Are you losing it with your loved ones? Maybe you’re yelling at your kids. . .Or you’re bitter with your spouse, and it’s coming out in sarcastic digs. Sometimes you might just be swearing to high-heaven inside your mind – muttering words under your breath you’d never let anyone hear.
When anger festers, it doesn’t always come out as loud yelling. It can surface as bitter or sarcastic digs, passive-aggressive swipes (ok, you can have it your way. . . again), or seething within.
No matter what form it takes, lashing out is often a form of numbing.
Say WHAT? How is it numbing to get all that unpleasant anger, bitterness, and frustration OUT?
Here’s how it works:
When we yell, resort to sarcastic digs, and/or mutter under our breath, we’re often masking our deeper, more vulnerable feelings.
“You’re such a jerk!” feels a whole lot less vulnerable than “I’m scared you don’t love me anymore.”
“Why can’t you just behave!” feels a whole lot safer than “I’m terrified I’m not up for this parenting challenge.”
Those vulnerable feelings need your attention, but they can be hard to face. And that burst of negative emotion becomes a cheap substitute. It often feels cathartic in the moment, but it actually keeps you from getting the real help you need. And it can leave a brutal shame hangover in its wake. Angry outbursts (or inbursts as the case may be) dump neurochemicals associated with anxiety and fear throughout your body. It may feel good to get what you’re feeling off your chest in the moment, but it doesn’t help in the long run. (See, for example, Dan Siegel’s book Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human.)
If you’re finding yourself lashing out more than usual, try these two things:
1.) First, give yourself an A+ for owning it.
I’m not kidding here. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about emotional health it’s this: people who are emotionally healthy aren’t afraid to own their own failings. In fact, getting clear with YOURSELF that you’re angry or scared may keep you from misbehaving with someone else. Health comes from realizing, “Man, I’m ticked off” and getting curious about your experience. Ask yourself: What’s the vulnerable feeling lurking behind my anger? For example, it may be that you feel disrespected, taken for granted, misunderstood, or rejected. Once you’ve gotten more clarity about your anger you can speak on behalf of what you’re feeling in a more constructive way.
If it’s hard for you to access or understand your emotions, practice the Five Steps of taking a You-Turn. (You can also work through the entire list of questions in the Appendix of Boundaries for Your Soul.)
2.) Second, start caring for yourself. . . radically, if needed.
It sounds absurdly cliche, but self-care is hard for all of us who are deeply invested in helping, pleasing, or caretaking others. These aren’t bad qualities – don’t get me wrong – but if you’re lashing out, it’s a cue that you’re out of balance. You need to get healthy distance, and learn how to replenish your own emotional bank account. The antidote to being angry with everyone around you is to shift your focus inward and start a deep dive into radically caring for your own soul. And by radical self-care, I don’t mean more numbing. I mean getting clear about who you are and what you need, in partnership with the One who designed you.
I’ve seen it time and time again – people who stay stuck in a cycle of holding onto bitterness and anger toward others to keep from facing their more vulnerable feelings. And it’s those feelings – the vulnerable ones – that hold the key to your success. Keeping them down is a road to nowhere, and I don’t want you to make this mistake.
People who are emotionally healthy acknowledge their vulnerable feelings, address them honestly with God, and speak up bravely on behalf of what they need.
If you can’t get what you need from someone else, you can learn how to set boundaries and create space to care well for yourself – which might mean setting limits on the “love” you give away.
God doesn’t want us to be shy with his gifts, but bold and loving and sensible. 2 Timothy 1:7 (The Message)
What’s hard for you about letting go of angry and bitter feelings?
Katie Thomas says
This was exactly what I needed today! Thank you! I look forward to every email and writing you put out!
Alison Cook says
Thank you, Katie! I appreciate your encouragement, and am grateful these posts are helpful to you!
Lindsey King says
Loved this!!! I often just feel guilty and push it aside and plow through when I’m being more irritable than normal with DK and kids. This is such encouraging and practical wisdom. Xoxo
Alison Cook says
Thank you, Lindsey! Guilt is tricky. So often it steps in as the voice of God, when really it’s just our own inner critic. Praying for a little more spaciousness within to connect to yourself and to your own needs!
I am trying to figure out what the vulnerable part is saying. I know something in there is hurting.
Alison Cook says
Hi LZ, I’m so grateful you’re connecting to the vulnerable part of you. Sometimes our “thinking” parts come in and try to figure it out – when the hurting parts of us just need our presence and acknowledgement. The best analogy I can think of is when you try to just be present to a young child in their pain, even though you don’t always completely understand it. Your compassion toward the hurt will bring more safety for it to make itself known to you. God bless you in this work!