The fact is dating, sex, love, basic human connection is hard. But we’ve got just the little snack to help. Ask An Alfawhore, the sex and love advice column from the tell-it-to-ya-straight, sex-positive, uber feminist older sister you always wanted is back. This week: how to release anger when it’s no longer serving you.
Dear Auntie Alfawhore:
This year has been so hard. We’ve had political turmoil, disease and death, a faltering economy, and the sobering reality of recent election results (why was that race so close?!). The slowed-down pace of our pandemic life has made me both examine my personal relationships more closely, and more keenly observe the constant injustice that pervades society. I’ve realized that I am furious. How do I process this anger in a productive way? How do I keep it from eating away at my insides?
Dear So Angry,
Sometimes anger can be a spectacular tool for initiating change — a friend’s therapist likes to say that it marks a limit — but indulging in anger for anger’s sake is not. If your anger sparks revolution, if it’s helping you change yourself or the world, then it can be useful, but if (as you say) your anger is eating you up, then it’s probably not serving you. So how do you find your way out?
It’s so easy to become attached to the rush of getting mad. It’s a powerful and seductive emotion. It might make you feel justified and validated, powerful and protected. We all want to feel those things, especially right now. You can make a home in anger and not even realize it until you’re raging out and indignant because someone cut you off in traffic or your partner left a bowl in the sink. But even if you feel doomed to a life of rage, I promise you that it’s not the case, and there are very practical ways you can start to navigate towards something better.
I’ve personally struggled with anger management my whole life. Even though it made me deeply unhappy, I used to think “this is just who I am.” I didn’t think I could change because deciding to do something different for the first time is the hardest part. But it’s only that hard in the beginning, then it gets easier and you wonder what took you so long. There’s a chain reaction that happens in our brains called TFAR. Your thoughts lead to your feelings which lead to your actions, these actions have certain results and those results create or reinforce your beliefs.
Here, I found a chart to illustrate:
So let’s say you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed and you see a post about Covid or the elections and — against your better judgment — you read the comments. You’re instantly infuriated, but also validated because you knew comment sections are full of morons and now you’ve proven to yourself yet again that most people are dumb shits. So this result reinforces your belief that everyone sucks and that belief drives your feelings and actions. If you don’t want to be angry, you have to address the beliefs that are driving those feelings of anger.
You can intercept this chain reaction by practicing awareness of the present moment, regularly drawing attention to your feelings in the body and your thoughts in the mind. Observe those thoughts and feelings without judgment or attachment. Practicing this kind of awareness can help you break the chain reaction of your triggers, feelings and actions, and creating this space between your thoughts and actions goes a long way in processing anger (and avoiding heated reactions). So many of us react mindlessly to our thoughts and feelings, which leads us to feel powerless and incapable of change. But your thoughts are just thoughts, and you are not required to latch onto them, or act on them, or integrate them into your belief system … you are allowed to just let them go.
We’ve all got some pretty f**ked up beliefs lurking in our subconscious and it’s not easy for us to change them, but we can if we want to. Every time you choose to practice something new, you weaken old habits and create new connections within yourself. And I promise, the empowerment you will feel from this kind of self-mastery is truly magical.