the flames...burning
June 25, 2012 1:23 PM   Subscribe

Looking for constructive ways to deal with anger, post end of relationship.

I am in therapy, looking for ways to deal until I meet with my person. I am feeling in control to the extent that I will not act out on feelings of anger (meaning no emails, phone calls, anything).

But I am feeling poisoned from the inside out. Nightmares and a feeling of deep self-loathing upon waking up are the key features of Shit that is Not Okay in my Head.

I think part of what's going on is that a) I had an abusive parent who raged destructively and never acknowledged their bad behavior so b) The model I have in my head for expressing anger is severely flawed; c) I hate anger in me, perhaps consequently, so I can't really feel anger w/o a deep sense of self-loathing.

I am glad this relationship is over, because I won't need to deal with the bad behavior any longer. I won't have to see the person again. That is pretty celebratory. Yet -- the nightmares I had about my mother last night and the horror I feel upon waking really need to get gone.

I'm isolated, socially, so there's not a network of people to turn to.

So -- what can I do, as a firmly covered pot with an ugly cesspool of feeling inside that seems to be getting worse, not better? Any suggestions on just getting through the days/nights?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This may sound bizarre, but speaking as a person who has always been very angry, without having the good reasons for that you do, yet has somehow ended up in a calm, happy and joyful state (most of the time), I suggest two things:

1. Exercise. It is amazing, truly amazing, how much it helps to get you away from angry obsessive thinking to take long bike rides, run, dance, do yoga . . . seriously.

2. Consider some behavioral therapy. Talk therapy is good -- I briefly saw a psychiatrist a long time ago who just kicked my depression in the butt, permanently -- but getting some tricks in place for managing anger and angry feelings is extremely useful. You end up like a trained soldier, who just automatically responds appropriately. Look for someone very well regarded whose speciality is anger management via behavioral treatment.
posted by bearwife at 1:28 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think the best way to not be angry is to be happy and distracted. So I suggest you volunteer for something. There's a growing body of evidence that helping other people makes us happy. It doesn't need to be helping people. Walk dogs for some shelter. Anything altruistic. As anti-intuitive as it seems, we appear to help ourselves best by helping others.
posted by bswinburn at 1:28 PM on June 25, 2012

I am not an enthusiastic exerciser, but oh my, when I have a lot of angry, spinning, running, walking, whatever your favorite cardio is can be so very helpful.
posted by smirkette at 1:29 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

I will sometimes sit in my car, with the windows closed, and yell my fool head off.

... and then drink some tea with honey, because now I'm all hoarse. [sheepish look]
posted by mon-ma-tron at 1:34 PM on June 25, 2012

Here's something I've done with my very young nieces and nephews, and it works for me, too.

Get mad. Then get madder. Then get REALLY REALLY MAD. Push yourself until you're basically a caricature of your own anger, until it starts to turn funny. It helps to have an audience (who understands what you're doing, so as not to scare them). The bigger and more ridiculous you make it, the faster the feeling of anger breaks and the humor takes over.
posted by xingcat at 1:47 PM on June 25, 2012

I was sexually abused as a child. I had lots of very legitimate anger, for quite a long time. When under enough stress, I am still somewhat prone to stewing. I also was raised by a mom who witnessed war first hand as a kid. She would rather gnaw her left arm off than deal with direct confrontation, which made it extra hard to learn to cope constructively with anger.

I spent a few years in therapy in my teens and twenties.

I learned to make a "to do" list, to take action about things that angered me. Being able to DO something about the thing that pisses me off helps me be less angry or at least be constructively angry instead of destructively angry.

I learned there are some things worth fighting for or taking a stand for, that Righteous Anger is not the toxic thing I saw anger as, so sometimes anger has a constructive purpose.

I spent two or three years watching tear jerk movies on a regular basis and wailing like a banshee. After that, I stopped being sad all the time and stopped being so angry. The emotions needed to come out somehow. I think that was also a big part of why I finally stopped having nightmares all the time.

I had some important relationships with older people who had been through some very tough things. They taught me a lot about coping effectively and about not being bitter.

I learned to find ways to take care of myself.

I currently blog as an outlet for some of the crazy-making stuff in my life. I may eventually start a web comic. I think "art" of some sort is a wonderful outlet for strong emotions that have no other constructive outlet.

Seconding the suggestion to go somwhere and yell or scream. I haven't really done that per se but I knew someone who had been brutally raped. While recovering, they sometimes visited a friend in a secluded rural home and went out to the lake and screamed their head off. It helped them in part because their attacker choked them to silence their screams during the assault. Screaming as much as they wanted helped them get their metaphorical voice back.
posted by Michele in California at 1:49 PM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Write. Get a blank book and write down all those ugly evil things that are swirling around inside you. It may feel scary because you're omigod saying all this stuff out loud, but it's on paper so you're not actually going to do it and you can tell that part of yourself that's scared of expressing anger that "it's just pretend". But it will still be out of your head and expressed. Do that as much as you need to.

Or, angry music. Get some angry, angry music, or music that will let you stomp and shout and snarl, no matter what kinda music it is, and give yourself your own little solo dance party where you blast it and pound pillows along with the drums or shout out the words as loud as you want. Doesn't matter what music it is -- I've used everything from U2's "Bad" to Phil Collins to The Clash to Cee-Lo's "Fuck You" to The Beatles, to - well, there's a reason Alanis Morrisette's song "You Oughta Know" was as popular as it was. (Although, a tip - if you're gonna play pillow-drums, make sure they're thick if they're in your lap; I actually bruised myself through pillows once.)

Don't try to squelch it; that's bad. You just want to express it safely. Those are a couple good ways. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:50 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of the key concepts in mindfulness meditation is that you may not like the way you feel right now, and you don't have to like it, but it's ok to accept that that's the way it is right now. And it will change. By trying desperately to avoid the feelings of anger, you're giving more power to them. Right now you feel angry, and many people probably would feel angry in your position. And you don't like it - it feels terrible - but that's the way it is right now. And the only certainty we have in life is that things will change.

Have you ever meditated? This is a VERY good time to start. Try the MBSR Body Scan by Christiane.
posted by namesarehard at 2:19 PM on June 25, 2012

Writing it all out is helpful for some people.

Anger that is still viable after its utility has expired becomes resentment. In AA we are told that we have to find a way to get rid of resentments or we will drink again. One of the tools suggested during the discussion of working the steps is making a list of resentments. We are told to be as explicit as "I'm angry with ___; they did ___; and this threatened my ___ (sense of self worth, self esteem, sex life, physical or financial security, etc.)" List people, actions, and what in us felt threatened.

If we take this list of grievances right back to the beginning, we often find similarities between the people in our early life who disappointed and offended against us and the people we later take into our lives by choice. Sometimes, looking back from the vantage point of new insights, we even feel we were unconsciously setting up situations just in order to rework the early scenarios and try to make them come out right and that we did this because we didn't yet know how to let go of them. Once we have all this on paper, we talk about it with a trusted advisor.

It can be difficult to do this list so perhaps you need to have in place a trusted advisor or therapist with whom you can discuss it, but I believe it is a useful tool. It is a way to begin a process that by no means ends here.

This is just one suggestion. I wish you well. Despite the bad parenting nightmares, you can care for yourself and create a nurturing environment to live in. You have a right to do that.
posted by Anitanola at 2:52 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not that interested in giving you advice on how to get rid of your anger because it sounds to me like you would benefit much more by getting comfortable with this very normal human emotion. "I hate anger in me, perhaps consequently, so I can't really feel anger w/o a deep sense of self-loathing" is super unhealthy.

I would actually look at every item you're angry about one by one, without trying to surpress it or avoid it, and say "I am very, very angry about X and I am right to feel that way." The doing it out loud part is cringe, but if you can get over that it's very affirming.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:04 PM on June 25, 2012

I think part of what's going on is that a) I had an abusive parent who raged destructively and never acknowledged their bad behavior so b) The model I have in my head for expressing anger is severely flawed; c) I hate anger in me, perhaps consequently, so I can't really feel anger w/o a deep sense of self-loathing.

Such insight, hon! Your are so on your way. The root of the root. The key is the self-loathing, the hatred and shame at feeling anger. And also maybe feeling angry at yourself and shame for not taking action sooner? For allowing abuse patterns? This could be the current offshoot, a new taproot.

I second namesarehard that mindfulness meditation can really help. Along with therapy, Buddhism helped/helps me deal with my anger. A feeling is a feeling, no judgement. Sit with it, it will pass. What has happened, has happened, it's not happening now. I know this sounds simple, it's really not.

I know how it feels to wake up from a dream revisiting your hell, and somehow feel you've been judged - and not being able to realize the judgement is actually yours. When a parent who is supposed to know and love you best betrays you, and by word or action rejects you, something deep inside files this away as Eternal Secret Truth About You. If you don't confront this head on (repeatedly), your life becomes window dressing and tapdancing. You really do deserve to have more, you really don't have to feel this miserable forever, you really don't have to loathe yourself. Can you try to allow the anger in? Only then you can let it go.
posted by likeso at 3:08 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

First of all, I want to say that I really sympathize with you. I had an abusive parent as well, and I only recently got out of a relationship, and I am using the no-contact rule for a little while, so it feels like I understand your situation to a certain degree.

I've found what works for me (very effectively) is thinking about the anger as being several discrete threads instead of one cohesive emotion, then dealing with each "anger thread" separately. For example:

Anger thread 1) General aggression, feeling of abandonment.
Analysis) Stems from my abusive parent.
Prescriptive Behavior) Therapy

Anger thread 2) Feeling of being mistreated
Analysis) Stems from my ex-gf treating me contemptuously and being dismissive of my intellect and personality traits during the last few weeks of our relationship.
Prescriptive Behavior) In the unlikely event she ever tries to get back together, make sure she apologizes profusely and obtain guarantors that this behavior will never reoccur.

Anger thread 3) Frustration that my ex-GF thinks she is in the right about everything
Analysis) This is actually anger at myself for letting my GF win arguments to pacify her ego.
Prescriptive Behavior) Resolve that going forward in future relationships, I will be more assertive and not compromise my beliefs simply to preserve the relationship.

I think that generally, anger flows from multiple sources (some valid, some not) and it's important to try to understand yourself well enough to be able to identify these different areas if you want to find inner peace - especially in the wake of what sounds like a particularly upsetting experience.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 3:43 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a lot (A LOT) of trouble being OK with being angry, so I suggest you do as I say, and not as I do, here. This is on the big list of things I am working on improving within myself still.

Probably the biggest thing is to try to be angry; I found that it was too hard to make myself be openly angry in a place where I might be heard (I live in an apartment) so I drive out to farm country and scream (or sing along to angry music) in my car. I don't often do this, but when I do it, it's very helpful. I also enjoy destroying things that are OK to be destroyed, such as empty soda cans and such. I've taken an X-Acto knife to a cardboard box or two in my time. Throwing things is also a good way of getting tension/unhappiness out, as is kneading bread.

I also have a journal where I rant and rave as much as I want - I start entries by saying "I know it's not really nice or civilized to feel this way, but I still feel it, so I'm going to write it down." There are times when I end up having to destroy the page because I'm mortified by my own thoughts, but that hasn't happened as often since I started expressing my feelings in this way. Sometimes I say really really awful things, but once they're on the paper, they stop bothering me inside as much, which is really good.

And I definitely do the thing that wolfdreams01 said, about writing out the thing that makes me mad, what makes me mad about it, and how I'll try to avoid the thing that makes me mad in the future. It doesn't always make me feel better (that depends on the thing that made me mad, generally) but it often does.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 4:06 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I ended a long relationship where I was never allowed to express negative emotions. If I was sad, was told to concentrate on being happy, don't talk about it and move on. If we disagreed, I simply wasn't allowed to voice my opinion - he would say his part, then shut me down and walk away so I never got to be heard and respond. So we never had fights to clear the air. As a result when I finally ended it, I had 8 years of burning repressed anger because of the various incredibly shitty ways he treated me. I was SO angry.

Here's what I did, I had a therapist tell me she could feel it in me and it needed to come out. She recommended I get a red pillow and whenever I felt angry, to just punch it and yell repeatedly. Let it out! You feel silly at first but then it feels good.

The other thing I did was the letter writing thing. Except instead of not sending it, well, I sent it. There was good reason for this, he never knew how I felt before because he never let me speak and I thought he should finally know so I sent him 15 pages. Back and front. Of 8 years worth of unspoken hurt (when you did this, it made me feel that etc). I didn't want to be carrying that unsaid shit around, where he always got the final say, so at last he got to own what he did. And it helped both of us. He understood and apologised and I started to let it go. But even if he hadn't understood, the act of telling him where he finally couldn't walk away made me fel AMAZING. They say not to send the letter, I say send it. It my be the last chance you get to say your piece.
posted by Jubey at 5:16 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Man, I hear you. You are in a rough place. I promise it will get better. I asked this question a while ago about waking up with nightmares and serious existential crisis after a breakup. I found all the answers helpful and compassionate.

I don't know about how your anger manifests itself, but I also found that my constant rage was like jet propellant. It made me much more willing to take risks. A lot of the things that used to scare me didn't scare me anymore. I found myself willing to experiment with anything because I was so angry that I didn't care about anything that happened to me. I didn't care if I was injured or embarrassed or belittled, as long as it didn't hurt anyone else. If you've seen the Avengers, there's a point where the Hulk says "What's my secret? I'm always angry." That's pretty much how I felt, for an entire year. I felt powerful.

I made a lot of new friends, changed jobs, moved to a new neighborhood, learned a new instrument, ran a few distance races, hiked, figured out what it meant to have a one night stand, and picked up surfing. I never realized it before, but I had an internal bucket list and I spent most of the year checking it off. Probably the most satisfying outlets were the physical ones--blasting loud music, driving fast on the freeway, getting tossed around by the waves while surfing, and sprinting down a mountain like a crazy goat. The others were satisfying too--watching a movie alone, traveling alone, and learning how to accept my flaws. None of it really helps in the short term, but the cumulative effect was that I became a much more adventurous person and I don't wake up with nightmares anymore. I also have a lot of new hobbies and plans for the future.

So. What's on your list of things you've always wanted to try but were a little afraid to do? You're always angry, so go knock those things off your list.
posted by sockomatic at 11:14 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

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