Tips for dealing with constant anger?
April 5, 2021 4:38 PM   Subscribe

I've had a lot of bad things that have happened to me within the last few years, a lot of them having to do with toxic relationships. I still repeat a lot of the incidents over again in my head and I cannot stop feeling angry.

I've been through a lot. Abusive parents, sexual harassment from family members, toxic work environments, toxic roommates — all within a few short years. Ive turned into basically a hermit. I want to stop thinking about how badly others have wronged and stop feeling worked up about everything. I cannot afford therapy at the moment but want to feel at peace. I'd like to start trusting people again and stop feeling so angry all the time.
posted by sheepishchiffon to Human Relations (18 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Can you see if you can get financial aid for BetterHelp? You can apply on the site.
posted by pyro979 at 5:27 PM on April 5, 2021

Perhaps explore some reading on Buddhism? I've found quite a lot of wisdom about suffering and pain in my studies. Also many comforts and methods for dealing with emotion. Good luck, friend.
posted by Draccy at 5:31 PM on April 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

There's a decent number of workbooks out there that are basically CBT 101, which can be a good starting point. You should be able to find well-reviewed ones centered on toxic relationships, anger, and trauma. Most people do eventually reach a point where they really can't self-help anymore and need the nudge/pushback/feedback of a trained professional, but certainly the basic techniques of examining and working with your unhelpful narratives can help you do a good bit of processing and healing.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:42 PM on April 5, 2021 [6 favorites]

Consider exploring forgiveness, and to be crystal clear - this is not in the least bit about 'forgiving and forgetting,' somehow seeking to justify the wrongs done to us, or letting others off their respective hooks in attempts at reconciliation.
posted by jquinby at 5:58 PM on April 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

I don't know if this will be helpful, but I have a friend who has been wronged quite a bit by family members and professional acquaintances. Sadly, she is so eaten with anger that people who *are* trustworthy tend not to spend much time with her... she's not toxic but her anger is. (I have plenty of flaws, but am a good friend.)

You deserve good friends and fulfilling relationships, and it's good that you're working on this. Be well.
posted by cyndigo at 7:01 PM on April 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Sometimes there are additional emotions being masked by anger. Grief for example.
posted by Coaticass at 7:36 PM on April 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Hello friend. I've been through something similar.

Consider: you actually want to be angry.

To stop being angry, you have to stop wanting to be angry.

Anger is an important emotion. But it can also be an explanation that is a convenient answer for a lot of other issues that we are working on and need resolved. The feeling that "we are wronged" gives justification to an answer for other fears (e.g. 'I could have been here, but X messed it 'up'). So we stay with the feeling of being wronged; we become angry so that we don't have to confront those fears.

If this sounds strange but interesting, read The Courage To Be Disliked (or this thread summarizing it).
posted by many more sunsets at 8:19 PM on April 5, 2021 [14 favorites]

Also recommend the courage to be disliked.

Helpful to remember the world cannot possibly run solely on people mistreating one another, much more complex than such a limited view.
posted by firstdaffodils at 9:53 PM on April 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

I dealt with this for many years and finally got past it about ten years ago. Ironically, the thing that worked for me was accepting that I was angry and that I was simply going to continue to be that way until I wasn't anymore. I stopped arguing with myself about whether or not the anger was justified and decided to just let it "be." Trying to let it go was just too much at that time.

Instead, I focussed on getting enough space between me and the anger to allow myself not to act on, or from, that emotion in my daily life. Therapy definitely helped me with that, but what really made the difference was writing everything out, in the form of morning pages, letters to people who had wronged me and to my past self, bitter one-sided memoirs, fiction in which evil people got what they deserved, etc. etc.. My notebooks from that period would fill a whole bookshelf, and there are also a few nasty pieces of bad art hidden in various boxes somewhere.

It was all worth it. One day I woke up and realized that I really had let it go. Living well really is the best revenge.
posted by rpfields at 9:57 PM on April 5, 2021 [13 favorites]

Since reading your questions a few hours ago I've been trying to remember what book I read that helped me deal with my anger, family trauma, pessimism and fear of others. I came back to post that it was The Courage To Be Disliked, only to see that it had already been mentioned twice. It was truly life-changing, in a very challenging but positive way.
posted by third word on a random page at 10:15 PM on April 5, 2021

I'm not a therapist and not your therapist, and I'm adjusting to a sense that I lost agency in the world over the past five years, grieving a bunch of wrongs I can do nothing about. I see it like this...

The injustice persists and the anger comes from nothing being done to make it right. All these feelings have reasons and can't be unfelt when they arise, which is why draccy suggests Buddhism and JQuinby suggests forgive-not-forgetting.

Some of the therapies you can practise will get you from seeing yourself as an ongoing-victim to seeing yourself as a survivor. They will help you find acceptance that you're still here while the injustice is, too.

No small part of that will involve letting the anger co-exist (live rent-free in your head) -- albeit outside of your current focus and not disturbing you. Some meditative practice is usually needed -- if not mystical meditation, it's literally practising a set of thoughts -- accepting the angry thoughts and not dwelling on them. If it was unjust, then the anger has a righteous quality that will serve well elsewhere, it's probably better to be angry at injustice than numb to it. Letting the angry thoughts exists but pass you by will help build a habit of keeping a boundary between you and these anger-inducing thoughts will help you recognise anger-inducing situations in future where you can deflect and nope-off those who'd wrong you.
posted by k3ninho at 1:50 AM on April 6, 2021 [5 favorites]

I look at it as my anger is coming up to protect me from the bad stuff that happened to me occurring again. I notice I'm angry about X again, thank my anger for looking out for me, and think about what I learned from that experience and the changes I've made to keep that from happening again. Are those changes working? Do I want to do something different? Is someone crossing my boundaries now in ways that remind me of the past situation? It gets easier to stop getting worked up if you try to be neutral about noticing that you're angry and not seeing it as a bad thing.

This is also just a hard time to practice trusting people / having low-stakes interactions / making new friends. It won't be like this forever. Just showing yourself some compassion is a fine thing to do if working on trust and relationships is too much right now.
posted by momus_window at 8:45 AM on April 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

Here is a practice here is to encourage internal resolution by activating the conflict in the mind and then performing and resolving a physical challenge.

This is the practice: you go to a gym and learn to deadlift. Ask an instructor to show you how or watch videos. One you learn how to do it, you warn up to being ready to do a set of deadlifts at a weight where you can do 5 or fewer deadlifts. You setup to deadlift, then you take 10 or 20 seconds before you grab the bar to bring on your conflict emotions. Put your all into it, think "this is the struggle". When you are done think "oh, that was good, I'm getting stronger, I did it, It's over". If you conflict emotions are still there or not still there, don't dwell it, feel how your body feels then relax. Do another set or two of this, go home, take a shower, take a nap. Do it 1 or 2 times a week. That's the practice.

There are two things to avoid doing: 1. Don't lift fueled by anger. Don't go crazy. When confronted with the challenge, you focus and put in all your effort to lift the bar. Your emotions will be present enough if you summon them before the lift. The practices isn't rage lifting, it is lifting while feeling burdensome unresolved emotions. 2. It is counterproductive to lie to your self about what you did. The "it" in "I did it" isn't that you convinced person X that they were in the wrong. Just the juxtaposition of the unresolved feelings and the physical sensation of deadlifting is enough. What you did was to put your maximum effort into growing beyond where you are now.

Deadlifting is specifically part of the practice. Why not some other exercise? Two main reasons:
1. Lifting heavy weights is completely draining to the whole body and mind. There isn't much like it. Deadlifting is a safe and easy way to lift heavy weights.
2. Deadlifting is short enough that you can easily juxtapose the activity and the emotions. The mind and body go straight from feeling the conflict to resolution of the lifting challenge.

The other suggestions here are great. This is not something to do instead of them, this is a physically focused practice to use along side them.
posted by bdc34 at 8:53 AM on April 6, 2021 [6 favorites]

Seconding meditation, possibly to supplement suggestions above. If you've never looked into it, the idea is that the practice leads gradually to the ability to put some space in our heads between what might be triggering us and how we might react -- almost slowing down the trigger-to-reaction timeline. With practice, we become better at using that space to think about what's happening and what we want to do about it, instead of just purely reacting. It doesn't have to be hourlong sessions to benefit us, either; daily 10-minute sessions are better than one-hour sessions done whenever we manage to clear out our schedules.

I've gotten similar benefit from yin yoga, which I'm probably unqualified to describe but essentially is a version where poses are held for two or three minutes each. Less cardio benefit than other kinds of yoga, and less focus on building strength; more about stretching and breathing.

Eckhart Tolle fits somewhere in here too, with his frame of all anger being about the past or the future, and his guidance to ground ourselves in the present by noticing things like birdsong or the breeze and the sensation where our feet meet the ground. The idea is we can't think about two things at the same time, so focusing on that for a bit leaves us unable to dwell on what's angered us. Then, when we're calmer, we can better investigate what's upset us, whether it reflects our futilely holding on to a past we can't change or worrying about a future we usually don't know will actually happen. I'm probably doing a worse job describing that than I did with yin yoga.
posted by troywestfield at 9:01 AM on April 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Sorry, friend. The realization that you really want/need to move on is enormous. Some will never come to the place that you have. I have done mindful meditation work and a big/basic part of it is a loving kindness meditation. In your mind, you wish those who you love, who you really don't know and to those who you have found to be antagonistic toward you. The first two are relatively easy and the last one is hard. It is through practice that you start to imagine that person not as the jerk that you remember them to be but as a person who has received and benefitted from real loving kindness. A game changer for me.

I learned what I already knew: time goes forward and there is no going back. I burned a lot of mental and emotional energy on a problem that didn't affect me in the present. A boiled down tenet of Buddhism, for me, is: life is suffering. Suffering is not bad, it is natural. Humans try to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Avoiding pain leads, downstream, to decisions that unintentionally cause more suffering. Accepting that I've done bad things and have had bad things done to me has allowed me to be present today. It guides my decision making in the moment. What would have caused me massive anxiety years ago are not problems to me, mainly, because I have reframed them.

Introspection, in my opinion, is one point of the timeline of healing. Not the only point. I am reminded of those people who I encountered in addiction recovery group work who are no longer alive. I am lucky to be here. I have the gift of time to adapt and change. I am now happy and healthy. Do I suffer? Yes, but differently now. In acceptance and gratitude.

You *deserve* happiness and health. No one should expect less. I apologize if I sound preachy but I really want you to have the life you want and deserve.

Be well.
posted by zerobyproxy at 11:47 AM on April 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This happened to me. A couple very traumatic experiences that came out of nowhere and turned my life upside down. After I got over feeling terrified all the time, I was angry all the time. These are the things that helped me the most:
- volunteering and trying to help people as much as I could
- art classes and making art
- long walks and listening to music.

It took a couple years, but I am completely past it and I am no longer angry. Good luck.
posted by Pademelon at 6:12 PM on April 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

I went through a period like this a few years ago. It was like working through the stages of grief except getting stuck on #2, Anger. There are some questions about it in my Ask history; you might find some of the answers useful.

What worked for me was a combination of intense exercise (running in particular) and writing, but not about the toxicity, about other things entirely. Some people find trauma writing to be helpful; I didn't have the emotional ability to go there on my own (ie I was afraid of ripping open raw wounds) but writing about other things helped me find the pieces of my life worth living for still. Imagining karmic revenge on the people who hurt me was good too. Some really dark, Inferno-esque stuff.

It's not perfect, but I'm in a much better mindset now. I still have some sadness, not quite acceptance, but no anger.
posted by basalganglia at 7:04 PM on April 6, 2021

I've been thinking about this question, and about my own history with anger, since I wrote my answer yesterday.

One other thing that complicated things for me--and might be affecting you--was the idea that forgiveness was essential to letting go of my anger. When I started to examine this way of thinking, I realized that my family of origin had given me a very strange and difficult concept of what forgiveness meant. For example, when my sibling did something like take my bike without permission, have a violent meltdown when I objected, and eventually spit out a grudging, superficial, self-justifying and insincere apology, I was expected to not only immediately accept it but also to comfort them--and give them my bike. It was an empty ritual at best and an exercise in submission at worst.

I've now come to think of forgiveness as accepting that the past is past and centring myself the way you do in yoga or martial arts. Instead of pursuing the person, out of anger and a desire for revenge, or shrinking from them out of fear, I'm able to go back to my "base" and decide how to respond based on what happens in the here and now. There's no pressure to either "make nice" or punish the other person, or to forget what I know about someone's character. I just don't have to do anything about any of it.

I finally understand all those truisms about forgiveness being for yourself.
posted by rpfields at 8:43 PM on April 6, 2021

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