Anger should be released (but only in certain ways)

how to release angerIs it better to channel your anger into productive communication, or just go to your bedroom and scream into a pillow before slugging it a few times?

For a couple of decades psychologists thought you needed to “release your anger,” by punching pillows, giving a primal scream, or ripping up paper. The belief was based on intuition. We really didn’t have any science to tell us whether that was helping or not. It just felt right.

But for most of the last two decades psychological studies seemed to support the other side. Studies showed anger gets stronger when you punch pillows. By slowing down your breathing and pondering solutions (rather than revenge imagery), angry feelings dissipate better than they do if you try to “release them.”

It might not surprise you to learn that some family therapists and mental health therapists still believe there is value to releasing your anger. And one thing everyone agrees on is this. Suppressing anger is unhealthy.

No one is an advocate for taking a gun to school and shooting a bunch of people. No one is an advocate for cheating on your partner just to experience the glee of revenge. But you do need to respect anger as something very real inside of you. It’s something that needs your attention. Otherwise, it has a way of coming out sideways. It has a way of damaging your health, emotional well-being, and relationships.

So how do you express anger in a healthy way? To answer that question, let’s start with the purpose of anger. Anger mobilizes action. Anger emerges just before we say, “Enough!” and then do something about it.

Anger arises within our emotional world under two circumstances:
(1) When we are being repeatedly blocked from achieving an important goal, or…
(2) When an expectation is violated (usually an expectation we hold sacred like the expectation that we should be treated fairly).

Virtually anything that has ever made you angry fits into one of those two criteria. Yet we rarely think of it that way. Anger has a way of narrowing our focus, limiting our ability to recognize its true source.

Anger is helpful because it gets us to take action. We finally quit a job where we have been disrespected and pushed down one time too many, or we bypass fear to finally stick up for ourselves when being bullied. In these circumstances, anger has served its purpose by mobilizing action. But most of the waves of anger we feel cause unproductive damage to ourselves or others. That’s because often suppress it until it reaches a crescendo.

In relationships, anger serves an important purpose. It alerts us to a need to take action. But to take productive action, you need to be aware of anger before it reaches a crescendo. That way you can channel it productively.

how to release anger

There is a ton of psychological research suggesting we get healthier physically and mentally when we journal about things that bother us. College students literally get fewer colds when they are in the randomized group of research subjects who journal about frustrations (rather than in the group told to journal about random things like sporting events).

 

Why is that? Why are we healthier when we express our anger in words? Some believe it’s because emotions are essentially energy. The word “emotion” is about movement. When that movement is suppressed, it creates a form of stress. Journaling allows that mental energy to be expressed. And equally important is that journaling simultaneously allows us to have insights.

Specifically, we have insights about what to do about it. Writing slows us down and allows us to see more clearly what our true feelings are, as well as the options we have. We end up making better choices. Therefore, we end up feeling less stress. Anger has served its purpose. It moved you to pay attention and take action to figure out what you need.

You’re going to get angry at your partner. The more you care about someone, the greater their power to hurt you in ways that make you angry. But anger does not need to be a destructive force. Allow anger to be the primal emotion that it is. Pay attention to it, and let it be your teacher. Sometimes it will reveal truth that will help you decide what to do.


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16 thoughts on “Anger should be released (but only in certain ways)

  1. Joan said:

    Anger is an emotion that is a natural form of expression (like loving and breathing) and how to handle it makes all the difference to emotional and physical health. There is the type of anger and hopelessness such as dealing with a death of a child because it is unnatural to the way life’s journey is supposed to be. So it is a tricky type of anger, since it is out of sequence from basic fundamental beliefs,.Other more normal frustrations.that occur between partners, co workers, friends or family members, still give you options. Though a death of a loved one (child, spouse, friend, family member) teaches a valuable life lesson. Moments of anger that occur with relationships or problems usually have a resolution or a course of action. Remove yourself from the situation or person causing anger by moving on, or fix it the situation if is redeemable or worth the time and effort. And make peace with the yourself because you are in control of your emotions, but not life’s course of events..

    • Salma said:

      Wow excellent,that’s a good interpretation of anger and a remedial .

  2. Madeleine said:

    Thank you James. I found this very helpful. (My childs father Keeps manipulating and criticising me and my health has been suffering..i was suppressing it as he yells if I respond and that affects the child. This has been helpful and food for thought..i also think journalling will help me . And finding a way forward. Thank you James

    • Gina said:

      Madeleine

      I totally understand where you are coming from. I too have been dealing with my son’s father who is very manipulative and constantly criticizes me, even to my son.

      I would like to offer to you that you NEED to stand up for yourself and speak back regardless of what it elicits from your child’s father. I was caught in the same position you are and finally realized that I needed to respond in a calm way regardless of the reaction it elicited in my son’s father. What I realized was that if I didn’t stand up for myself and say what I felt and put proper boundaries in place, I was teaching my son the wrong lesson. He was afraid of his father and didn’t have a voice of his own against him. That’s a miserable way to live.. I know, I lived it for almost 20 years. Now that his father is no longer in the house and with encouragement from me, he can now speak his mind to his father which is huge! No one should be able to control you and especially not with their emotions.. it’s abuse, plain and simple.

      I would encourage you to definitely journal but also work on yourself and find the strength to stand up for yourself. This will teach your child by example how to put healthy boundaries in place so they will have the skills necessary as they get older to deal with not only their other parent but other people who will try to manipulate them as well. It’s not easy to do if you have been “playing the game” for a while now with your child’s father, but in the end everyone will benefit from the freedom you will gain back over your life.

      Good luck to you and I would love to hear from you as your journey unfolds!

  3. Anette said:

    As one suffering from a childhood of physical and emotional abuse I agree with your words. My dad was an alcoholic with a depression and the way many men handles a depression is by letting out anger. Most often in a very unhealthy way. I’ts taken me years to learn how to express my “bouts of anger” in a more civilized way, and not turn to the other side to just repress it completely (like my mom did)

    My coping mechanism for when a person wrongs me, has been great anger and letting out steam on the person causing me it. But after several bad happenings in my relationship I try to instead of – yes – breathe deeply, and then let it rest a couple of days. If the matter still bothers me then, I try to talk to my partner about it and usually in a more calm and collected way. This way I am also allowing myself to really get to the heart of it. I’m not saying that I’m perfect. Sometimes – and sometimes MANY times – I forget it. But when I *do* succeed, I am so proud of myself!! 🙂 Especially since abuse and emotional dysfunctionality is prone to cause irrational bursts of anger later on.

    No one is perfect but you can get a long way by knowing your way of coping – and try to exercise other ways of dealing with your anger/hate. It’s not when I fail that’s important. It’s those times I succeed with my own strategy I remember 🙂

  4. Kevin Curtis said:

    I really needed to read this tonight. Anger has been creeping into my relationship with my fiance’ for quite some time now (on both our parts) I have “allowed” my ex wife and mother of my 4 children to infiltrate herself IN to our daily lives via Manipulation tactics and a sense of entitlement. Not fair whatsoever to the woman I now love and honor. My finance’ on the other hand, holds a LOT inside and rather than bring to the table in anger, rage or uncertainty, she chose to remain silent and keep it inside, but this still creates anger and it finds a way to release itself no matter what. Thanks to this article, we can now discover a new perspective in dealing with this and 3rd party interjection. I applaud whoever wrote this article. Thanks so much!

    I am K C and I approve this message

    • Abby said:

      KC -I don’t know the exact issues you are facing with your ex, but something about your post feels as though it is a skewed view on reality to me. Your life is undoubtedly complicated and tricky. However, the fact remains that ex-wives and mothers of children do have a sense of entitlement – you are obligated to help support the mother of your child whether you would like to or not. Doing this cheerfully because you know it is the best thing for your kids is bound to make a difference. We can all choose whether to allow this to interfere with our new relationships or not, by how we consciously manage expectations on all sides. I think that arguments over interference from the ex are often easier to have than explaining that it’s sometimes hard to know how a romantic partner feels about us. Communication about the true issues in a relationship and how we show our love and commitment in multiple ways really ought to take more of the focus than the rest.

      It’s a pain to have to work as hard at the old relationship as the new one (I know, I have an ex too), but it is the reality. I believe that it should be possible to learn to show new partners that they are the romantic priority and are extremely special, without ignoring the needs of the children, who’s needs are tied to the ex-wife’s needs. Often an ex needs to know that they are respected and valued for the job that they are doing raising the kids. They need to also know that the kids will be high on your priority list, and often this means that they will be less vindictive. I hope that will be the case for you. Good luck.

  5. Kevin Curtis said:

    Dear Abby,
    I didn’t invest my time and thought processes last night to have a complete stranger dissect my life or relationship with my EX WIFE and/or fiance’ I don’t appreciate you bringing the “children” up in your observations either. My “comment” was not put on here to be picked apart by a Dr Phil Wannabe. I’m not trying to be rude but I did take offense at your personal observations when my objective was simply to “thank” the author of the “anger” article for pete’s sake! Now, I am wondering what certification you have that gives you the right to pick apart people’s “comments”? I am new this message board so pardon my ignorance as to how the system works. Do you have a PHD? Are you a licensed therapist? Are you the Moderator..Co-moderator?

    KC

    • Brooke said:

      Dear KC,
      Don’t trouble yourself about “Abby.” Her post was never really about you or your life, it was about her needs. You are not real to her. There are people in her life and/or her friends’ and loved one’s lives whom you, as the “ex” and “children’s father,” represent for her. They are the ones she is really trying to “counsel.” An absolutely stereotypical case of projection that literally has NOTHING to do with you. You were just her trigger.
      Sincerely,
      Brooke

  6. Just a passing observation said:

    Easy to see why you have an ex, and your anger issues leak out onto the internet as well. It’s not brain surgery to surmise from both of your postings that you have a long road to travel with respect to working on yourself. And if you don’t do the necessary work, the second relationship will end up like the first one. And yes, as a family therapist, am qualified to comment.

    • Maria said:

      I meant to type: “thanks Abby.”

      I would hope a real therapist would be behave in a more professional and sympathetic way, and not be angry, snotty and catty like “Just a passing observation” ‘s comment.

  7. Angelica said:

    I so agree with this. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.! I will have this in mind next time I get angry.

  8. Athena said:

    I sad it is when someone can not or will not accept resposibily for their actions so much so that they refuse to recognize the right thing to do.

  9. Maria said:

    Great article. Very helpful. I really liked the information on the positive, motivating aspects of anger. I was brought up to believe it was bad to even feel anger.

  10. Cindy said:

    Great article. It came at the perfect time for me during a messy break up. I’ve never been in an angry break up before, and in past relationships parted ways agreeing that we care, but cannot be together. I’ve been having trouble handling this dramatic, angry and painful break up, and plan to reread this article and think about it a few times throughout the week.

  11. Holly said:

    Anger is poison to your soul. Seething instead is releasing anger is not healthy. Eventually it comes to the surface and explodes. You can only stuff it down so far. It destroys!! I’ve learned this from observation. It’s helped me to keep short accounts with people.

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