Self

5 Questions To Ask When You Just Can't Bring Yourself To Say 'I'm Angry'

Photo: Anton Mukhin / Shutterstock.com 
Angry woman on phone

If there’s something bothering you, do you tend to sweep it under the rug?

Is it hard for you to express your feelings?

Do you tend to hold things in, only to possibly blow up later on?

When there’s conflict, do you clam up or desperately wish to escape?

Out of all the emotions you can have, one tends to be the most difficult to handle. It’s an activating, pulsing feeling that drives you to action. It’s anger.

Anger: A Powerful, Confusing Emotion

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, please know that you are not alone.

Anger is a powerful and confusing emotion. Many people struggle to express it in a useful way, especially if they grew up in a family that tended to discourage or pave over anger. Disallowing angry feelings is a sign of Childhood Emotional Neglect in a family.

RELATED: Why Anger Is A Secondary Feeling Masking Much More Complicated Emotions

How Was Anger Addressed in Your Childhood Home?

Did you observe your parents over-express or under-express their anger? We tend to either repeat the same behaviors we grow up seeing or consciously decide to behave in the opposite way to break the pattern.

So, if you grow up with an explosive parent, you may either be explosive yourself or you may over-correct this by holding your anger inside.

Was there room for your anger in your family?

Emotionally neglectful families mistakenly view anger as unacceptable, negative, or even wrong. Perhaps anger was off-limits for everyone, just the children, or one family member in particular. Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) teaches you to suppress or minimize all of your feelings, including anger.

Anger expression requires skill. 

Were you taught the emotional skills needed to effectively express your anger?  If you didn’t learn how to use your anger or express it to others as a child, it’s not your fault.

Like all emotions, anger sends you an important message along with the energy needed to act on that message. The message is, “Threat or potential harm is near. Take action to protect yourself.”

Sometimes the energy that always accompanies anger can feel so overwhelming that your brain processing goes offline. The key is to manage your anger’s energy so you can use your brain to process the message.

RELATED: 7 Tips For Communicating With Your Angry Spouse (Without Making It Worse)

5 questions to process your anger

1.     What am I feeling exactly? What are a few words that best describe this feeling?

2.     What is causing me to feel this way?

3.     Is action needed in order to protect myself and resolve my anger?

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4.     If action is necessary, what do I need to do? Should I distance myself from someone? Do I need to talk to someone?

5.     If so, how can I express my feelings?

The result of growing up in a highly angry home or an emotionally neglectful home that avoids anger is this: you have been robbed of the opportunity to learn the words you will need throughout your lifetime to express angry feelings.

Having the words to express your angry feelings can be life-changing. The word, “anger” is just the tip of the iceberg. Floating beneath the surface is a vast array of emotions that can better describe what you feel. When you get specific and take time to reflect, you can then be in charge of your emotions and better communicate them to others.

RELATED: Why Some People Lose Their Cool When They're Angry — And How To Make It Stop

Anger in action

Imagine your friend Anna agreed to help you shop for clothes to wear to a family wedding and then never showed up on your designated shopping day. She doesn’t call to explain her absence and appears to blow it off without a care. You are feeling that angry energy inside of you.

You process your feelings by asking yourself the questions above and are confident in labeling the emotion as anger. You can say nothing, pushing down the feelings inside of you, or you could explode at Anna saying hurtful comments about her character.

But instead, you label your anger with refined words like: “I feel disappointed, let down, unimportant, hurt, betrayed, disrespected, and forgotten.”

Another potential course is to dip into the "anger dictionary" for words that provide context and potential catalysts for your emotion. It helps to assign a precise definition to the underlying cause of your anger. Knowing that can help you resolve it quickly. Use words like: 

  • Aggravated
  • Betrayed
  • Bitter
  • Contentious
  • Cranky
  • Disrespected
  • Hurt
  • Outraged
  • Provoked
  • Resentful

These words provide clarity for what action you should take next.

You understand that holding these feelings inside without communicating them to Anna will damage your friendship. You decide the best course of action is to talk with Anna. When you meet up, you say:

“Anna, I was touched you offered to help me choose an outfit. When you didn’t show up, I felt really hurt, let down, and forgotten. I was even more disappointed when you didn’t call to tell me why you couldn’t make it. After all, I’d told you about my stress about this event, I felt like all of it was unimportant to you – like I was unimportant to you.”

RELATED: 5 Signs You Might Have Anger Issues & What To Do About It 

This way of expressing your anger is feeling-based and vulnerable. Anna is able to get a window into the impact her actions have on you without being attacked or avoided. Friendship will have a better chance of survival because you are able to be honest and real.

Will Anna apologize and take accountability for the impact of her actions? Grow defensive and throw out excuses without acknowledging your feelings? Become uncomfortable and change the topic?

One thing is certain: As long as you express your anger in an emotionally thoughtful and heartfelt way, Anna’s response says little about you and everything about her.

No matter her response, you both learn more about one another. You will feel less emotionally activated, more congruent, and in tune with yourself.

RELATED: 6 Ways To Deal With People Who Have Serious Anger Issues (Without Losing Your Cool)

Dr. Jonice Webb is a licensed psychologist recognized worldwide as the pioneer of Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN. She is the author of Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. 

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