Anger and Recovery: how our anger can hurt us or help us

Anger is the gatekeeper of our emotions. If it is used wisely, it will allow us to interact with the world in safe and healthy ways. We will know when our emotional gates should remain open, and when to keep them closed.

Imagine a gatekeeper in a medieval castle. He knows that his job is to protect, and keep dangerous forces out. He also knows that if he is overprotective, those inside the gate will die from starvation, or suffer from a lack of exposure to the outside world.

In the same way, anger protects us by covering our most vulnerable emotions. When we feel emotions like fear, disappointment, pain, grief, loss, rejection, jealousy, etc., anger forms a protective layer to keep others from further exploiting us. This is a great tool in our emotional arsenal. Unfortunately though, just like the over-zealous gatekeeper can do damage by keeping the gate closed, anger can be destructive by fostering isolation.

When our anger is used appropriately, others will know that we have been negatively affected by their actions. And in the aftermath of expressing our anger, we can take steps to meet our own needs to ease our pain, disappointment, embarrassment, etc., without feeling like powerless victims.

The struggle for many of us in dealing with anger has its roots in our past. We may have unprocessed trauma from our early years that created a layer of anger that we shut down. This repressed anger comes out in all sorts of strange and unhelpful ways. Holding on to the pain of the past can cause more damage to us than the individual or individuals who hurt us.

The terrible pain many of us grew up with would have easily destroyed us if we had not found avenues to cope. We needed a way to avoid pain and simultaneously experience comfort or pleasure. Sex – and possibly other things like food, alcohol, or drugs – became our answer. We knew we could count on them to calm the beast of anger on the inside.

Soon, we forgot why we were angry at all. All we knew was we could “fix” the frustration, loneliness, boredom and disappointment with some act of indulgence. One act of indulgence became two and two became three until we found ourselves caught in a cycle of pleasure and pain.

How deceived we have become. We cover pain with our anger and we cover anger with addiction. All the while the pain festers beneath. It fuels the fire. In brief moments of clarity we see what we are doing to ourselves. It is at this time we have the courage to say, “I give up” — not on life, but on the charade we played so long. We find the courage to face ourselves and the unsightliness inside us.

The rush of rage can produce a similar high to a common street drug. With anger and rage we manufacture the drug in our heads. Our minds and bodies may be conditioned to “overheat” any time we feel fearful, threatened or insecure. The cravings for anger will not subside quickly. We may need to enlist a variety of coping mechanisms to get us through the tough times.

We should look for someone to talk to. If we look hard enough there may be people already in our lives we can trust. If not, we can find someone who has a listening ear. Pastors, priests, therapists and recovery group members dedicate themselves to listening and helping others in crisis.

(Adapted from some articles on the website)

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