Dear Lauren –
I feel angry a lot of the time. I don’t understand it. On the outside, it seems like life is good. But it doesn’t feel like it. Please help. I am afraid of driving my friends away. My boyfriend has been good about handling my outbursts, but I’m not sure how long he can hang on.
Dear Explosive –
I am sorry that you are feeling so out-of-control of your feelings. It is very reasonable for you to reach out for help. Persistent anger can be exhausting as well as drive away the people closest to you.
At its healthiest, anger is certainly a signal that something is wrong. It is a healthy emotion and helps you protect yourself from emotional injury. Not surprisingly, sometimes what triggers your anger is not the issue that is bothering you the most.
While anger, itself, is healthy, chronic explosive anger is not. There are two emotions that lie beneath anger. The first is hurt. The second is fear. It is reasonable to begin exploring what lies beneath your anger. You can ask yourself questions with respect to a specific incident, “What am I feeling hurt by?” and “What am I afraid of?”
Anger begins with a behavioral trigger and proceeds to an interpretation of that trigger. For example, “my boyfriend didn’t call on time” may be interpreted to mean “he is cheating on me.” This interpretation will lead to an emotional consequences: anger, hurt, and fear. It is important to understand that the emotional consequence is in response to one’s interpretation of the event — which may or may not be accurate.
One’s angry reactions stem from a personal interpretation of a situation and the self-talk that follows. Chronic anger suggests low self-esteem. There may be feelings of helplessness, not knowing how to assert or affect change. There may be a desire to try to control situations, again stemming from not knowing how to healthfully assert or affect change. Anger may also flare when it feels like low self-esteem issues are validated through another person’s behavior.
Untangling those triggers, thoughts, and emotions — leading to a more proactive and peaceful lifestyle — can be done with time and commitment. A therapist can help you understand, manage, and move beyond anger problems.