Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Stuff it or Spew it?

By Amy Phillips-Gary

What to do with your anger....

Come on. As mild mannered as you think you are, you probably get angry from time to time.

We all get angry occasionally-- some of us more occasionally than others.

The question is do you tend to stuff down your anger in some deep, dark hidden place within or do you spew it forth onto anyone and everyone around you?

I grew up in a family of stuffers.

I remember watching my father kick in a car door because he was so steamed about something that had gone wrong in his life. Outbursts like this didn't happen very often at my house, thankfully.

But there were enough of them that the image is bright and vivid in my mind.

For the most part, I was brought up with the unspoken rule that anger is not allowed.

As with my father, my mother and I both had occasional meltdowns. These were rare. We generally bit our tongues and swallowed our feelings-- especially if they were angry ones.

You might tend to stuff down your anger just like I have in the past (and still tend to do today).

Perhaps, to you, anger is inappropriate. You might believe it would rage out of control if you allowed it, so you simply push it down and hope it will go away.

Sometimes pushing down anger does cause it to subside-- at least for a little while.

With enough stuffing, however, you may feel like that proverbial lidded pot that finally boils over, no longer able to contain all of that pressurized steam.

And if you do manage to control your anger and keep the “lid” on your emotions, you may encounter rashes, ulcers, grinding teeth, or other unpleasant and detrimental health conditions in your body.

Other people don't stuff down anger. Instead, they tend to spew it as they seem to fly off the handle about any “little” thing. Perhaps your boss, parent, your partner, even you yourself are like this.

It's as if the Incredible Hulk has raged into your life-- or inhabited your own body!

While spewers might get a certain release from their outbursts, there are also downsides to this behavior as well.

As you probably already know, relationships can be damaged and even severed by angry outrage. The overtly angry person can also experience health conditions such as heart and blood pressure problems as a result and indicator.

Re-thinking Anger

It's time to re-think anger. No, it's not usually pleasant. But it does crop up for just about every single one of us.

As many other sources have asserted, anger is just energy. We can label it “positive” or “negative.” When it comes down to it, however, it is simply energy.

What you do with anger is what can have the detrimental or, yes even affirming consequences.

Buddhist teachers counsel us to love, embrace and “make friends with” all of our habits, aspects and emotions. This absolutely includes anger.

Here are a few specific techniques for befriending your anger...

*Stay tuned in to your emotions. Notice irritations and annoyances before they turn into full-blown anger. You can deal more easily with whatever is going on for you when it is more manageable.

*Be fluid and flexible. Don't get stuck and rigid in your anger. If you can soften around whatever seems to be the source of anger for you, your emotions can ease.

*Remember to breathe. You can soften as you take a big, deep belly breath. You might find it helpful to forcefully expel your breath-- as if you were assertively blowing out a candle. Repeat this as you need to. Then gradually slow and calm your breathing.

*Interrupt your usual anger pattern. As with any habitual behavior, interrupting your usual reaction gives you space and clarity to make a choice about how you want to respond. Dance, sing, shout...

*Focus in on the feelings, not the story. If you can stop fixating on whatever or whomever appears to have made you upset, you can usually find quicker release around your anger.

Acknowledge and allow those emotions to run through you. Let them crest and then release. Now you can have that talk or handle the circumstances from a calmer and usually clearer place.

Anger may be one of the most difficult emotions out there. It is not bad and it's not necessarily good either. It just is.

As you learn to stay fluid and tuned in to you, the release of difficult emotions like anger can be a point of breakthrough and expansion.

It is another step in loving yourself more completely and moving toward being the person you want to be.


  1. I actually come from a long line of spewers, and I spewed a lot in my younger years. I've gotten better as I've grown older usually doing the breathe technique that you mention or count to 10 because I don't want to my kids to see me constantly yelling at them for everything. My mom yelled a lot and I don't want to do the same thing. Thanks for the tips!

  2. Nice article, Amy. I only missed some mention of using anger to accomplish much needed change. Community organizers are trained to tap into the anger--some might call it 'righteous anger'--of a community, at how things as they are are not as they should be. They then use this anger as impetus for involvement, direct action, and social change. It takes a lot of skill to harness group anger in this way, but it can be a powerful force for positive change.

  3. I love the way you put anger into perspective and simply energy.

  4. I appreciate your point Dhiroj. That can be a very useful aspect of anger-- esp. as it helps us move out of feeling helpless and can point us toward directed action as you are saying.

    The challenge is for sure to keep the energy focused on what you want rather than what is the unwanted condition.