A Breakthrough in the Healthy Expression of Anger

Up until recently, are used to suppress/repress/internalise my anger. In fact, I now believe this is one of the main reasons why I came down with CFS. But now, after a lot of anger expression workshops, therapy, and non-violent communication practice, things are starting to change for me.

Do You Express Your Anger Constructively?
Do You Express Your Anger Constructively?

On the weekend, I attended yet another anger expression workshop called “Feel and Heal Anger”. The idea behind the workshop was that when were out of touch with our anger, we often internalise it self-destructively or project it outwards onto other people as violence or other forms of abuse, both of which are unhealthy.

The aim of the workshop was to get in touch with our anger and express it in ways that didn’t hurt anybody else, or ourselves. There were boundary setting exercises, group sharing, and dynamic burn meditations to help us process the anger and the grief that lies underneath it.

At this particular workshop, I felt more sadness and grief that anger and rage. But I figure if I’m feeling emotions, then the process must be working. I had a fairly sleepless night after the workshop as my body was still processing feelings that came up for me.

At the same time, I’ve recently been participating in a Self-Expression and Leadership Program (SELP) with Landmark Education. I did the Landmark Forum and the Landmark Advanced Course about 10 years ago, shortly before I came down with CFS.

Before doing the Landmark Forum, I was overwhelmed with anxiety much of the time. I was very paranoid about what other people thought of me, didn’t communicate my feelings well, and experienced a lot of frustration in my life; but rarely felt angry.

After the Landmark Forum, I had a fully fledged nervous breakdown in the form of CFS.

I wouldn’t entirely blame Landmark for what happened to me; after all, part of their teaching is to take full responsibility for everything in your life. My perfectionistic streak led me to push myself too hard in everything that I was doing at the time, and the Landmark distinction of “being unreasonable” fed straight into my insecurities about hearing and saying “no”, causing me to take on far more than what was healthy for me at the time. Even now, I imagine a Landmark Forum leader somewhere saying: “You are running rackets again, Graham!”

At Landmark they talk about letting go of “looking good”. But their processes didn’t deal with my deep-seated anxiety behind why other people’s approval was so important to me in the first place. Some of the things that came up for me when I did The Forum tapped into some deep seated trauma that I was ill prepared to deal with at the time. As a result, I’ve been feeling pretty pissed off at Landmark.

I knew at the time that I didn’t do the SELP because I was afraid that if I stood up and declared myself a leader, nobody would follow. I don’t like being driven by fear and since I believe that Landmark has something valuable to offer in terms of creating possibilities for my future, I went back to do the SELP and complete their Curriculum for Living to give myself a sense of closure and move on.

The way that the SELP works is by transforming the way the community that we live in sees us by creating a community project that contributes to other people’s lives, and enrolling other people from the community to help lead and work on the project. So the whole theme of community is a big part of it.

I was involved in a group call with the other members of my SELP small group last night, and one of the guys in my small group really triggers me. I’ve noticed in the past there are times when he appears to me to be dominating the conversation, which reminds me of my mother. Also, he rarely asks anything about how I’m going, which reminds me of my father. Even his project seems to be mostly about him getting what he wants, which reminds me of my own self-centredness.

At one point during the call, our group leader suggested that we all get together during the week outside of the course, to help give us more of a sense of community; something that I had felt was a little lacking in our small group. The guy who triggers me responded saying that he wasn’t available, and then joked “I hate you all”.

I felt a really uncomfortable sensation, which I now recognise as anger, rising inside me. I didn’t feel like holding back this time, so I said to him: “I don’t like it when you say that. I feel really angry with you.”

As I said this, my heart was really racing. I felt both enraged at the insult, and anxious at the potential for conflict between us. He replied “I’m sorry, I was just trying to use some humour”; but it didn’t sound sincere to me. I hadn’t found it funny, I found it distracting and alienating.

I replied “Yeah well, there’s comedy, and then there’s comedy. Our group leader is attempting to build a sense of community between us, and when you say things like ‘I hate all of you’, that just undermines the whole thing for me. Have you considered the impact that saying that has on other people?”

“Well I’m sorry!”, He said defensively, “What do you want me to say?”

Thinking about it now, his apology reminded me of the times that my mother says “sorry” in a way that still leaves me feeling criticised and disconnected, as if there is something wrong with me for the fact that what she has just said has hurt or alienated me.

I felt flustered at this point, but thought I had said what was most important to me: that I was angry, and didn’t like the way that he was behaving. I let our group leader take back control of the conversation at this point, and the rest of the meeting was relatively productive.

With the benefit of hindsight, next time around I’d like to reply to his question with the request: “What I would like, is for you to say things that are positive and constructive; and if you can’t do that and you don’t want to participate, then just shut the fuck up.”

This was a real breakthrough for me, because I got to actually feel my anger in the moment when someone around me was behaving in a way that I didn’t like, and to stand up for what was important to me. In the past, I used to feel angry hours, days, weeks, months or even years later; by which time the opportunity to stand up for myself and be assertive in the moment had well and truly past.

I woke up this morning feeling a little less anxious, knowing that I have my anger available to help me stand up for myself in future conflict situations.

All of the clients with CFS who I’m currently coaching seem to have the same deal going on: they haven’t felt safe in the past expressing anger or using it to stand up for themselves and be assertive. Being assertive creates boundaries that stops other people’s stress from enter our lives, and helps us get what we want, relieving our internal frustration… and ultimately, I believe, our symptoms. That’s the main thing I’m teaching them, and now they’re starting to have breakthroughs in their lives too. If you’re interested in learning how to do this, please contact me. I have one slot available for a paying client, and am open to negotiating a rate that works for you.

Author: Graham

I'm a guy in his late 40's, recovering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome since May 2009. I now offer coaching and support to other people with CFS/ME.