"Look at what you bring to the world, not what you lack." - Miranda Kate

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Changing your Negative Emotions: How to Deal with Anger and Guilt

Sunset behind the silhouette of trees. Do you find yourself feeling angry - and then feeling guilty about feeling angry?

But then feeling angry again, because you shouldn’t be feeling guilty?

It took me a long time to understand the cycle of negative emotions my internal dialogue fed - and this was one of them.

My two main negative emotions were anger and guilt, and I would flick between the extremes of both from one moment to the next. It is only once I became conscious of them and took time to understand them that I began to work out how to break them.

“We repeat what we don’t repair” - Christine Langley-Obaugh

Anger in itself is a necessary emotion, enabling us to not be totally submissive, and a critical tool in the self-esteem box, BUT it has to be used in the background, or as a context to fuel actions that help you step forward and stick up for yourself in an assertive and constructive way.

My anger was none of those things - it was explosive and destructive.

I had spent many years swallowing down my feelings, being told they weren’t allowed as a child, and continuing to suppress them to please others into my early adulthood. But there came a point when I couldn’t keep them under wraps anymore and one day I sort of ‘knocked the lid off’ the container I held them in inside.

I started expressing my feelings but they were all wrapped up in anger. I couldn’t express how I felt in a calm, collected way; I would end up either being rude, or screaming and shouting them out instead, taking them out on the person who had triggered them. And the trigger might have only been one small thing, but every time all of them would come crashing in together - eager to be heard and let out.

"The conflicts we have with the outside world are often conflicts within ourselves." - Bryant McGill

It caused a lot of problems in my life, with both new and existing friendships and relationships. And every time I let out my anger I would feel bad about it afterwards; I would feel guilty at expressing myself in such a way, and verbally hurting whoever was on the receiving end.

I soon realised I had to learn a different way of communicating. I had to change my defensiveness to assertiveness. 

“The basic difference between being assertive and being aggressive is how our words and behaviour affect the rights and well being of others.” -  Sharon Anthony Bower.

To do that I had to find out what was really causing it. I had to get in touch with my feelings, both about past issues and present, and acknowledge them. For me, it was all about letting myself ‘feel’ my feelings – something I had never been allowed to do in my childhood, and thus had never learnt.

This meant that I would get angry when I was choosing to do something that someone else wanted me to do, rather than express what I really wanted to do. I felt I was giving away my power of choice, by letting someone else choose what to do, and this would make me angry. I didn't know how to express what I wanted to do in a clear, coherent way. I didn't know how to stick up for myself.

For instance, if I was invited to a family event I would agree to go even though I didn't want to go. I felt it was an obligation or duty, and that I HAD to go. And this would make feel resentful about going, which in turn would make me angry. I would become angry at the people I thought were ‘making me’ go, although really I was angry at myself for not being able to voice that I didn’t want to go. And I wasn’t able to do that because I didn't believe I was allowed to - as I didn't think my feelings were allowed, even though it was me who wasn’t allowing them!

My partner would then respond with, ‘if you don’t want to go, you don’t have to’, giving me a choice. This would quell my anger, but then guilt would take over. I would feel guilty about taking my anger out on him, and this would then be my motivation for going along, to try and make up for my outburst and make him happy.

I would express my anger about having to go, and then feel guilty about expressing it. So I would go along to the event, but still feel angry that I went.

"Guilt is anger directed at ourselves - at what we did or did not do.” - Peter McWilliams 

This conflict of emotion would confuse my partner and make him unsure of me. It would make it difficult for him to trust me, because I didn’t trust myself or my own feelings. I had to work out what I did want and what I didn’t want and then stand by it.

I had to realise I had choices, and feel okay doing the things I wanted to do, even if they weren’t what my partner wanted to do. I would tell myself that it was okay to not want to do things that someone I loved or cared about wanted to do, that it was okay to do my own thing.

Once I started to listen to myself and define what I wanted and trust it, I could then communicate it more effectively to others. It wasn’t always easy, but once I recognised the cycle of emotions, from anger, to guilt to more anger, I could break it by stopping and asking myself what I wanted - and then listening and doing. 

“Trust yourself, you know more than you think you do.”-  Benjamin Spock.