Making Room for Anger
Jamie* tells me how her spouse is working late all week again. She’ll have to handle back to school night on her own at two different schools for the third year in a row, and she’s worried about not being able to get to all the teachers she needs to see. I ask her if she’s angry, and she assures me she is quite fine but feels bad for her spouse who has such a demanding work schedule. Her sharp tone and quickness to brush off my inquiry suggest something different, but I know how firmly she believes that any conflict with her partner will threaten the marriage. They rarely argue, she says, but she’s tired a lot and doesn’t feel much passion. Jamie often shuts down her anger, to the point of not believing she has any. As her therapist, I am hoping she can begin to make some room in herself for feeling angry.
Joe recalls his father being an out of control alcoholic, who could blow up at any provocation, but was never consistent about what would set him off. To survive his childhood, he learned to be hypervigilant and not to make any waves. Terrified of being like his dad, he plays the role of peacemaker in most of his relationships. He came to therapy because of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Valerie tells me she is “over being angry.” She says she’s learned to meditate and is going to be compassionate instead because anger is a “useless emotion” Aware that she has plenty to be enraged about, I wonder whether she’s hoping that meditation will help her bypass feelings that might be too frightening to feel and whether together we might be able to know more about both her anger and her compassion.
When most people think of the term “anger issues” they imagine explosive outbursts, yelling, or violence- the expressions of anger that are usually problematic. In many cases, people struggling with anger need support in connecting to the more vulnerable feelings beneath the anger. However, many people have a different struggle with anger altogether--letting themselves feel it at all. They squelch it when it threatens to rise up, leaving no room for the experience of anger.
*all cases are based on a composite of multiple cases and fictional material, with no identifying information.