Few of us are in love with anger. I grew up in a family in which angry feelings were expressed freely. Sadly, too often these feelings were expressed in hurtful ways. I wasn’t introduced to the positive side of anger in which conflicts are resolved in healthy ways. So I made the decision at a very young age to avoid, even to disown, aspects of my anger. I was too young to examine the costs and benefits of disowned anger.
The costs were huge.
I had difficulty taking care of myself because I didn’t use the emotional guidance that all feelings, especially anger, would provide me.
- I couldn’t work through conflict because I wasn’t aware-enough.
- I blocked my creative energy by using too much of it to suppress and hide my anger, even from myself.
- I didn’t understand conflict resolution: I had not learned the skills necessary to resolve conflict in healthy ways.
- Because I didn’t allow myself to feel angry and I avoided disagreements, I didn’t know where I stood with others.
- I was vulnerable to those with differing views.
In their 1997 book about Redecision Therapy, the Gouldings explored the wisdom of reconsidering emotional decisions made earlier in life. These decisions are the ones that no longer serve a person’s mental health. When you make an important emotional decision at age 5, you are making a decision based on the mentality of a 5-year-old’s underdeveloped emotional brain. Decisions made as a young child may or may not be good ones at the time. And in either case, decisions made at such a young age are not likely to be as useful when older.
I believe in the inherent wisdom of children; however, these child-decisions are likely to come at too high an ultimate price. My decision to avoid anger as a child may have served me then. But in my late teens, it became clear that I needed to make new and better decisions around the emotion of anger. In the end, growing my story about anger seemed necessary for a successful and fulfilling emotional life.
The benefits surprised me.
The benefits of reclaiming this emotion soon became obvious.
- I began to know better where I stood on issues.
- I learned to resolve conflict in healthier ways.
- I learned to stand up for what I believed and to be comfortable with disagreement.
- I was better able to care for myself.
- I gained the wisdom and guidance of all my emotions, including anger.
- I was able to release bound-up, blocked energy to reinvest in my creativity.
One important step in evaluating critical aspects of the stories we tell ourselves is to take stock of our relationship with all of our emotions. Emotions guide us to better self-understanding and self-compassion. They help us to make healthier choices leading to the personal growth, well-being, and changes we wish to make.
What kind of relationship do you have with anger?
- Do you think it’s a healthy relationship?
- Are you able to use it as guidance for a better life?
- Are you able to transform your angry feelings into a vehicle for resolving conflict in positive ways?
For more information on assessing the costs and benefits of growing your own stories, see psychology writer JB Allyn’s post, How do You Conduct a Cost/Benefit Analysis of Growing Your Story?
Goulding, Mary McClure and Robert L. Goulding (1997) Changing Lives Through Redecision Therapy