It’s a few days before Christmas, we’re in the midst of Hanukkah and our city is struggling. Holidays, notoriously, can bring up conflict, as w know, but there’s an incredible amount of anger and it’s raw. It’s also ‘okay’ anger–it’s one of the few things now that is ‘okay’ because it’s a feeling and feelings can’t be bad or wrong.
Sure, we often call it a negative feeling, but that’s because most of us don’t like it, wouldn’t want to live in a constant state of it, and it’s been known to give birth to some of the most negative actions over the course of our history on this planet.
Anger Management or Mis-management?
Many people come to therapy for anger management.
I hate that phrase. I’m generally against anything we do to manage our feelings because, well, it’s pretty close to impossible.
We manage people we work with, we manage our children, we manage to clean our apartment. We don’t get to manage our happiness, our sadness, our fear, or our joy.
The best we can do is make sure that the feeling doesn’t manage us, either.
People don’t make great decisions when angry (or when depressed or anxious). If the feeling is so incredible, so strong, it’s not a time to make a decision.
It’s a time to learn, it’s a time to feel the feeling, it’s a time to sit, or walk, or talk with others—not to get rid of the feeling or to nurse the feeling, but to have the feeling in the healthiest way you can.
Let the feeling come up without judging it. Try not to throw more logs on the fire by thinking about the narrative behind it. You don’t need to justify the feeling to yourself or anyone else. You feel angry—feel angry. As that fire dies down is there fear, shame, or sadness underneath? These are more vulnerable feelings and they need their day in the sun too. Let yourself feel those feelings too.
When I get angry, very angry, I can’t hear anything else. I can’t hear how I may be misreading a situation, I can’t hear how I’ve upset someone I love. My anger sometimes can affect even my memory—don’t ask me a recall question when I’m in the midst of a strong feeling. I probably couldn’t tell you my address.
Next, and only next, let these feelings inform your actions. If you’re not going to get carried away, let yourself look at the narrative, but always be attentive to the emotions that come up. Let them point you in the right direction without throwing you in that direction. Don’t let them manage you and don’t try to manage them. Work together.
Until we can do this, we’re not going to make real change. In ourselves or in society.
Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert. He is a Brooklyn therapist (as well as also seeing clients online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working with men and their families for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be.