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Understanding and Processing Anger

Updated: Mar 13

Anger is undoubtedly the most vilified of the emotions but no emotion is "bad" or "negative", including anger.

Emotions, including anger, are valuable indicators of what is important to us (our values), what we believe about ourselves and the world (our core beliefs) and what areas we need to work on (our wounds).

Anger, in particular, is also an indicator that the limits and rules we set for ourselves within relationships (our boundaries) have been crossed.

Like all emotions, anger can be felt to different degrees typically based on what boundary was crossed and how highly you regard that boundary and your sense of powerlessness.

Minimum Degree = ANNOYANCE

Moderate Degree = ANGER

Maximum Degree = RAGE or FURY

If you think about it, all unpleasant emotions have two common denominators, expectations not being met (we wanted something to happen that didn't OR something happened that we didn't want to happen) and a sense of powerlessness (there is nothing I can do to control this person or situation).

If our expectations are not met BUT the situation does not break the limits or rules we set for ourselves (our boundaries) we feel disappointed.

  • You wanted your friend to go to a concert with you because it's your favorite band and you had talked about seeing the concert together and now she can't go. Your expectation wasn't met and you feel disappointed.

  • You and your friend had tickets to a concert and she canceled on you at the last minute to go out with a guy that she had just met. You had no one else to go with and had to miss the concert. Your expectation wasn't met AND this violated your boundaries in the relationships and you feel angry!

While your expectations not being met and your boundaries being violated can certainly make you feel angry, I believe that the loss of control or powerlessness is really at the heart of most anger.

  • Imagine the same scenario with the concert but in this case, you had several other friends who you could go with. You would have still been disappointed and maybe even a little angry at your friend but you still had some "control" over the situation in that you could go to the concert with another friend as opposed to the feelings of powerlessness and intense anger you would feel sitting home alone, missing the concert and imagining the friend on her date with this new guy she barely knows.

Powerlessness often comes from a place of futility, the feeling that we are incapable of producing any useful result or that something is pointless.

  • You want to go to the concert with someone else but you don't have any other friends so, to try and find someone to go with would be a pointless or futile attempt.

  • Or the futility may come from the fact that this particular friend has let you down and disappointed you on several occasions and this last situation has made you realize that your attempts to set boundaries with this friend and come to a common agreement regarding the relationship are futile.




equals ANGER

There is one more component that can affect our feelings of anger and that is our emotional triggers. An emotional trigger is anything — including memories, experiences, or events — that sparks an intense emotional reaction in us.

We have all had situations in which our anger was NOT appropriate for the situation. In these cases, we are most likely responding to the emotional triggers that the situation sparked within us.

When I was a kid, I had an abusive mother who, among other things, used to love to startle me out of bed by barging into my room and screaming at me or who would suddenly start yelling at me or bang loudly on my door to get my attention. What followed was always a soul crushing attack from my mother, berating me with insults and criticisms.

To this day...whenever anyone startles me, whether they are doing so in a spirit of fun or by accident, I have a completely inappropriate anger response! I know that this is inappropriate and I don't ever lash out or respond in anger towards the person who startled me but I always have to take a few minutes to calm myself down and get out of that angry state.




As I mentioned, anger is the most vilified of all emotions but remember, there are no "bad" or "negative" emotions. Emotions are emotions and we have no control over them. What we DO have control over is the actions we take in response to our emotions and nothing can drive us to act in more scary and aggressive ways than anger.

Why is this and why is it so hard to stop feeling angry?

There are three reasons. First of all, when we are in a place of anger and/or acting on that anger, it gives us a false sense of power. "I'll show that mother fucker, they're not going to get away with this!" That is a pretty "powerful" statement!

Unfortunately, the "power" that we feel by being or staying angry is only an illusion. We CAN allow our anger to "empower" us but this is much different than this false sense of power we gain by being "angry". When we are in an angry state, creating this false sense of control, we are trying to POWER through the situation in an aggressive way but when we allow anger to EMPOWER us, it means that we are using these feelings as a healthy catalyst for change.

The second reason that we feel angry and can be compelled to act so aggressively on our anger is that it contains an immense amount of energy within our bodies. All emotions manifest first in our bodies and it is these uncomfortable physical sensations that trigger our mind's reactions.

The energy that anger contains is palpable! We often feel as though we are can't stay still or we will crawl out of our skin. We need to do something with this energy and unfortunately, often times we do, in very destructive ways. Yelling, screaming, punching holes in walls or worse.

When we are given advice on how to control our anger, it's not really our anger we are trying to control but our response to our anger. Finding "coping" strategies for dealing with these reactions is incredibly helpful but we also need to get to the root of these feelings and that is the third reason we often stay in anger.

Anger is a shield. It protects us from being hurt by other people but it also protects us from our own deeper feelings and emotions.

It is often much easier to take a defensive or even apathetic approach to the situation or person, "They fucked with the wrong person." or "I don't give a shit, they can drop dead for all I care." than to actually look at the root cause or emotion. If you REALLY didn't care, you wouldn't feel angry.

When I get angry because someone startles me, the anger quickly dissipates and what takes its place is a deep feeling of sadness. I will often times even start crying when I am startled. Again, what I am sure, seems like a very inappropriate response but for me, it takes me straight back to when I was a kid and had absolutely no control over my circumstances.

Anger gets a bad rap because of our sometimes aggressive response to it but, anger is an incredibly useful tool when used correctly. Anger is energy and just like with any other energy, it can be harmful OR helpful.


I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore!


Change can be difficult and anger can be an incredible catalyst for change.

Often times we don't change until circumstances get so bad that to not change is no longer an option, it's just TOO painful. We have hit rock bottom...come to our breaking point.

Anger can be an opportunity to look at your powerlessness and strategize ways to go from being powerless to empowered! This may involve changing your circumstances or changing your mindset or both!

It can also be an opportunity to look more deeply into your values and beliefs as well as what boundaries you have set (or failed to set) in your relationships.




It is important that you are able to process your anger. Remember that anger is energy and we need to use this energy in a helpful way and then let it go. Below, I have outlined some steps to help you process your anger.

I have also included some additional processes below if you find that it is especially difficult for you to let go of your feelings of anger, you find yourself angry all of the time or for no particular reason or you have a hard time accessing or expressing your feelings of anger.

I have also included a PDF worksheet for all of these processes.

When You Are Angry About a Specific Situation

Because it is impossible to think rationally when you are in a highly agitated state, step one is to first deal with your body's reaction to the anger. The first thing you need to do is breath. Slow, steady breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. You may need to go for a run or write out your feelings of anger in a raw and uncensored way. Whatever you feel like you need to do in order to get into a more calm state of mind. This doesn't necessarily mean that the anger has dissipated, just that you are no longer in a highly agitated state.

  • What about this situation feels futile? That it is pointless or you are incapable of producing any useful results?

    • It is pointless for me to try to resolve this conflict and come to an understanding with my friend.

    • I am incapable of making new friends.

  • Is this actually true? If so, why do you believe this?

    • Yes, it is true because I have had this happen with my friend numerous times and I have voiced my concerns and my needs in a clear and loving way and it has become clear that she simply is not able to give me what I need or want in this relationship.

  • If you believe it is true, what is a healthy and productive way that you can put an end to this situation?

    • I can let my friend know that I no longer wish to be in a relationship with her.

  • If it is not true, what healthy and productive steps can you take to resolve or change this situation?

    • I know that it IS possible to find new friends and I am going to search out groups or clubs where I can find people who share my interests.

  • Are there any values, beliefs or boundaries that you want to examine and/or change moving forward as a result of this situation?

    • I want change the way that I communicate in relationships moving forward so that my needs, wants and boundaries are clearly articulated from the beginning.

    • I want to look at my belief that I don't think I can find new friends because I feel like no one would want to be friends with me.

    • I want to more clearly examine what it is that I value in relationships so that I can seek those things out when looking for new friends.

Below the surface of anger is almost always feelings of sadness, pain and fear. If you are in conflict with another person, you can use my "Feelings Process for Resolving Conflict" to further process these emotions and work through the conflict with the other person.




Like many emotions, we can be triggered or have feelings in relationship to an emotion that are confusing and cause us pain in our lives. This can manifest in us always feeling angry or being an "angry person", it can show up as an inappropriate response to a situation or it may be that we have a hard time accessing or feeling a specific emotion.

Below are some possible reasons you may be experiencing these things as well as some prompts that you can use to help you better understand your feelings of anger. From this understanding, you will then be able to have a more clear idea of the steps you need to take in helping you resolve these feelings.

  • If anger has always been your “go to” for handling stressful situations.

    • It is important that I stay angry about this situation because…

    • My anger is serving me by…

    • If I let go of my anger it will mean…

  • If you have deep wounds around powerlessness and loss of control.

    • If I give up control in this situation it will mean…

    • Being powerless reminds me of…

  • If you were taught that being angry or expressing anger was not ok.

    • In my house, when I got angry…

    • Angry people are…

  • If you were raised by a very angry or abusive parent.

    • When mom/dad got angry they would…

    • When mom/dad got angry I would feel…

  • If you have unrealistic expectations of people and/or situations and you are always being let down.

    • I expect that people should…

    • I get so mad when people...

    • This may be an unrealistic expectation because...

  • If you have unrealistic expectations of yourself and who you are most angry at is YOU.

    • I expect that I should…

    • I get so mad at myself when…

    • This may be an unrealistic expectation because...

  • If you need to fully accept and feel this emotion before you can move on.

    • It’s ok to feel angry about this situation because…

    • I want to get over my anger but first I need to…

    • Something healthy that I can do to help cope with my reaction to anger is..

When I was a child, my mother would constantly abuse and berate me and when I became a teenager and finally began to rebel against this abuse is when one of the constant narratives emerged in my life that I would hold onto and believe for years.

"You are an angry person." is what my mother used to tell me, in what I now know, was an attempt to control and manipulate me and shame me into submission.

Because of this, I unknowingly become someone who never gets angry. I used to be proud of the fact that I didn't feel anger. I thought that I was so evolved or enlightened that I was above this shallow state of being.

What a total load of crap! Of course I got angry, I just never gave myself permission to feel or express it but, what I now realize is that I turned all of those feelings of anger inward towards myself in some very destructive ways.

We all feel anger and that energy HAS to go somewhere. You have the choice whether you will use this energy to harm or help.

It wasn't until I was able to fully understand my anger and had the tools to process it AND gave myself permission to feel and express my anger that I was able to use that energy to help myself to heal and grow.

This information and these processes aren't a magic "cure" but I hope that they will help you to better understand and process your feelings of anger.

Of course, if you need help working through any of these feelings or working the process, I am always here for you!






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