Oh, the discomfort people feel when I suggest that they may be feeling angry! It is the one comment that I get the most pushback on from my clients. Shy, quiet, clients will even object. “No, not angry. Maybe a little frustrated.” “No, I don’t think I feel angry, just a bit irritated.” “I wouldn’t say I’m angry…it just that I get tired of...” “Not angry! No! I’m not angry, I feel more bothered, than angry, but it’s not a big deal.” “I feel tired, but I don’t think it’s anger.” In other words, “I’m really uncomfortable with the idea of feeling angry…can we move on now?”
ANGER GETS A BAD WRAP
What is the BIG DEAL about feeling angry? Nobody seems to want to feel it, or at least, admit to feeling this normal, healthy, empowering emotion. This never ceases to amaze me. Yet I, too, used to say the same thing to my therapist. How could she imply such a thing?! I’m not angry! As if, anger is a state of being, versus just a feeling like any other feeling. Anger has a negative connotation. Somehow, we have learned that it is a bad thing to feel anger, yet it is one of the most important emotions that we have. And, let’s not forget, it is just an emotion – a feeling no different than our other feelings of joy, embarrassment, pride, worry or frustration.
Anger can be an emotion that, if not expressed early on, can lead to rage or fury, or sometimes, a loss of control. This kind of event can lead to a negative consequence, like feeling embarrassed, doing or saying something hurtful, or somehow causing damage to relationships, ourselves, or things around us. It can be a scary emotion if we have lost control before, or seen others lose control of their anger and cause damage. Men can be afraid of their anger if they’ve seen or heard of other men losing control or being aggressive or violent with their anger. Some men are raised to believe that to be a “gentleman” they are not to get angry. Real men must control their aggressive feelings. Women, as well, have been socialized to believe that it is inappropriate to be angry or express anger. It is not feminine or attractive for women to act angry. Anger is a “negative” and repressed emotion in our society.
THE DANGERS OF NOT EXPRESSING ANGER
Not only can unexpressed anger lead to an outburst of rage, or loss of control, it can also lead to anxiety and depression. When we don’t allow ourselves to feel and express this powerful emotion, we give up, it goes underground (and may seep out later in other ways if not resolved)…or worse yet, we decide, there is something wrong with us for feeling this way, and a part of us goes to sleep or dies inside. We deny ourselves the existence of a very energizing and virile piece of our psyche and emotional life. We also deny ourselves the ability to recognize when we feel offended, hurt, trespassed, or just plain old “NOT OK” with something. Therefore, we cannot and do not take care of ourselves or protect ourselves.
THE BENEFIT OF ANGER
Anger has been labeled a “negative” emotion, but the truth is, there are no “negative” emotions. There are just emotions. Normal, healthy, vibrant, human emotions! And, we need ALL of them! They tell us important information about ourselves, our environment, and our physical and emotional safety. Anger helps us recognize the thoughts we have about ourselves, how we feel around others, and how to take care of ourselves. We need anger, as well as all of our feelings to act as a navigation system to help us make decisions about our lives. We must welcome all of them, decipher what they mean, and decide if we need to take action. It is only through becoming curious about our angry feelings that we can figure out how to take care of ourselves. Anger helps us to learn what we don’t like, perhaps set a boundary or limit with ourselves or others, or make a change that will improve our mood, environment, or life.
WHY DO WE FEEL ANGER?
Anger is a protective emotion that pops us and tries to defend us when we are being infringed upon, being asked too much of, being mistreated, treated less than or unfairly, or being demeaned or disrespected. Under anger is usually a felt sense of hurt. These two often go hand in hand. Anger protects us from being hurt or mistreated. It is an important emotion! It is vital and essential that we are not afraid of it, but rather, move towards it, become curious about it, and tune in and listen to it. That does not mean we walk through life throwing our anger around or purposefully flaring our temper. It does mean that we need to figure out what we are angry about and decide if we need to express our hurt/unhappiness or make changes.
HOW DO WE KNOW IF WE’RE FEELING ANGER?
Often anger starts small and builds over time if we don’t catch it. Feeling irritable, frustrated, or bothered are all forms of anger. Feeling upset, “down”, unhappy, or even “tired” can often be forms of anger that are not quite identified yet. Resentment is a more pervasive emotion that comes from unresolved/unexpressed anger. Anger can express itself physically too. A narrowing in the eyes, furrowing of the brow, teeth clenching, heat running through us, tightening of fists, a tight chest/neck, tapping the foot or hand, or bouncing a leg. Why? Because anger creates energy. An energy (adrenaline and oxygen) begins to course through our bodies as blood pumps to our extremities to prepare us instinctually to fight or flight. Often, if we pay attention to our body, it will also let us know if we are angry. If we repress this anger or energy, we can become very tense, tight, or worse yet, not allow our bodies to feel any energy and not feel or respond to a perceived threat, which is a form of depression.
HOW CAN I TELL IF I HAVE ANY ANGER?
Ask yourself! Then, give yourself permission to feel any feelings of frustration, irritation, or anger at anyone or anything.
STEPS TO FEELING ANGER
Take 5-10 minutes a few times a week to sit quietly and breath. After taking in 3-5 deep breaths, let your thoughts and mind settle. Let the mundane or “to-do” thoughts float by like clouds. Let them go and don’t get hung up on them. Come back to noticing your breath. Focus on your breath only.
After 1-2 minutes ask yourself? “What am I feeling?” Become curious about your emotions. Do not judge them. Allow them to just be.
Ask yourself, “Am I frustrated about anything? Am I angry about anything?” If something surfaces, give yourself permission to feel more than frustration. Ask yourself, how angry am I about this? Am I just frustrated or am I really angry?
Am I more than angry? Am I furious? Do I feel enraged about this? It is ok and normal to feel these emotions. Allow your body to become warm, tingly, energized, even a bit uncomfortable. It is ok. It will also pass. It will not last forever. If you want to cry, that is ok too. Often, this is a more comfortable way to release anger at first.
Express out loud or write down exactly what you are angry about using “I” messages like this:
“I feel angry, frustrated, enraged at my wife, my boss, my brother, my mom for saying that to me, for not letting me, for not trusting me, for doing this or that.”
Check in to see if you have any hurt and sadness underneath that anger. Ask yourself, “Do I have hurt feelings too?” If so, express that directly as well either verbally or in writing using “I” messages.
“I feel hurt, offended, sad that you, my brother, my dad or mom, did that.”
Thank yourself for letting you know about these feelings. They are important!
HOW SHOULD I DEAL WITH ANGER?
Do not be afraid of it! Your angry feelings are not the problem, it’s not realizing them that can create a problem. Once you are aware of any anger, and once you have expressed it OUT LOUD, IN WRITING or in a direct way to get it outside your body, then you have choices. Once you’ve calmed down from the energy of the emotion, you can use your intellectual or logical mind to decide if you need to take any action.
WHAT CHOICES TO DO I HAVE FOR ACTION?
Nothing…just feel it. Sometimes, we don’t want to do anything with it. We just feel it and it passes and we’re done with it.
Become more aware…Sometimes, we want to continue to observe a situation now that we know it has caused us hurt or anger. We want to see if this is a one-off or if there is a pattern that continues to cause us hurt and/or anger.
Express and discuss it …Often, we decide we need to let someone know their actions have hurt us and/or led to us to feeling angry. We may need to alert someone to a problem that is getting in the way of our friendship, intimacy, or relationship. Discussing our feelings can lead to increased and more honest communication, a deeper understanding, a compromise or negotiation, or create awareness and respect for what hurts and upsets each other.
Set a boundary…we may need to set a limit or boundary with ourselves or others to prevent this from happening again. Perhaps we are allowing or feeding into a dynamic that repeatedly causes us hurt and we end up feeling angry and resentful. Perhaps we need to tell someone we are not okay with something.
Make a change or get out…sometimes, we have to put distance between us and another. We may need to leave a situation, job, or a relationship if we are unable to resolve the source of hurt and anger and it continues. There may be an incompatibility between two personalities, or a toxic environment that we need to protect ourselves from.
Resolving anger can be scary and hard. It is not easy to feel the pain that may be underneath it, and it is not easy to confront situations that cause us hurt or do damage. But, like a drain that gets clogged, we must continue to maintain and clear out any clogs that get stuck in our “pipes” or emotional pathways. We will feel lighter, clearer and continue to learn about ourselves and what we like and need to find healthy, compatible situations and relationships in our lives.
© 2020, Marianne Vernacchia MA, MFT#35980
IT’S ALL ABOUT BOUNDARIES!
IMPORTANCE OF BOUNDARIES:
It is essential for our health and well-being to know our limits, wants and needs. It is part of forming and knowing who we are. Boundaries are an important part of how we do this. If we don’t know our limits and protect them, we tend to take on more responsibilities just to please others. A key word here is “others”. If we don’t check in with ourselves and determine our own limits, needs, likes and responsibilities, then others will determine these for us. This leads to anger, resentment and as sense of victimization. This will ultimately ruin the relationship and lead to depression and low self-esteem in ourselves.
HOW TO SET BOUNDARIES:
Step 1: Awareness
Pay attention to the small feelings (annoyances, frustrations, twinges of guilt, desire to push back and resist, passive-aggressive behavior) as well as the big feelings, and honor them for a minute. GO WITH IT, instead of getting down on yourself or minimizing your feelings, sucking it up and trying to shake it off – honor your feelings and respect yourself to know what’s best for you. Anger is an important, protective emotion. It lets us know when our well-being may be threatened and energizes us to protect ourselves. This doesn’t mean you never suck it up and give to others anymore, but it means you spend equal time taking care of your own needs. If you don’t there is nothing left of you to give.
Step 2: Check-in
How am I feeling right now?
Why do I feel weird, detached, or unsure of myself right now?
Am I okay with what is being asked of me? How it is being asked? How I am being talked to and treated right now?
Have I played into this or set this dynamic up somehow by not speaking up or setting a boundary before this?
Am I being respected right now?
Do I need to speak up and set a boundary?
Step 3: Speaking up
There are many ways to set a boundary. Here are some of those ways:
1. Be honest/direct: Express that you are not comfortable, and in good conscience, cannot do what you are being asked.
2. Defer/Buy Time: Let someone know you have to think about it more, check your calendar, etc. before you commit.
3. Acknowledge them while setting a boundary: Show empathy that you understand where they’re coming from (you hear them), but you aren’t okay with, do not have the bandwidth, or cannot at the moment, help them, allow them to talk to you that way, or go along with that.
4. Be honest and respectful: “I know you want help with this, but I just don’t have the bandwidth right now. I’m sorry.” OR “I’m really trying to limit my commitments and practice self-care, so I can’t commit at the moment.” “I have to be honest with you…I don’t like the way you’re talking to me. I have to step away right now.” “You know, I have to be honest with you, I feel talked down to and I’m just not okay with it. I need to take a break from this. I can’t help you right now.”
5. Express your feelings: “I feel _______ (annoyed, resentful, hurt, angry, not okay) that I’m being asked to do this. I’m sorry, but I have to say no.”
STEP 4: Congratulate yourself!
Setting boundaries is hard! It will feel very foreign and even selfish at first. You may worry about hurting other’s feelings or ruining the relationship - especially, if you haven’t done it before and the relationship hasn’t been built on boundary setting in the past.
1. Remind yourself: You can’t take care of their needs and be true to yourself at the same time. In a healthy relationship there is honest sharing and respectful behavior that strives to accommodate both people’s feelings and needs. The other person should value your needs and wants and limits too.
STEP 5: Be prepared for fall-out
Homeostasis: People will push back in order to get back to the former homeostasis in the relationship – especially if it served their needs more than yours! Remember, there are those who are unaware when they are intruding in, mistreating, expecting too much, etc. Go back to your original feelings and why you set the boundary. Your feelings are valid and important. They are your body’s way of letting you know you need to set a boundary to take care of yourself.
1. Selfishness versus Self-Care:
Selfishness is not the same as self-care. Setting boundaries is about self-care, not excluding others. It is essential for your well-being and for a relationship to be healthy. It is, however, selfish to not consider the needs of others over and over again, and to consistently only care about yourself. Most of us who struggle with boundary setting do not struggle with being overly selfish. We struggle with seeing what our own needs are and expressing ourselves in a way that protects and takes good care of ourselves.
2. Fear of Conflict:
The biggest fear of setting boundaries is facing conflict or rejection. While conflict is stressful, there cannot be a healthy, strong relationship without it. Conflict is about negotiating and accommodating both people’s needs. If this is avoided and resentment, anger grows, this can lead to depression. This would be the equivalent to one of you not really being present in the relationship and only there to tune into the wants and needs of the other. This is often described as feeling like a part of you is dying or has died – a frequent description by those who are caught up in a long-term toxic relationship.
3. The Reaction of Others:
You cannot control how others react when you set a boundary. Quite frankly, it has nothing to do with you. If you are respectful (even if angry) and non-attacking when you set the boundary, then you have done nothing wrong. In fact, you’ve done everything right, even if the other person doesn’t like it. You cannot control if they are open and respectful or if they become angry or hurt. That is an inside job for them. Some may say, “thank you…I had no idea you were feeling that way.” Or, “OK, that’s hard for me to hear and I’m not sure I agree, but I’m glad you told me.” Even better, “I’m sorry!” Others may become defensive and accuse you of being selfish, rude, etc. Some people will express feeling offended or hurt and may say things that make you feel wrong or guilty. YOU do not need to take this on and take RESPONSIBILITY for THEIR feelings. Your job is only to be honest and as respectful as possible when expressing your feelings. They are allowed to have THEIR reaction, which you did not cause.
4. Reminder: YOU CANNOT TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AND OTHERS AT THE SAME TIME.
You would have to leave yourself and your needs to go over and create a situation that is what they want. This could be self-abandonment and lead to resentment and anger over time. This erodes a relationship and will lead to an eventual separation or cause depression in the person abandoning themselves over and over again.
Unfortunately, there are some – often narcissistic personalities – who cannot accommodate the needs of others, who have to control and dominate the relationship, who consistently put their needs first. They may overtly or subtly discount the needs of others by minimizing, challenging, guilt tripping, changing the subject, or turning it around back to them. This is the “smoke and mirrors” routine, where you thought the subject was your feelings or needs, and all of a sudden you’re left questioning the validity of your ask or limit, feeling guilty and wrong, and now are focused on the other person’s needs. These personalities are often called “toxic” and can cause harm to your ability to recognize your feelings and needs, and to be able to advocate for yourself. Ultimately, this erodes at your self-esteem, sense of self, and can cause anxiety, depression and other emotional challenges. In these cases, being clear and attuned to the kind of personality you are dealing with, setting clear boundaries and, sometimes, putting distance between you and this person are the best courses of action.
The purpose of this sheet on boundaries applies mostly to adult to adult relationships, not parent to child.
It is more difficult to determine when and how to practice self-care and set limits when you are interacting with your children. It is a parent’s job and responsibility, often, to put their children’s needs first because they can’t or don’t have the power to do so. How and when to set a limit with your child varies according to their age and determining reasonable expectations given their maturity and abilities. Parental self-care is still paramount, however, but needs to be done outside the relationship, especially in the early years. Expecting your kids to accommodate or meet those needs may often be inappropriate. As kids are able to do more for themselves, and can realistically consider the needs of others, it is important that they learn to do so. But, it is a parent’s job to always consider the needs of their children first, until their kids are adults and/or capable of taking care of themselves. The teenage years really challenge our boundary-setting! It is a time when kids are practicing to become adults. They rebel, break away from, and focus mainly on what THEY think, and making their OWN decisions, much to a parent’s chagrin. This is essential for them to become successful adults. Remember, it is necessary for them to become a bit “self-ish” to develop their own sense of self instead of always taking direction from you. However, it is ok to show them that you count too. It is essential that they learn too how to think about the needs of others in addition to their own, and how to balance that. The more you model how to set boundaries, the more they will absorb this and be able to do it themselves.
© 04/18/20 Marianne Vernacchia MA
4990 Speak Ln., #100
San Jose, CA 95118
The key to fighting off depression and anxiety is tuning into our thoughts and pinpointing negative beliefs, assumptions, or irrational thoughts. These naturally increase when we feel frightened and during times of stress. COVID-19 and SIP creates a hotbed for these kinds of thoughts. There has been much loss, and this, in no way, is meant to minimize that. But without the existence of darkness, we cannot recognize the light. So, I offer the following to help counterbalance the darkness.
This leads to greater discovery?
We experience the peace that quiet can bring?
Our bodies get more rest?
We spend less?
We come to enjoy a slower pace of life?
We do more with our hands instead of our heads?
We hear the different songs that the birds sing outside?
We experience the tranquility and contentment of a quiet moment looking out the window?
We have time to get lost in thought?
A generation of children and teens understand more about the precariousness of life and suffering?
The sky becomes a deeper blue?
We learn more about our children or family?
We spend more time organizing our space and cooking more meals?
We take time to appreciate people are who work at the grocery, post office, empty our garbage, work at the hospital, and work at farms?
Our empathy for others grows?
We realize we are really more alike and connected than we thought we were?
STAY WELL, EVERYONE!
© 2020, Marianne Vernacchia MA
Our world has shut down, and day to day activities and routines have changed if not disappeared. As creatures of habit, we thrive when we have a sense of purpose, routine and control. Here is a list of tips to help you establish new equilibrium and make the most of sheltering in place.
ROUTINE AND STRUCTURE: The normal rhythms of our day are now disrupted. It is time to get creative, as we restructure our day. Structure and routine are essential. It is possible to still maintain an order and purpose to our days by building in exercise, socializing (online or via phone), work, entertainment, and household chores. Divide your days into time periods for each activity. Shower/bathe, get dressed in fresh clothing, interact with others via internet or phone, and walk/exercise every day.
GET PRODUCTIVE AT HOME: Having a goal each day, tasks to focus on, and feeling productive are all ways to help build a sense of purpose and normalcy to families or individuals during “sheltering-in-place”. For those of you who like to feel productive in a tangible way or those who like to complete tasks – here is a list of possibilities:
Organize – tackle organizing one room at a time, or clean/organize a garage, shed or workspace
Clean – Now is a great time to do a deep cleaning of your home. Tackle the garage or basement or attic and sheds. Get on top of your finances by creating a budget – start a spreadsheet or use a template and make a financial plan.
Paint– Touch up dirty walls, stored paint in the garage can even work for an accent wall
Garden – work a little bit every day, loosening soil, creating new beds, divide indoor or outdoor plants and replant in places you’d like, weed, or clean up and prepare patio or outdoor gardens for a beautiful, enjoyable spring that you can enjoy at home.
Redecorate – rearrange furniture, redecorate a bedroom, move things around. Create a pleasant work space if you’re working from home.
Get crafty – sketch or paint objects in your home (meditative and focused and occupies your brain), paint downloaded pics from internet or whatever comes to mind. Sew – whether you have a machine or by hand (fix holes in your favorite clothing, try your hand at hand-stitching or embroidery. Try cutting out and sewing together old pieces of clothing or sheets to make a quilt. Knit/crochet – lots of tutorials online. Learn how to build or work with wood – whittling, carving or building also keeps your mind occupied and is a tangible challenge. Resurfacing/painting furniture, give small items in your home a face-lift.
Learn something new – Many museums like the Louvre in France have online tours. Monterey Aquarium and the San Diego Zoo have zoo cams and tours available online too. Visit Groupon for virtual classes like interior design. There are literally thousands of brief online tutorials and full, comprehensive classes like coding classes, computer programming and even the Master’s series by celebrities are all available for purchase online. PBS and PBS online has many activities and classes online as well. Yellowstone has a wonderful virtual tour and not only teaches you about the environment, but is amazingly beautiful!
Games – Teach your family a new card game, order a puzzle, practice Sudoku or crossword puzzles. Apps like “elevate” can offer brain exercises to keep your brain tuned up. Adult coloring books can be meditative and calming.
Baking and Cooking – Bake your own bread, can vegetables or fruit, make and freeze soups and sauces. Involve children in making dinner each night.
Exercise – Yoga, Zumba, Dance classes (line dancing anyone?) or HIT workouts are all available via apps or online video/Netflix. Set a time for this each day. Invite family to dance together. Have a dance contest. Orange Theory and Planet Fitness online are offering daily classes. Take a break from working at home and try a new way of getting active.
Other ideas – Learn a new instrument. Order a recorder or ukulele online and begin teaching yourself using tutorials. Scrapbook or Shutterfly offer great projects for organizing and making photo albums with pictures.
©2020, Marianne T. Vernacchia MA
What do we do when the alarm bell sounds and our anxiety climbs? Sometimes we can feel immobilized and helpless when panic sets in.