Writing Through Anger

by Amber Lea Starfire on September 17, 2012

AngerAnger is a negative emotion—that’s what we’ve been taught and what our culture believes. But is it true? Is anger “bad”?

Years ago, in the midst of divorce, I came to the surprising realization that I had been angry for a very, very long time. Because I had considered anger an “unacceptable” emotion, I had denied and repressed it. Acknowledging my anger allowed me to write about it, and writing about it helped me to understand that my anger was a protective mechanism, and that I could use the energy of that anger to change my life for the better. As a result of that experience, I’ve learned to be grateful for my anger. It has become, for me, a red flag signaling that some fundamental need is not being met.

When you consider that anger is often a response to emotional or physical pain, and also consider  possible secondary emotions, such as depression, anguish, sadness, fear, and desperation, anger begins to seem like a positive response. Anger, as opposed to depression, is full of energy—your pulse quickens, your body heats up, and you want to do something, anything. When all that energy is directed positively, good things can come of it. It’s the unbridled, undisciplined anger energy that causes the problems we associate with this emotion. That’s why we talk about dealing with, letting go of, and managing anger.

Although there are various degrees of anger, as I see it, there are basically two kinds: the quick, in the moment response, that makes you want to scream or yell or hit something, barely containing the frustrated energy in your body; then there’s the long, slow boil, a deeper anger born of repeated pain. This second form of anger, when it goes unrecognized and unexpressed, can become toxic, causing health and relationship problems and eventually escalating to rage. Both types of anger can be destructive, or—yes, even the slow-boil kind—can have positive, constructive outcomes.

But how do we move to the constructive side of anger? Writing about anger is one of the most effective ways to understand, express, learn from, and take positive action by guiding your anger. Through writing, you process the reasons for your anger. Once you know why you’re angry, you have more control: you can examine your responses and choose different ones. You can learn from your anger and take positive action to protect yourself from further disappointment or harm. Anger, as in my experience, becomes an emotion that wakes you up and makes you pay attention to yourself.

It’s difficult to write when you’re in the throes of immediate anger, so I advise waiting until you can sit still. Then, while you’re still feeling the anger, bring it to the page. Here are a few writing prompts to help you get started.

  • Express your anger: put on paper every negative thought, wish, and destructive impulse. Write about wishing your ex would jump off a cliff or get into a car accident; write out those murder fantasies; scrawl all the names you’d like to call that coworker or situation. Slash the pencil across the page. It’s okay. No one will see what you write, and you can always shred it when you’re done. Write until you feel the anger seeping out through your fingers onto the page. Until you’re exhausted or, better yet, you can laugh at yourself, just a little.
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  • What are you angry about? What happened to hurt you? Was it an act by someone else? A situation out of your control? Freewrite for ten minutes, beginning with, “I’m angry because …”
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  • What does your anger tell you about your life? What does it tell you about yourself?
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  • Write a conversation with your anger. Ask it why it exists and what positive action it wants you to take to feel better.
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  • Write several concrete steps you can take, along with how you will accomplish them. How can you respond differently or what do you need to do to protect yourself from being hurt again? For example, if, after writing, you decide your response was due to something that happened long ago—in other words, the recent behavior or event didn’t actually cause, but triggered your anger—you may decide to spend several sessions writing about the original event, or you may decide to seek therapy. If you decide that you need to remove yourself from a harmful situation, write down the actions you need to take.
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  • Freewrite for ten minutes about all the ways your anger empowers you to change your life, beginning with, “My anger empowers me to …”

The bottom line? Anger can be a negative, destructive emotion, but it doesn’t need to be. When you use writing to process and learn about your anger, you’ll have the power to choose what you want to do with it.

What do you do with yours?

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Image credit: Elena Lagaria

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Eden September 18, 2012 at 7:29 am

Oh Wow! Was this a good post about a somewhat “taboo” subject. Being raised to be rather positive, classy, do for others. I found I can get pretty pivved at times. Usually some internal expectation wasn’t being met. Once I go into, thru and accept my anger…then I can see what exactly I expected….Sometimes what I think I expected and what truly upset me are two different things. Anger is a tool for learning….this I know! Wonderful post :D

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Amber Lea Starfire September 18, 2012 at 8:29 am

Thanks, Eden. Your experience of learning from and growing through your anger through acceptance of it is exactly what I’m talking about. :-)

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Roia September 18, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Excellent topic, indeed! I have ripped through (literally) quite a few pages in my time trying to “scream” out my anger in written form (so grateful I also have music to use). One thing I’ve observed, especially in my work, is that anger is sometimes a response to feeling powerless. I wonder if getting angry and acting in some way provides, perhaps, a felt sense of “yes I can/am/do” that a person may not otherwise experience or be able to call to mind.

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Amber Lea Starfire September 19, 2012 at 10:37 am

Hi Roia, thanks for your comment and the reminder that anger is a positive response to a feeling of helplessness, because it can propel us to positive action, rather than accepting the helplessness. Anger is our way of taking emotional control of the situation and of not allowing ourselves to become a victim.

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Linda Sievers September 19, 2012 at 10:05 am

Whew!! I know this one. Back when I had my natural hair color, which was red…I had a reputation in my family for being quick tempered. However, between my mother and the nuns at school, I learned to repress my temper. Unfortunate that our mothers and teachers helped us learn how to repress our power. They learned the same lessons.

As most of us girls, I’ve spent many years trying to come to terms with myself and all the repressions and pains underneath my anger. I believe that if we had been taught to ‘manage and express’ our anger in healthy ways as little girls…then we would be more immediately in touch with our innate power as women now. A lesson I had to mostly teach myself. Now with white hair, also my natural color, I get at what is underneath, behind, or wherever my anger is rooted and I get it on paper then out in the open as soon as I can. Amazingly, my healthy, constructive creativity bursts forth. I feel liberated.

Is the world that afraid of us? Anger, well directed, can be an astounding and transformative power. Better than wars.

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Amber Lea Starfire September 19, 2012 at 10:41 am

Well said, Linda! — “Anger, well directed, can be an astounding and transformative power.” If we all encouraged our children to look beneath their anger (quick tempers, included) to figure out why they’re angry and how they can help themselves meet their own needs, we’d raise a generation of people who take responsibility for their own emotions and don’t blame others. A generation of people who know how to communicate.

Better than wars, indeed.

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Barbara Toboni September 19, 2012 at 6:47 pm

I remember screaming at my son, Chase, when I was angry. It was very frustrating dealing with him because of his autism. Then one day I decided I was going to keep a journal and write when I was angry. I found out I wasn’t really angry with him. I was angry at his autism. What an aha moment! I screamed because I felt powerless. Eventually we were able to get help for him with behavoir therapy.

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