How Do You Work with Anger in Therapy? | Austin, Tx

June 29, 2016

Tori Olds, a therapist at Deep Eddy Psychotherapy in Austin, TX, talks to us about how anger can be a good thing, a source of life energy and how in therapy we learn to direct that energy towards something positive.

 

Anger Is Really Important

Anger is really important because it’s like life energy. It’s one of our, what they call, vitality affects. These vitality affects really give us life, energy, motivation, and power.

Now, when I tell my clients that, they are very skeptical at first and the reason for that is because we have a lot of negative, unhealthy anger. We see that everywhere, often in our home life, growing up or whatever. We see people, because of their own unhealthy relationship to anger, acting out in really ugly ways that are dangerous and not helpful. So, we start to pair that experience together and come to the conclusion that their behavior is what anger is.

Anger is the Energy to Go For Something We Need or Want

However, anger is really just the energy to go for something that we need or want. You know whether that’s saying, “No, that’s mine!” and going for something and asserting that you have a right for this or setting a boundary. Anger is a really positive thing and certainly it is a natural thing.

Now, when people are uncomfortable with anger there’s really two ways that they typically defend against feeling it. One is what’s called is acting out, the other acting in. Acting in would be self-attack and redirecting it toward themselves. Or just bottling it, shutting it down. So, there’s obviously very negative outcomes with that. They can never assert themselves. They get depressed because they’re shutting down their life force.

On the other side, acting out would be yelling and screaming. What people don’t realize is that that’s also a defense against feeling it. If you’re not comfortable feeling anger, there’s this feeling of “get it out of me!” So, people just really throw it out at somebody else and try to get it done with, quick. They just want to vent it out. Yell. Scream. Throw it out. Put it on somebody else. It’s not an embodied, mindful experience in that moment. It’s barely conscious. It’s like they’re losing themselves in it. So, those people may have looked like they are comfortable with anger, but they are really not comfortable with it, which is why they can’t slow down for a second to really let themselves feel it. Feel it in it in an embodied, grounded way.

Expanding Your Capacity for Feeling Anger in Therapy

If you learn to expand your capacity for feeling anger, you are taking a breath and really letting it have some space inside. You take a breath. It’s conscious and you know what you want to do in that moment. You know what impulses are coming. You may say, “God, when he said that, I just wanted to punch him.” But you’re just exploring it rather than acting on it. Then it can move through in this really beautiful way where you stay present with your true feelings and you’re not getting shut down, you’re not shutting any part of yourself down. And you’re getting the energy of it, which is empowering. Then, you’re also very grounded, so you’re in control. It’s not like you are out-of-control angry.

Working Through Anger to Feel Strong

Often what I’ll see is that we work through the anger and people inevitably feel strong. They notice their shoulders lifted. They feel that there’s this energy coming up. They’re surprised at how good it feels. They might say, “God, this really feels good to be really clear on what I wanted to say to that person.” They’re basking in how it feels to know what their anger is telling them and then that gives them energy.

What Positive Thing Would You Like to Do with This Energy?

Then, after fantasizing the thing they probably don’t (really) want to do, like punch them—but we get that out and we process it. Then, I can ask what positive thing would you like to do with this energy? You know, write a letter to your senator or sit down with your boss and tell him, “You know what, I deserve to be treated better!” It motivates us. It gives us a little bit of backbone to do something that’s good. But it can be very thought out and it’s not the heat of the anger, it’s not acting on emotion, but it is important to let ourselves have the emotion and process it.

It’s almost like you’re a battery and you can fuel the battery with that emotion and redirect it to something else.

Starting Therapy in Austin, TX

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