Many clients come to therapy asking for help with anger and resentment. When my clients struggle with anger or resentment, they usually don't want to be feeling it. They want to be told it's okay, they want someone else to acknowledge it, or they want someone else to take responsibility for it. I can relate to all of these scenarios myself.
You might hear different things about how what will help with anger and resentment, depending on which therapist you go to or which spiritual tradition you come from. These are my ideas, and ones that I have found helpful for myself and that my clients have shared with me are useful.
Anger usually happens when how we view ourselves or the world is challenged. When we are threatened or fearful anger will often arise. When our mind becomes unstable and uncomfortable, it tries to establish a false sense of order and safety by insisting things be the way it wants.
Most of us can agree that anger is at the root of some of our unhappiness and great deal of trouble in the world.
Here are some examples of things that commonly make people angry:
Like our attitude with all emotions, we don't understand, or a rule book for what to do with our angry feelings.
Many of us were raised in homes where we were taught anger was bad. Anger, like any other emotion, is a part of being human. Causes and conditions in our lives will give rise to it. In particular, women can have some pretty strict rules about how what they are allowed to feel and think when it comes to anger. For us ( me included), we are likely to try very hard to repress anger feelings when they show up. Unfortunately, this doesn't work. It isn't a constructive way to deal with angry feelings because, essentially, we are just ignoring them.
Some therapists think it's good advice once we feel our feelings to share them. Therapists can become very attached to helping clients learn to express anger. I find my clients resist this, and I find it's not very successful. Telling someone how we feel when we are angry or venting our feelings is not necessarily the best way to deal with them. Research shows that this can backfire, making our anger worse. For example, research in companies where employees shared angry feelings and done among children in elementary school has shown this only increases hostile feelings between people.
There are situations where sharing your angry thoughts and feelings is helpful. Still, those situations usually require excellent communication skills. They would happen in an atmosphere of trust after you have processed your anger and thought through your options.
Activities designed to " get the anger out" have similar results. Hitting a pillow or a punching bag only increases aggression in angry people. We used them forever in the center I worked with for abused children! I can't bear to think back on how I was making the kids worse.
Working on transforming anger is the best strategy for dealing with your anger. Generally, catching anger when it arises and transforming it before it begins to blossom into anything significant and damaging in your life is a good rule of thumb. However, first you have to feel your anger using gentle strategies. Whether you do this by yourself or with a therapist depends on the depth of your anger, and the amount of anger you have accumulated. Mindfulness strategies such as meditation, practicing RAIN and the self compassion journal are helpful.
Other strategies such as waiting for your anger to pass, practicing identifying and feeling your anger in your body, learning and practicing antidotes such as patience and compassion and putting yourself in the other person's shoes can be very powerful.
The most important thing to practice is an attitude of friendliness and intimacy with your anger. The better you are at getting to know it and recognizing it, the better able you are to control your response to it. Keep in mind there is no shame to the emotion showing up.
Some questions you might ask yourself are you angry because:
For resentment in particular it is important to ask yourself if you need to use skills of assertiveness or boundary setting. Often it is a clue that you have not been asking for what you need, or caring for yourself properly
Each of us carries different perceptions, backgrounds that will give rise to anger in other circumstances. Most of us are not right all the time and cannot do things perfectly all of the time. You may need to loosen up on those expectations. They are not serving you. Finding themes with your anger and practice looking at them and how they are impacting you.
You may need therapy to process angry thoughts, feelings, and ideas so that you can skillfully help with your anger and resentment.
This is especially the case if you have been a victim of abuse. The more intimate you become with your anger, the easier it will be to transform it and the less damage it will do to your life.
There is a current discussion about anger and its use for good. Can anger ever be helpful? Yes! Anger that is motivated to protect others from what harms them and is motivated by courage and love, and not self-righteousness has been coined wrathful compassion. This anger is distinct from ordinary anger and is the kind of anger that motivates social movements against oppression, abuse or inequalities.
Sources for help with anger and resentment
Sumanasara, A. (2015). Freedom from anger: understanding it, overcoming it, and finding joy. Boston: Wisdom Publications.
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