Monday 19 August 2019

Ask Allison: 'Why am I so angry all the time?... even a slow-moving queue can provoke it'

Our resident therapist answers your queries about sex and relationships

'The sense of losing control is a horrible feeling'
'The sense of losing control is a horrible feeling'

Allison Keating

Q I recently have found myself unable to control my anger. I am a 47-year-old married woman with two children in their early teens. My family have all commented on my anger. Small things can provoke it, like a slow-moving queue in the coffee shop. But so do bigger issues, like the amount of time my husband spends online in the evenings. Sometimes I even get angry in advance about things that haven't yet happened, but might happen. It's exhausting to live like this, and I've read that it could be one of the signs of midlife crisis. What can I do to stop feeling so out of control?

A What is your anger trying to tell you? I'd be curious as to what conversation you would have if you could sit 'anger' down and have a chat. I'd bet your 'anger' feels frustrated; at yourself and at others, and that feels bad. Have you listened, or listed out why you are specifically angry? Don't worry about how it sounds; if that queue is filling you with rage, so be it. Let's accept how you feel - not only will this help, it will also give some much needed room to air the many feelings you have been pushing down for far too long.

Your anger is like a beach ball or pressure cooker: as each unmet need or irritation isn't voiced, released, heard or understood, every irritation (big and small) builds and, inevitably, after a while of said building, you will inevitably blow.

Meet what I have coined the '3Is' - often a precursor to the 'build and blow' cycle of anger: 1) Irritable; 2) Impatient; 3) Intolerant

When these three get together, anger will surely follow. I have found many clients report that they notice (as do others) that when life becomes too much, and they don't feel heard or connected within their important relationships, they feel more irritable, impatient and intolerant.

That sense of losing control is a horrible feeling. Angry gesticulation; words scramble fiercely out of your mouth as the tone, pitch, voice and heart rate simultaneously become raised. And the trigger to the anger often seems silly or over-the-top to others. When anger implodes, it is because you are too full - full of feelings. Comments, such as 'calm down' or 'you're overreacting' - will do nothing but stoke a well-oiled fire.

With compassion and kindness, you have to ask yourself, 'What lies beneath this constant sense of being angry?' It's easy for others to dismiss the 'angry' one. 'You are so angry' is said as an accusation rather than ever be seen as symptomatic of a bigger issue.

Are we conditioned to dismiss anger as irrational and not worth listening to? Have we become too PC on anger? There are definite conditioned and accepted gender norms on what is considered 'acceptable anger'. Angry boys are told that they are spirited and just being boys, yet girls are not favoured if they display the frayed edges of 'losing their temper'. Owning your voice, owning your words, and owning your feelings is pivotal to your health, wellbeing and healthy relationships.

I'm sorry to hear that you have been feeling like this - it is exhausting, both physically and emotionally. Anger is such a strong physiological reaction. Anger is a secondary emotion, one that we often have a lot of judgment and/or moral feelings about in relation to how we 'should' feel: 'This is ridiculous, I know I shouldn't feel angry about this.' But, you do.

Attending to your emotions and specifically understanding and acknowledging them allows you to process and digest them.

I recently picked up notebooks with a spiky googly-eyed cactus on the front for my kids, and I offered it to them as their own anger diary, where they can angrily write out why they are angry, and draw, scribble or deface it if they so wish. A place to write what they feel is wrong and unfair, the cornerstone of the purpose of anger.

Writing out how and why you feel angry is step one. Once acknowledged, you can reason and question why you felt the way you did, and self-soothe. This leads to the real feelings, as the anger iceberg is always just the tip. Everyone can 'see' the anger, what you need to get to are the real emotions; the primary emotions of hurt, loss, rejection, pain, disappointment, unfairness etc.

Deconstructing anger:

⬤ When did you notice the anger building?

⬤ Was there a series of events or something specific?

⬤ Are you feeling lonely?

⬤ Do you feel close and connected to your husband and children?

⬤ Do you feel valued, seen and understood?

⬤ Do you feel lost and/or confused?

⬤ Do you worry about the future of your relationships and family?

⬤ What are the main emotions coming up?

⬤ Are you feeling sad?

Each stage in life has its unique challenges. The intensity of motherhood can be all-consuming, and it can be unnerving to figure out what your function is in a family as its relationships, dynamics and need upon you changes. Rather than the negative connotation of the midlife crisis, see this stage as a time to reflect and figure out how you feel purposeful and what activities give your life meaning. You may have more time to think about you; where you are and where you want to be.

This can be a time to flourish, grow and feel connected to you, to life and to your relationships again. Use your anger to hear what is frustrating you, to make changes that you are longing for, such as a meaningful connection to yourself and your husband.

If you have a query, email Allison in confidence at allisonk@independent.ie

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