Help me be less angry all the time
August 30, 2014 2:38 PM   Subscribe

For the past couple of months, I have been angry (or at least irritable) almost all the time. Though I know many factors can cause this, I am fairly certain that my own anger is linked to trauma / PTSD. I have had plenty of bloodwork done and thoroughly discussed my meds (lithium, Zoloft, clonazepam, trazodone) with my doctor and pharmacist, so those factors can be ruled out. I am seeking your help for ways to lessen the anger or get breaks from it.

I often feel angry even when there are no obvious triggers,but there are a few surefire triggers. Men are often quick to incur my wrath (I have had extensive sexual trauma, some recent, at the hands of men), but I also get extremely angry at anyone, including friends, who I think has a lot of unexamined privilege. I see myself struggling to afford food, and then I see these people in my life jetting off to Paris or spending lots of money on backpacks for kindergarteners, and I just lose it. I also have anger that is tied to PTSD triggers, such as people being loud, even if they are small children. The list of what makes me angry is far too long to include here, but you get the gist.

I don’t enjoy being this mad all the time, and I would love to find a way to stop it or at least have a break from it. I’ve thought of taking a vacation (it has been 4 years since I did) and see if that helps, but once again finances are a huge obstacle, I don’t know of anyone who’d help me fund a getaway, and, since I lack a car, I can’t even do something super short.
I am getting better at avoiding things that I know will upset me, but certain things are unavoidable (like when I have to ride the bus, which always makes me angry) and there are also always surprises.

Though I know that I will eventually move the energy through me and feel more like myself again, this time is super trying, especially when a brief errand almost invariably leaves me filled with rage.

Partial list of things I have tried, with mixed results: art, music, screaming/ranting, writing, punching soft things, klonopin, meditation, exercise.

Yes, I have thought of using the indignation I feel re: certain social causes as a springboard to start volunteering, but I want to be steadier in myself first.

I encourage suggestions, especially from those of you who’ve experienced something similar. I would also like to kindly request that you refrain from giving advice that centers around making others happy; while that has its time and place, right now I feel like everybody wants something from me, and it would only make me crankier to think of trying to please/appease others.

Thank you.
posted by mermaidcafe to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You seem to be feeling rage in response to a feeling that life is unfair. Given that you seem to have emotional difficulties severe enough to necessitate your taking all those medications and that there are factors keeping you from making enough money to live comfortably and that you are a survivor of various types of abuse, it would appear that you're absolutely right. Life has certainly shown itself to be quite unfair and perhaps a big disappointment to you.

So how to react to all that? your "go-to" emotion seems to be anger, and that's very understandable. Rage is like picking up a weapon and fighting, or at least preparing to fight. But you're right -- fighting all the time is exhausting.

Are you, by any chance, angry all the time so that you don't have to feel like somebody who's under attack but is unarmed? What would happen if you put down your emotional weapons and allowed yourself to feel more fully the incredible sadness that must be somewhere in you? Does that feel too scary? Do you think you'd drown in depression? Expressing rage can give you the feeling that you're powerful, if just for a second, and just to yourself, but it has a cost. The cost is that you don't REALLY feel powerful and somewhere you know that. So you are at odds with yourself which is also exhausting.

If you have a therapist who you are working with (separate from a psychiatrist who's prescribing your medications), do you ever get into the sadness and disappointment you feel? Do you ever do that by yourself? Anger can work as a defense against other emotions, but you're still holding those other emotions inside of you and they may be eating you up alive at least as much as the anger is.

(Notes: (1) I am not your therapist, (2) I could offer "Things To Do" but I think other responders are going to be better at that than I am)
posted by DMelanogaster at 3:19 PM on August 30, 2014 [20 favorites]

I think it's great that you're so self-aware and are clearly trying to do anything you can to move forward. My advice, such as it is, is that sometimes trauma takes time to be addressed. You've been through a lot and have a lot to be angry about. Please try to accept that it will take time, as you do all of the things noted in your question. You won't be able to rush it.

My heart goes out to you and I hope that you learn that you shouldn't be ashamed of how you feel.
posted by learnsome at 3:30 PM on August 30, 2014

A long time ago, I was a very angry young woman. What helped me stop stewing was I came up with a personal theory that there are basically two general types of responses to stress: anger and depression. They each have their upside and their downside. Depression seems to be conflict-avoiding. Under some circumstances, laying low and not stirring the pot is actually the best way to survive until some better opportunity comes along. Anger seems to be the conflict-seeking. It provides energy to foment change.

Anger is not inherently bad. But it needs to be channeled productively. When I am angry, it is my feelings telling me I have a problem that requires action to resolve it. I have found that even just sitting down and identifying the problem and coming up with a plan for what I will personally do, even if I can't really fix it, does wonders for my ability to not stew and not become enraged.

Righteous anger used properly to pursue justice is a force for good. It is energy for positive change in a life that sorely needs it.

Right now, you are dealing with anger like it is just a superficial emotion, to be manipulated into something more pleasant. Art, music, venting and so on have their good points. But emotions come from somewhere and I have found that dealing with the source of emotions is the best way to really get a handle on things. So I view anger as a signal I need to problem-solve and energy with which to do so.

You might start with a journal. I was sexually abused as a child and I found there were many layers I had to sort through to get a handle on why some things triggered my anger and what could realistically be done about them.

Keeping a dream journal on my nightstand and recording my dreams when I first woke and learning to interpret them was a very valuable tool for sorting out what was going on in my subconscious. I still often write down my dreams and/or discuss them with my sons. It helps me know what I really think about my life currently and it does a lot to help me move forward constructively.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 3:32 PM on August 30, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: This article popped up on my feed this morning, and it might be helpful itself, plus it has a lot of links to other pieces about anger that might be helpful: It Feels Like Anger, but Is It Really Anxiety?

Also, it can help to be aware that anger is an important part of the process of healing from trauma; it's often called "the backbone of healing." Bad, horrible, unfair things happened to someone, they can't express or possibly even feel anger at the time because it's too dangerous, so whenever life becomes safer and more stable, the anger about the injustice and violation can come out. I tend to think of that process as one's internal boundaries resetting themselves into a healthier alignment, but during that process they might swing from overly permissive to overly restrictive. That swinging between "I shouldn't have so many needs!" and "Other people should not have so many entitlements!" is fairly normal, if disorienting and annoying.
posted by jaguar at 3:43 PM on August 30, 2014 [24 favorites]

Anger Management for Dummies. Awful title, but a very helpful book. It helped me immensely when I was in a situation somewhat similar to yours.
posted by Fuego at 3:47 PM on August 30, 2014

I hope someone gives you helpful words. I am not qualified, but I found meditation helped me feel much less anger and sadness, though you have tried that you say. In my case, I did not have financial worries, but I still experienced negative emotion a lot. It noticeably helped me in a few weeks, and quite a bit after that. If you PM me, I would send you the 1,000-word or so directions that my friend sent me explaining a meditation practice.
posted by Perifferol at 3:47 PM on August 30, 2014

For what it's worth, I become blindingly, seethingly angry on the bus as well and I have no PTSD to explain it. Buses are horrid abominations and should be blasted from the earth, and replaced by
those transporters from Star Trek. ;) All this to say, sometimes things are terrible! It's okay to be angry, and not zen and serene, when things are terrible. We lose sight of that a lot, especially women.

When I truly need to short circuit it and not be a babbling, cursing mess that children run away from in terror, one thing that helps is simply repeating, over and over, "it doesn't matter at all; it doesn't matter." Because it doesn't, a lot of the time. You'll get where you're going, that kid will probably barf on that backpack, those people have to come back from Paris sometime, your financial situation is what it is but someday it won't be that, and anyway, you are whole and alive within yourself regardless.

I guess written out like that it sounds a little nihilistic, but hey, it's really hard to be pissed off and nihilistic at the same time.
posted by like_a_friend at 3:56 PM on August 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: First, I'm sorry that you've had to deal with so much abuse and wrongdoing in your life: no one should have to experience any of it, and it's especially unfair that you have had to deal with a giant heaping at that. I want to validate your feelings versus try to minimize the anger, which is justified and understandable. (I'm going to use the pronouns "we" and "us" rather than just "you" and I hope it's OK. I don't meant to say I understand your experiences or feelings but rather express solidarity as a fellow survivor.) In fact, I think anger can be important as a temporary, if ideally not permanent, emotional state because it means we recognize what happened was bad and not our fault; it allows ourselves the necessary distance to get away and get well. However, as you said yourself, life can be extra difficult when angry all the time and short-term coping strategies for long-term happiness are useful. Here are three things to consider:

1) When you start feeling the anger (and how good of you to recognize it, yea!), perhaps a mantra like the one like_a_friend said would help. I found repeating the word "love" over and over when I was focused on negative thoughts about myself or others to be quite helpful in at least stopping the thoughts temporarily (and eventually I no longer needed to long-term.) It's not about feeling love for others but love for yourself as you're trying to avoid allowing the anger to take over your current state of being.

2) After having survived multiple forms and incidents of abuse, it can feel like a super unfair fate or destiny. It's like you know it's not your fault but the question is why it keeps happening again and again? I have found seeing it more of a societal ill that affects women due to misogyny in our society helps a lot. We are perhaps the lightening bolt (the ones who experience the abuse) for the wrongdoing but it is not because of anything being wrong with us as individuals so it can just pass through us and on to the ground. It still hurts and the doers are wrong (and not to be excused!) but it's almost as if they are following a script, too. I don't know if this distancing approach would help you feel better so please completely disregard it if that's the case; it's hard to explain so quickly here but please do let me know if you'd like to hear a more detailed explanation.)

3) The anger towards men in general is understandable because, if I understand correctly, it is men who have hurt you most in the past. However, the good news is that most men are allies to support women (or at least neutral) but it can be hard to see that when experiences have been otherwise. It can help to remember this and think of the positivity of good examples, even in unlikely places because I think that's where the most real-life positivity is.

A few more things: I totally recommend books by bell hooks like her book on love called communion: it's not about loving others as much as loving yourself in a world that's full of violence on a massive global and minuscule interpersonal level. I also want to laud you for all the work you've done so far -- again, not your fault to have to deal with but it sounds like you're dealing with it well -- and I wish you luck with your journey. And on a different-but-related note, I've always enjoyed your MetaFilter posts and look forward to reading more!
posted by smorgasbord at 4:20 PM on August 30, 2014 [8 favorites]

Oh, and here's a British indie pop rock song: I wish you could go on a real vacation but that song always makes me happy and perhaps will provide a short, two-minute "holiday from your life." :-)
posted by smorgasbord at 4:28 PM on August 30, 2014

Response by poster: You all are wonderful and full of rich advice.

I am working with a therapist, a very good therapist. Despite the fact that I've been in the throes of all this recent trauma, she thinks it's very important for me to work through childhood trauma that she and I haven't discussed very much yet. I am a little scared, but I trust her, and I trust that something better could be on the other side.

Though things are still quite hard,I am finally more optimistic again, which I haven't been in many months, and that is something.

Now to get through the rage state of things...
posted by mermaidcafe at 4:44 PM on August 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I see you've tried exercise - that is one of my long-term methods, exercise outdoors. But you also asked how to get a break and I have a few ideas on the range of an afternoon:

Seeing a comedy film in a theatre, or play -- something totally immersive.

Giving myself a date: I go somewhere that I love for a few hours (in my case, art gallery, ferry ride, lake, fav Asian mall, large downtown library) with assorted indulgences (latte, bubble tea, etc. decaf.)

Pjs, popcorn, blanket, favorite movie at home.

Coffee date with the right friends.

Being around animals; I will borrow dogs (in the past I volunteered.)

Making bad art - polymer clay, painting big strokes like on a roll of newsprint or a wall.

Lying on the grass with a book.

All these things basically slow me down and ground me and also make ME the centre of a few hours.

I also like Harriet Lerner's book The Dance of Anger.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:19 PM on August 30, 2014

Best answer: Probably everybody finds their unique way to the other side of anger, but time must be a common factor. My personal coping methods, when I was going through an extended bout of pissed-offness included therapy, yoga, ridding myself of toxic people, being as kind to myself as I'd be to an innocent love of mine, and, oh, eating healthy food. Developing habits of caring for myself. Exposing myself to positive people and ideas and staying clear of the nasties. All of this coincided with my going sober, which I love (I totally dig sobriety), but do what's right for you. Be silly. Or, super indulge in the rage if it helps to burn it off-- I did this and those were dark days but they only got better.

I'm texting all this on a wonky phone so excuse the lack of editing, etc. Warm regards! And, I guess: You just keep busy and have mindfulness toward positive change, and let time have its healing effect on you.
posted by little_dog_laughing at 5:43 PM on August 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I spent much of my life feeling angry in the way you describe. In my mid-20s I got into taking Propanolol for anxiety, 3 doses of 20mg each, per day. Mind you, I have a pretty fast resting heart rate even under the best of conditions.

Anyway, I now mostly only get mad at things that are maddening.

When I get that creeping feeling of rage against this person and that person for all these really good reasons, grrrrrrrrrr, rrrrrrr, fume fume fume, wanna have it out with them right away, sssssssss, and I hate this shoe grarrrarrrarr, I usually realize I've forgotten to take my meds.

I don't know what your doctors would say about this, or maybe you've tried it already. I mention it because it's the only thing that gets the grar-monster off my back and, no meds=perpetually simmering rageful state of mind, for me.
posted by tel3path at 5:58 PM on August 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm very sorry that happened to you. It is completely unfair. I haven't experienced anger of the same origin, but a stressful situation did make me angry all the time for a few months on end. In a recent comment, I linked to a few somewhat-similar questions. (You can ctrl-F my name if you want to see my answers to those.) For me what helped was a more attentive "befriending" of myself. When that feeling arises, could you ask that side of yourself what it wants to do and do it? (Hide under the blankets? Watch a silly movie? Watch a super-violent movie?) I can't say that indulging the feelings made them go away, but it mollified them, so they were more willing to go along with the program when I had to work. I also found that "nature" (parks, trees, and even little plants I grew from seeds) helped relax and reset the part of me that was perpetually tense, on guard, and angry. Again, I'm sorry you're having to deal with this.
posted by slidell at 6:40 PM on August 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I know it's hard to do but it might be a good time to draw back from paying attention to the world and all its problems. Working on bad hard personal stuff is one of those "make sure your own oxygen mask is correctly in place before trying to help others" situations. Conscious meditation works, it really works - also hard to keep up with as I too well know, but I went through a period where focusing my waiting for the bus time on cultivating inner silence and practicing progressive physical relaxation really helped. Also drowning out the bus with headphones and keeping my eyes closed absolutely as much as possible. Breath breath breath. It's dumb as dirt and hardly a magic bullet but it is harder to sustain a pitch of anger while you are consciously attending to and counting your breath (I don't want to oversell this stuff because it is clear your anger is coming from worse stuff than mine but it does work for me).

At the end of the day a lot of the time I find that when I am being unforgiving and harsh towards other people somewhere back there I am judging, failing to give the benefit of doubt to, refusing to be kindhearted towards, and disbelieving the worthiness of love towards myself.
posted by nanojath at 7:53 PM on August 30, 2014

Try a couple of sessions of EMDR? It worked for me.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:27 PM on August 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Probably the best two strategies you can embrace are mindfulness techniques, and appropriate self-soothing. (FWIW I was taking Klonopin to combat some Wellbutrin side effects. While I found it helped with stress, it did not help with anger except at doses high enough to make me pretty spacey. YMMV.)

For mindfulness: there are a zillion resources online about how to practice this, but essentially it boils down to being here and now, and breathing. It can help to have a physical talisman of sorts that you can touch, and focus on how it feels--maybe a small smooth stone or something you can always keep in your pocket. When the rage--or indeed triggers related to your PTSD--comes on, reach into your pocket. Close your eyes if needed. Feel the stone (or whatever you'd like; you can simply concentrate on physical sensations: how your socks feel on your feet, the sun shining on your face, the sound of rain outside the windows). Talk to yourself, internally, about how the stone feels. Allow--but do not push--other thoughts to fade away. And breathe, steadily. It is astonishing how much simply focusing on breathing in a regulated manner helps in terms of calming. You may or may not find it useful to adapt something like the Litany Against Fear from the Dune novels as a mantra to repeat to yourself; essentially "This is transient. It will pass. When it is gone, I will be here." In the end, such mantras boil down to recognizing there are things you simply cannot change, so allow them to pass over and by you. If it's more appropriate for your personal viewpoint, you may wish to consider the Serenity Prayer as another way of saying the same things. (Though I would probably adapt it to say "I have" instead of "God grant me," but your personal paradigm may differ.)

Entering into a regular fitness regimen, appropriate to whatever your level of physical health is, will also work. Especially Tai Chi or yoga--exercises that focus on here and now, and on the breath. Tai Chi you can very much do on your own, but I've found it's much more enjoyable in a group. You're still doing your own work, but doing the same thing with other people without judgement feels good. Yoga you should not do until you are relatively competent under the instruction of a certified instructor because of the very real potential for injury.

There are also specific breathing techniques you can employ:

- the four-fold breath: breathe in through a count of four, hold for a count of four, out for a count of four, hold for a count of four, repeat. You will find your breath naturally slowing as you do this. With only a tiny bit of practice (unless you are living with respiration issues) you can very easily get down to 4-6 slow breaths per minute, which will calm you down whether you like it or not.

- ocean breathing: in through the nose, slightly dropping your tongue in your mouth, and breathing through the back of your throat, if that makes sense. You will hear sounds like the ocean in your ears, which is very calming.

Both of these techniques are easy to do, are not noticeable by people around you unless you're doing it in the middle of a conversation, and with only a modicum of practice will work more and more rapidly to help you ground and centre yourself, and look at what you are feeling with a more objective eye to figure out whether/how much your anger is appropriate for the situation. Breathing techniques + music are also, for me at least, extremely effective in dealing with the crowdstrophobia (& claustrophobia) I experience on public transit, because they allow me to block it out. Sunglasses are also a really effective way to feel like you are wearing armour.

Those are just some scattershot ideas. Talk to your therapist (and it's so wonderful that you have a strong therapeutic relationship!) about specific techniques that will work for you.

As for self-soothing, that is a much more personal thing. Something that I find really helps is my mp3 player. Unless I'm out with other people, I pretty much always have it with me. Anytime I find myself stressed or getting inappropriately emotional, I can just plug my ears in and not only allow music that I love to soothe me, but also to be something I can focus on with mindfulness techniques. You probably have a good idea of things that a) calm you down, and b) are healthy adaptive behaviours, but again speak to your therapist about these.

For what it's worth, in my also-living-with-mental-illnesses-but-not-a-professional-by-any-means opinion, you are doing everything right: you've identified a problem, you've identified how it is maladaptive for you, and you are actively searching for productive, positive solutions. Kudos :)

On preview I would very much echo nanojath in perhaps unplugging a bit from the world and its attendant miseries. I'm not saying to close your eyes and plug your ears, but maybe for a while it would be good to stay away from news/etc that reinforces for you how truly dispassionate and unfair the universe is. As you build more resilience (and from the way you phrased your question, I have zero doubt that you will be successful at building it), allow that sort of news to slowly drip back into your life at levels which are appropriate for you to deal with. We're taught to care, and that matters, but like nanojath said: you put your own oxygen mask on first. When you are breathing, then you can start turning to the people around you.

Something that may also help you with these feelings of anger and unfairness, if you have the time and energy--and there is zero judgement if you do not--is helping people who are in an even worse off situation than you. Help make soup at a homeless shelter, knit blankets for a battered women's shelter--whatever works for you to address, in a realistic way for where you are in your recovery, some unfairness in the world.

I'd wish you good luck but I truly don't think you need it.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:51 PM on August 30, 2014 [11 favorites]

I've had lifelong issues with anger. I don't know that it's something I will ever entirely overcome, but every year of my life, I have gotten better at managing it. The most helpful thing for me has been embracing the Stoic principle that I cannot eliminate stresses, irritations, and provocations from my life, but I can endeavor to control my reactions to them.

In particular, Sharon Lebell's translation of Epictetus' The Art of Living flat out changed my life. It's a wonderfully plainspoken and relatable translation (if a bit loose and embellished here and there) that feels strangely fresh and timely. It's sort of The Serenity Prayer writ larger. It's liberating in that it insists that you stop making yourself miserable not because of any spiritual or moral necessity, but for the simpler, harder-to-argue reason that it doesn't make any sense to do so.

I've actually gotten to the point of giving copies of this out to friends in hard times and many of them have become similarly moved by its simple wisdom.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:36 AM on August 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

Active self compassion was a big one for me when I was confronting my anger; It sounds a bit "woo" and was rather frightening as an image but I visualized my anger as belonging to the burning child (my younger self) that lived inside my body and visualized myself encountering the frighting, frightened repulsive version of me and acting calmly kindly and compassionately to it in acknowledge its loneliness, sadness, jealousy bitterness and rage. Befriending it made it calmer and less frightening and easier to deal with and dealing with it mindfully made it easier to manage.
posted by Middlemarch at 1:14 PM on August 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

I used to be a very angry I have a new perspective on things and wierdly there is no more anger. Meditation is a great resource however I was looking for something more in life that would help explain why life and people can be so screwed up and why things are so unfair. I was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism and things have changed dramatically. You might want to read up on this book, real life experiences.
posted by jellyjam at 6:08 PM on August 31, 2014

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