Anger: The Anxiety Symptom Rarely Discussed

woman steam from ears

Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy. ~ Aristotle

It all started as anger. After years of childhood bullying abuse, I was a very angry 13-year-old. That anger never went away. But where did it come from? 

Of course, I’m not special. This issue has been studied quite a bit, but I had to discover that. It seems that years of abuse led me to a high level of anxiety and self-doubt. These can and do present themselves as anger. I was angry at those that abused me. I was angry about my lot in life and why it happened to me. Most of all, I was anxious about it happening all the time and felt threatened all the time. For me, this manifested as anger.

I feel lucky that the anger did not come out as physical violence, but definitely mental abuse of others. I was mean, easily threatened by things others don’t get threatened about and found yelling and blame to be a big release of these pent-up emotions. Of course, I mainly took these feelings of anger out on the ones I loved, the ones I trusted the most. 

I recall in my teens being quite cruel to my parents. I would say extremely mean things to them, accuse them of being bad parents and blame, blame, blame. I didn’t want to take responsibility for my anger. Then, once I had a marriage and children, I would get easily frustrated and angry and my family would question why I was angry. I knew deep down it was the abuse and anxiety I felt from my abuse years but didn’t want to face those years again. I wanted to bury these times, as I discussed in my memoir, A Ladder In The Dark.

Eventually, I bought my first book about anger to try to understand my angry outbursts. But it didn’t correlate my anger to my abuse. As my anxiety turned to depression, I became much more active about looking for a solution. I found books and studies that confirmed what I thought, that the abuse that happened so long ago could lead to anxiety and self-doubt, which can manifest as anger. I was still angry about what happened to me. So, I learned through much trial and error, better ways to handle the anger that I had:

  1. Anger Is Controlled by YOU – The first big lesson I had to deal with is that the only person that could make me angry was ME. Anger is a choice I was making. I could choose to let things make me angry or not. No one person or event can make me angry. Only I could make that choice. Once I realized I was the true cause of being angry, then I could learn how to stop or at least control it.
  2. Learn to Stop Speaking and Reacting without Thought – Yes, the is the old count to ten rule. Anger is simply the discharge of immediate uncomfortably and stress. It usually comes out quickly and as blame. In a few minutes, you then find the anger is embarrassing and your anxiety and self-doubt come into play. If you learn to wait before reacting, then you give yourself a chance to cool down and express why you feel this way to others in the correct fashion.
  3. Leave the Situation – Prior to allowing the anger to make you react, walk away from the situation. The longer you stay and the longer you are in the mix of the things that made you angry, the more likely you are to react. Leave, and take a walk. Get away and wait until you feel the anger subside.
  4. Exercise – That’s right, work off the anger. It is a proven way to let it go and a perfect time to get some exercise that you need. The endorphins released during exercise help to bring positive thoughts to the brain. Walk, run, lift, anything. Just exercise and you’ll notice that the thing you were angry about will start to take a backseat to what you are doing.
  5.  Think of Issues that Made You Angry as Needing Solutions – Learn to stop, and think through the solutions that the original topic that made you angry could be solved. For me, I watched the news or read the paper and got so angry. Of course, I had little to no control of these situations I was reading about. So I cut the cord, literally. I stopped watching things that would only feed my anger. I also stopped being around people that brought me down. Then, I would write down solutions to solving the issue I was angry about. Eventually, with that writing, in my mind, I solved my anger.
  6. Read Positive Affirmations – Stop when the anger comes in and look up and read positive affirmations. You can stop your mind from anger and reverse it. Reading the positive aspects of life help that rewiring. You will fight this battle when angry. It doesn’t seem natural to want to read about positive things. But you can stop the anger in its tracks by allowing this to happen.
  7. Allow Forgiveness – When I talk about forgiveness, I mean you. Yes, forgive the others that made you angry, but forgive yourself. Don’t let the anger drag you down further where you don’t want to go. It is important to ask forgiveness from others and mostly from yourself. You know you’re not a bad person, but your mind will tell you different.

One word of caution to all the items above. None of it is easy and if you are physically violent with your anger, I suggest getting mental health support quickly. If you are physically hurting others, that can be dangerous. If you are physically hurting yourself through cutting or other forms, go get professional help. I did and there’s nothing embarrassing about it. The anger is a natural extension of the anxiety and damaged self-esteem from the abuse I took. I had to learn that lesson and it was a hard one to accept. The anger was in me and not the fault of others. I don’t win every day. After all, this is an anger habit I have been doing for 30+ years. But I work on it daily. Some days better than others. I also explain when I don’t feel anger, about what is going on in me to my loved ones. What else can I do? I only hope that they understand. Most of the time I am a good person and not angry. One day, maybe I will find the better ways as above to express my anger. But I am always a work in progress.

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About Alan Eisenberg

Alan Eisenberg is a Certified Life Coach, Bullying Recovery activist and author of "A Ladder In The Dark: My journey from bullying to self-acceptance" and "Crossing the Line". He has been writing and speaking to various audiences about the issue of C-PTSD and Bullying Recovery. Mr. Eisenberg has been featured on several print, radio shows and podcasts on this issue, including NPR and in the Boston Globe
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