Anger Management: When You’re Afraid to be Angry

Many of us were taught unhealthy beliefs and attitudes about anger. It’s a healthy emotion, but we tend to treat it as though it’s inherently unmanageable. This explains why we have so many anger management programs. The greatest downfall of which are that they are generally developed only for those who are explosive or otherwise unable/unwilling to control their anger.

What about those of us who are uncomfortable or even afraid to be angry? We cannot be said to be handling anger in healthy ways. We ignore it, stuff it, and deny ourselves the right to express it. This is unnatural and therefore unhealthy. Stephen Wright said it best, “Depression is anger without enthusiasm.” Whatever we fail to express, we repress and get to carry around. That’s what baggage is.

As a therapist, I’d love to have a dollar for every time someone has told me they, ”just let it go.” I ask them how and the response is most often, “I just don’t think about it.” Right. I wish that worked.

Choosing to “get over” (ignore) what we see as “negative emotions” tends to lead to increased levels of stress and feelings of nervousness/worry. If we continue this approach, we manifest stress in the body and very often find that our mental health becomes undermined by anxiety.

We learned at a very young age how to think away our emotions and talk ourselves out of them. Part of our denial is achieved by watering down the things we’re uncomfortable with. If I’m not comfortable acknowledging that I’m angry, I can simply say that I’m: (in order of watered down) agitated, aggravated, irritated, annoyed, frustrated, and (worst of all) “pissy.” When we minimize our true feelings, we fail to take full responsibility for our own needs.

We tend to excuse not expressing anger by saying that it is counterproductive, unnecessary, and “not worth it.” Indeed, this is often the case when our anger is with authority figures or with those who will not take responsibility for how they impact us. The thinking is still black and white – either I express it to them or I hold on to it. The alternative is to vent in a manner that is satisfying and this necessitates feeling and expressing our genuine emotions.

Being angry with those we love is arguably one of the most difficult aspects of managing anger. It feels wrong/selfish and thus we are all the more likely to dismiss it. In this manner we unwittingly create resentment. Our past pain and anger create conflict within ourselves and distance in our relationships.

So many of the folks I’ve served cannot imagine an expression of anger that would feel acceptable. I say to them in a very calm tone, “I am angry.” They wait for the rest but that’s it. We make things so much more complicated when we don’t like how they feel.

From the time we were young children, we formed associations between behavior and emotion. Unfortunately, many of us learned that when people are angry that they are violent, unpredictable, or emotionally hurtful. This taught us that anger is not safe and so we avoid it.

We tend not to revisit these lessons as adults unless we are forced to. I find great value in identifying connections between past experiences and current perspective and behavior. It’s not about reliving the past, it’s about changing attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors today.

To be fully aware and expressive is to live life passionately and fully.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.