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5 Ways to Process Anger Without Turning It on Yourself

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Anger is a powerful emotion. In fact, according to Dr. Leon Seltzer of Psychology Today, it is one of the most powerful emotions known to humans. It is also a common defense mechanism — anger protects us from hurt, sadness and fear.

But what happens when you internalize anger? What happens when you become your own proverbial punching bag? Well, you become sick.

“When people internalize feelings of anger, it causes them to turn against themselves and become self-critical and self-hating,” Dr. Robert Firestone told Psychology Today. “If this process reaches serious proportions, it plays a significant role in feelings of depression and worthlessness. It can [also] lead to self-defeating, self-destructive, and at times, suicidal behaviors.” 

Of course, if you internalize anger, you are not alone. Many individuals turn against themselves when they fail, are rejected or are consumed by fear. But you do not have to live in a constant state of self-loathing and punishment.

Here are five efficient and creative ways to cope with anger.

1. Acknowledge Patterns of Self-Punishment

The first and perhaps most important step to processing anger is to acknowledge it.

“When we deny or suppress hostile emotions, our anger is likely to be internalized, turned against our bodies or ourselves, or externalized, distorting the world around us. In addition, we are more likely to lose control and act in ways that are detrimental or destructive to ourselves and to others,” Firestone said. For that reason, “the acceptance of anger and the ability to tolerate angry feelings [is imperative to] bring anger under our control and regulation.”

2. Learn to Breathe and Calm Down

Deep breathing can help reduce feelings of anger and change the outcome of a challenging situation, Becky Wright, a writer at the Counselling Directory, said.

“[Deep breathing] changes our physical reaction [to anger] and gives our brain time to produce a thoughtful response,” Wright said.

Instead of acting impulsively and instinctively or swallowing your feelings, you should ask yourself some questions.

“‘Is this situation as terrible as it feels right now? Could I be exaggerating its significance?’ [Try to] refocus your attention to any positive aspects of this situation, such as lessons that can be learned.”

3. Find Creative Ways to Express Anger

While acknowledging anger is great and deep breathing helps, anger can — and will — occur. It is a common reaction, and a normal human emotion. For that reason, it is imperative you have multiple (and creative) ways to manage your anger in your proverbial anger management toolbox.

Some examples include:

  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Dancing
  • Singing
  • Painting
  • Meditating
  • Hitting a punching bag or ball
  • Taking a bath
  • Practicing yoga 

4. Step Away, Step Back and Learn to Rest

Stepping away may sound easy, but when you are in the middle of an argument, stepping back is hard. What’s more, stepping back won’t save you from yourself. As such, it is imperative you learn how to distance your mind from your emotions.

Feelings are not facts.

It is also important to rest.

“Being well-rested makes you less prone to reacting [to anger] in the first place, allowing you to stay calm and balanced more easily,” Wright said.

5. Talk About It

If you’re having difficulty processing anger in a safe and healthy way, you should talk about it. In most cases, your friends and family will be happy to support you. You can also turn to a trusted spiritual advisor or mental healthcare professional, like a therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist or counselor.

The point isn’t who or how but that you speak at all.

“Moving beyond self-punishment becomes possible when we get the help that we need to navigate in a new way when we feel pain,” Danielle Grossman told PsychCentral.

Header image via ahmad gunnaivi on Unsplash

Originally published: September 21, 2020
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