Category Archives: emotions

Room for Anger

Last week was tough for a number of clients. I got to thinking about how great it would be if Madison had an Anger Room (a safe place to express anger in multiple forms).  Navigating angry feelings can be confusing and when you have abuse in your past it can be even more difficult to know what to do. A place like the Anger Room provides an outlet for learning about different expressions.

One might think that we all experience anger so what is complex about the process? Many of us suppress it for fear that we will act out in a way similar to the abuse or abuser we experienced. It is a scary thing when one has spent their life being a good, caring, gentle person who wants to stay away from conflict and angry feelings. It almost seems logical to become someone who is on the opposite side of rage. However, because anger is a universal signal that something isn’t right, problems occur if we ignore or push it away. People that experienced abuse didn’t feel that they could express themselves properly (for whatever reason) and were also taught that it was not okay to have the feelings of anger. Hence, in many ways their system is taught that it isn’t safe to have a response of anger, even when it is a healthy reaction.

Any time we pretend that our emotions don’t exist or don’t honor them, they float back up in unpredictable ways. And this very thing is often what a person is trying to avoid by suppressing the emotion in the first place.  So what is a person to do if they are scared or unfamiliar with how to feel anger and express it?

One of the first things is to begin to identity when you think you might be having anger. You begin to be aware of when you feel angry and where it is in your body. This allows for grounding and a signal that you are accessing the situation beyond just a momentary reaction. Once you have basic identification of what you consider to be angry feelings, you can look at what the anger is about… the person/situation that is currently happening or a trigger to how you were treated in the past.  Once these beginning steps are in place, you can look at how to express the anger in a healthy way*.

People hold anger in different ways and that means that what works for one may not work for another in providing some relief from the intensity of the emotion. Some people need a strong physical outlet, others need to write, many need to express the anger with the person (in a safe way) verbally, and others might need a more creative way to share these feelings.

Anger isn’t a bad thing, it is an emotional response to learn and teach you about your system.  What is harmful is when you don’t allow yourself to express emotions in a healthy way. Your angry feelings are telling you to listen to yourself and look at the situation  around you. This is a powerful tool for the ability to set boundaries, create a plan, and act in a healthy way.

*Please seek help from a therapist if you need assistance with this process.

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What is real and/or true?

Recently there was a discussion I attended that brought up the concepts of reality and truth. I admit that I have used these ideas interchangeably many times. I will finesse the words as I see fit but the fact is that often times whatever is real to me is also my truth AND whatever is the truth often doesn’t feel real. It is all rather messy when pushed to differentiate.

Here let me give an example… I’ll say that I enjoy playing games. This is true. I _do_ like playing board games. However, the reality is that what I like about game play is the interactions of those around me. So, yes I do like playing games, but it is rarely about the game itself. Rather it is the dynamics of the individuals involved that are playing the game that holds my attention.  This is true and real and the complexity of it all comes together to provide a larger context.  Does it mean that I don’t like playing games for the sake of the game? No, I do enjoy specific games. However, I tend to enjoy specific games because of the way it involves the players in differing ways. Does this mean that I lying when I say I enjoy game play? No, but it does mean that I’m not sharing the full depth of what I mean when I share this information. It is a verbal shorthand of sorts. I’m describing something that is true about me within reality but it is not nuanced. One can see how even with something as simple as this, it can become confusing.

Beyond the philosophical debate of these ideas, I will ask you to consider how we tend to do this very thing with emotions. For example, we might state that  we are “angry” with another person. We expect them to just understand and then act accordingly to fix whatever is wrong. Neither of these things usually happens, and then we react even more strongly in the irrational  hope that more anger will explain the details. Again, this approach rarely provides us with the outcome we desire.

Instead if we are to consider the fuller spectrum of what we are trying to share, it might just help us in what we are seeking out from another. There is something that being angry means to us. It could mean that we are seeking to connect and don’t know how, we want attention and so we create something that isn’t real but feels truly upsetting (i.e. being lonely). Or perhaps a true boundary of ours has been crossed and we really want to make it known. Maybe someone or something that has no real connection has had an impact and we need a way to express our frustration. Sometimes we really and truly are unsure as to what is making us so upset. These are just a few possibilities for what could be going on when someone uses the shorthand of emotional expression.

It would be wonderful if we could all just easily explain what is real and true to each one of us. Life would be so much easier if we understood ourselves so quickly and deeply that when we rattle off “the obvious” that it made sense to everyone else. However, we have unconscious and conscious motives… many of which we don’t always want to share with others. Hence, the process of what is really true and truly real becomes almost a game of cat and mouse.

So what happens next? Ah, this question I do have an answer to… the best answer …is to ask questions. It is just as circular as the idea of reality and truth within the realm of feelings. Feelings are not facts but often times appear as such. This is to say, that it is a fact that you are experiencing an emotion, however that emotional response does not necessarily represent reality in full.  It can be difficult for anyone of us to sort out what is what. One of the best ways to go about this learning process is to query yourself  and others.

When you consider your personal values and what actions you want to take when you are at your best-most-centered (some say rational) self, what choices would you make?

If you were to give advice to a loved one, what would you say to them about the situation?

In the past, when you were unsure of your feelings or of those around you how were able to figure out what was the best option?

When you consider the possible outcomes what responses lead to what most directly reaches your goals?

Notice that most of these questions are about thoughts and actions. This is because emotional responses can shift around people, moods, and situations. It is totally possible to have emotions swing around from one end to the other. And yet our goals and our actions often reflect our deeper sense of personal convictions.

You may be confused about what is real or true within emotions but I encourage you to ask questions of yourself and others in an attempt to locate what is centered and sturdy over time. How do you want to act, how do you want others to remember your actions, and what principles do you want to live by? These kinds of questions will take you to the heart of your emotional responses and get you back on track when you are feeling lost.

What is truth or reality after all? In my opinion, it is a steady continual reflection of who we are from the past, present and future. You are  a complex matter of intricate data points: feelings, thoughts, and actions combined together to create your ethical framework.  It is really and truly wonderful process!