Let’s start with the most important thing: I’m interested in your anger. Your anger is okay with me. Anger is natural - it is wired into us to protect us and the people we love. It is rarely “socially sanctioned”, but it is nevertheless one of what emotion theorists call a core affective experience, therefore it often has something vital to say.
So with that in mind, let’s question your anger.
Do you even know you’re angry? What is that anger like? It could be a mild feeling of tension in the jaw or throat, or a rising energy in your torso. Is there a way you feel it in your body, or perhaps images or memories come to mind? If you just slow down and breathe into it - let it be - does anything change? Is there another feeling obscuring your anger, or something else mixed in with it? Or is your anger obscuring another painful experience, like sadness, hurt, or shame? Is there a wall around your anger, or is your anger forming a protective barrier around something else, something deeper? Have you told someone about it? Are you hoping someone will notice, or that no-one will notice? Is this new, or is it a familiar feeling? If it is familiar, what do you typically do with this (it has to move somewhere, right)? What internal messages do you have about anger? What strategies were you taught, explicitly or implicitly, to deal with your anger? Maybe you push it down and cut off a piece of yourself. Maybe you turn it against yourself and tell yourself it must be your fault, because you’re bad? Maybe you look for someone or something to blame or attack, so you don’t have to feel so awful anymore? None of these strategies are necessarily bad or make us a bad person. After all, we learned them when we were very young, before we could take accountability. As I sometimes ask clients, “how could we blame baby you, or infant you?” Do you have stories about your anger? Is it an important part of who you are? Perhaps it helped you survive once. Are you okay with it, or do you judge it? Can you talk about it without damaging your relationship? Does your person know about your anger? Can you both sit with it, or does one or both of you shy away?
As the brilliant Esther Perel writes in Mating in Captivity, we have to suppress some of our more primitive protections, in order to share our lives with the people we care about. But we do this as something of a cost, because un-metabolized anger can wreak havoc on a person’s inner life and even their health. Furthermore, when its expressed passively or aggressively over time it can destroy a relationship. So my job as a therapist is often to draw out anger in a way that it brings people closer instead of creating more distance. Together we try to create safe conversations about painful things. Over time you might just develop a new vision of relationship in which all the parts of each partner are welcomed, known, loved and included. It’s not always easy work, but it usually feels good to get back to safety, to “close the circle” and figure out what feelings and needs underlie the anger.