Finding Ways to Manage Old Anger When You Finally Choose to Stop Carrying It
So many people feel they can’t or mustn’t be angry – so often people will say in the course of conversation or therapy, and usually in a roundabout way, ‘Don’t stoke the fires ! If I was to become angry, the world would end. You would no longer like me and actually, I would break you. Nobody could stand it.’
Often it seems that what they are referring to here is righteous anger rooted in past events, where what was done or not done was denied expression meaning that the client has had to adapt and find ways to contain very difficult feelings. Sometimes this means burying or denying the emotions congruent with these experiences. Metaphorically speaking, clients find themselves with a psychological spare room full of boxes that can’t be opened and need to be stored for everyone else’s benefit.
In these boxes are anger (and other tricky emotions: guilt, shame, pride, envy, inadequacy) that is steadily increasing in toxicity. Because it could not be expressed AT THE TIME it first developed and your suspicion now is that if let out, something dreadful might happen.
This is not true for all; for some people it might be somewhat different; anger has been expressed but now there is a bleak space in your life because the anger you had been holding was released in an utterly devastating way and whilst founded in your truth, it has caused damage. For whatever reason, it seems like there is no going back and so all you feel you have acquired from expressing these emotions is an awareness that anger is very dangerous and is better hidden away and not expressed.
For you, saying no or expressing your feelings equates to you losing something: friendships, relationship, the respect of others, material things even; in short, it leads to MORE pain.
So it may be that you now have to make a choice about how much you want to feel the pain of the impact of your rage in comparison with how successful you can be at containing your feelings of anger.
It may be that you contain your anger so that it doesn’t seep out and destroy someone or something. Maybe it doesn’t feel very contained; you are always on the brink of saying something; and yet you know that if you were to do so, you would be the one suffering in the aftermath. Some conversations are just too difficult.
I think that there is a lot of demonizing around anger, a lot of unintentional suffering as people try to keep their ‘unacceptable’ feelings to themselves. Maybe these feelings didn’t start out as anger, but with sufficient repression, they are now white hot and burning away inside of them.
Perhaps you notice how the struggle to keep a lid on rage morphs into unexplained symptoms, slight headaches and muscle tension all the way through to serious endemic illness because your body isn’t designed to operate effectively under long term stressful conditions or to hold onto natural rage, so eventually it won’t be able to do the impossible job you gave it to do.
Realising how angry you are may be very frightening; anger that has been stored up for years is ancient, vitriolic, furious about what was done or what was not … The perpetrator, the target of all your unresolved feelings, may have never felt the fullness of your wrath; it may have been impossible to express your feelings back in the past and now you are the one left holding this toxic, festering parcel of rage and fury.
You may suspect also that your anger has amplified over time and now is pretty substantial. It may feel as if it cannot even be decanted safely without an explosion occurring.
What can you do?
I would ask this from a different angle: what do you NEED in regard to finding peace with this? Undoubtedly, some things are so dreadful that anger is very necessary and completely in proportion to how you were wronged. However, I am also saying that ANGER EXPRESSED CONSCIOUSLY is often less damaging to the person expressing it. Retrospective anger, activated at an egoic level, cannot usually just evaporate but perhaps it can be expressed safely and de-activated.
Perhaps the feelings need to be separated from the old wound, the scars of what was done or said to us and which hurt so much, such that it can be expressed authentically and creatively.
If you feel anger towards someone for something that was done and that person is now very old, vulnerable, not available to speak with, perhaps even dead, it can be that anger can be expressed ritualistically as a way to voice it and let it go away from where you are keeping it so that it can’t continue to cause you damage.
You may not be ready to do this because what was done was so utterly terrible that you need to go into that wound to really find some meaning, perhaps seek some understanding of WHY? If that is the case, I would recommend some form of compassionate and boundaried professional therapeutic help, perhaps from a counsellor or psychotherapist, perhaps from a truly committed friend or partner.
If you are ready to let go of your fury, you could try writing the person a letter telling them exactly what you felt and what you went through; this can be as long or as short as you like but be sure to include all the feeling. You can read it and make sure that everything has been covered. The letter can be kept for as long as you need to. Then it can be either burned ritualistically, perhaps in a bonfire, in an iron woodburner ?? or it could be ripped into tiny pieces and thrown into a free flowing stream, the sea, put down the toilet. You could bury the letter with any remants that need to go with it (artefacts, jewellery, gifts, rememberances), in an isolated place, woodland, a beach, a marsh … anywhere that means that this phase of life is ending. As you let go, you can say some cleansing words such as: I let go of this part of my life and all the feelings I have carried for so long about it; I have no place for this toxicity in my life any longer.
Doing this means that these feelings about this event, this anger that has built up, is now energetically being taken away from you, away from causing you any further harm or damage.
You could add, but may not wish to for many reasons, I now am able to wish this person well or perhaps more surrepticiously, I do not wish them any harm. It might make more sense to wish yourself good things going forwards without the anger, peace of mind, good health, freedom from negativity. Having addressed this process with great courage, it might also seem important to underline this by giving yourself permission to be angry FROM NOW ON, WHEN YOU HAVE JUST CAUSE, with the conscious proviso that you will endeavor to express your needs clearly and unmistakably and with kindness, even the difficult feelings that may have been a part of the story that lead to some of this original holding pattern of negativity. This might be a change of direction to free up your psychological space for more creative things and of course, what sounds theoretically possible may be more tricky in practice, it’s important to note that we are none of us perfect human beings, we are all ‘works in progress’. This article is just perhaps a call in you to resolve old conflicts in a way that promotes your wellbeing so that your experience, the inner life unique to you, is free from burdens it doesn’t need to struggle along with.