talking (thoughts that your have automatically) in your head that happens all day? I do not remember where I learned the habit of acknowledging my emotions to myself, but I just started the practice up again… and it works great – journaling or writing a dairy has the same positive affects. For this blog post I will skip the science and simply give you some exercises to try. The idea is to say aloud what ever you are experiencing. ex. “I am feeling guilty that the waitress was offended by the way I ordered.” You can also acknowledge these feelings to another person who is available to listen.

This is the exercise –

Simply state the emotions that you have decided to hold (guilt sadness anger etc).

Then offer a kind reason as to why you are not going to hold that emotion (that person has anger that they were trying to have me carry… I have the freedom to respectfully decline… I will not carry that emotion it is not mine to carry).

The alternative is that your let the emotion control you which usually means that you are going to automatically react against the person who automatically reacted towards you.

Yesterday I went out to dinner with my wife and some friends. The table next to us was experiencing moments of uncomfortable silences.

I picked up on the use of the most common conversational mechanism found in times of social discomfort – criticism and critiquing.

I noticed a feeling in my body which desired to assist (as communication assistance is a strength I hold).

I then noticed a bit of self-judgment as I am personally working on reducing the amount that I pick up on other peoples’ emotions outside of conducting therapy (my empathic ability requires boundaries for the benefit of myself and my personal relationships).

Our table was having a very cheerful conversation that was flowing without much of any effort and without a need for consistent direction.

The dynamic creating a strong emotion in one of the people at the table next to us, and he very loudly critiqued the way that I conversed and the topics that we chose…

  • This critique created a temporary relief to the social awkwardness at the table (as they were able to talk about something), but it was at the expense of the critiqued – myself.

 

Quite honestly my feelings were hurt – even though I was well aware of the conversation strategy before the personal attack occurred. (Rationalization is a defense mechanism – this is what I used first – it didn’t help much)

I noticed guilt (for being charismatic), sadness (for being judged with negative intention), anger (for unresolved or unnoticed feeling being projected onto me), and awkwardness (for having to sit next to such volatile emotional energy).

I held all of those emotions in and it was really uncomfortable.

I then released the emotions aloud to my wife as we left the restaurant…She did not choose to carry the emotions… All I did is state the feeling that I found myself holding (they were not for wither of us to carry). I was almost 100% better… why?

I released them back as the emotions were never mine to carry… I chose to pick up the negative energy… and I then chose to verbally release it.

You now when someone gets mad at you for something you did that you really were not horribly at fault for… those instances in which there was good reason for you not to know better?

examples –

Being in the ‘wrong line’ at a place you have never been before.

Putting your DOB as month day year when they asked for day month year.

Asking for pickles at a restaurant that does not serve pickles.

Ordering breakfast at a dinner that doesn’t serve breakfast…. etc.

Complimenting someone’s hat only to find that it’s not called a hat.

The emotional reaction that you get in these instances is not for you… they are obviously holding onto some unresolved issue and they are trying to offload that emotion onto you.

The best way of getting rid of the emotions that you unintentionally picked up is to acknowledge it and then follow it with a helpful suggestion such as… (say these to yourself)

  • that is theirs to hold
  • I can be responsible for my actions but I can’t be responsible for their emotions.
  • I respect myself enough not to carry that emotion.
  • I choose to let that emotion stay behind.
  • I feel for that person’s pain and I will not carry that pain… that helps no one.
  • I have the freedom to carry what I want and leave what I do not want.
  • I offer that person the dignity to carry their own suffering.

 

 

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.