How do I stop being so angry?
We live in angry times. The anger and divisions around Covid-19 restrictions, Black Lives Matter, MeToo, Brexit…
Anger is such a powerful emotion - energy rising, an overwhelming need to speak out, a desire to push back.
It is often seen as a negative emotion, that leads to breakdowns in relationships or even violence. And both Western psychology and Buddhist thought suggest that connections in the brain are self-reinforcing – so angry thoughts may be self-perpetuating.
I meet many people who try to suppress their anger, or express it in a non-angry way. And feel ashamed when angry thoughts and feelings don’t go away, and sometimes spill out.
As a therapist, I often find that the first need is to validate anger as permissible and legitimate, in the face of societal or family messages that ‘anger is not ok’.
This is not simply a therapeutic truism that ‘it’s ok to have feelings’. It’s a fundamental tenet of Gestalt therapy that, by expanding awareness and acceptance of all forces within ourselves - both positive and negative – we’re able to live more flexibly and fully.
The founders of Gestalt therapy had a lot to say about anger. They saw it as a vital motivating energy that enables us to move forwards, even when we meet obstacles, and create more satisfying situations. They warn that, if we succeed in disowning our anger, we risk losing other parts of ourselves too, especially self-confidence, feelings, and creativity.*
Many of the founders of Gestalt therapy, including Fritz and Laura Perls, escaped 1930s Germany and created new lives in America. I imagine they knew anger well, deep in their bones. Maybe they wouldn’t have survived and thrived without anger.
Therapy provides a space for becoming more fully aware of our anger. We can experiment with breathing and grounding to touch into and out of the sensations of anger in our bodies, or notice how a wave of anger naturally grows and then passes.
It’s also an opportunity to get to know ourselves better, by exploring what anger is saying about what matters to us and what needs are not being met.
I'm interested in experimenting with ways of speaking out about what we need – and ways of listening to others in return. We can explore modulating the anger - ‘turning the volume up and down’ – in order to have a wider range of choices than ‘raging’ or ‘walking away’.
Anger is also a doorway to understanding our histories. A strong anger response can mean that the present-day situation is evoking something from the past, maybe from a time when we were powerless.
But also, anger is rarely the endpoint. As we become more aware of our anger, we usually find that it’s linked to other feelings, maybe despair, grief, fear or helplessness. So in therapy we can explore these feelings too – and the needs related to these feelings.
If you're interested, you can contact me here
* F Perls, R Hefferline and P Goodman (1994) Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality. Highland, NY: The Gestalt Journal Press