7 Steps to Letting Go of Anger:
Every Woman’s Practical Guide To Joy, Peace & Happiness
In my 25 years of specializing in counseling for women at The Center • A Place of HOPE, time and time again I have witnessed a miraculous transformation when a woman takes the necessary steps to let go of her anger, which often lies at the core of depression, addiction, eating disorders and more.
Often women are unaware of the presence or source of anger raging inside them, yet frequently it is precisely what lies at the core of the most predominant problems in their lives. From past childhood traumas to everyday stress at the office and at home, anger can easily seep into a woman’s life. Though it can feel empowering at times, in the end anger takes up so much energy and space that there is little room left for positive thoughts, emotions and experiences.
To extend my support of women beyond the walls of The Center, I wrote Every Woman’s Guide to Managing Your Anger. Filled with stories, practical advice, exercises and prayers, this book is the inspiration for the following seven steps to letting go of anger so that you can welcome and embrace joy, peace and happiness.
1) Recognize the positive role anger can play in your life.
Like any other emotion, anger serves a purpose. It is a God-given warning system letting you know something is wrong. Anger should be a catalyst of sorts, prompting you to examine a given situation or relationship more closely. Only by getting closer to the root of the problem in this manner can you identify the actions necessary for positive change.
2) Identify how you may be expressing your anger in a destructive way.
Although God gave us anger for a reason, history shows that women in particular have oftentimes been discouraged and judged for its expression. Of course “times have changed” as they say and women are commanding higher levels of respect for expressing all sorts of things, from the personal to the professional. However, I know firsthand from years of counseling women of all ages and career paths that many consider expression of anger to be shameful and a sign of weakness.
It is important to understand that hiding your anger is not the same thing as controlling it. Without a healthy means of expression, anger festers underneath the surface and finds others ways of negatively manifesting itself in your life. These include:
- Procrastinating in the completion of tasks, especially ones you don’t like or want to do.
- Habitual lateness.
- Sarcasm, cynicism, or flippancy.
- Over politeness, constant cheerfulness (fake), attitude of “grin and bear it” but internally resenting it.
- Frequent sighing.
- Smiling while hurting.
- Over controlled monotone speaking voice.
- Frequent disturbing or frightening dreams.
- Difficulty in getting to sleep or staying sleep. Thoughts going around in your head keep you awake.
- Boredom, apathy, loss of interest in things you are usually enthusiastic about (depression from internalized anger).
- Slowing down of movements, especially when doing things you don’t want to do.
- Getting tired more easily than usual.
- Excessive irritability over trifles.
- Facial tics, spasmodic foot movements, habitual fist clenching, and similar repeated physical acts done unintentionally.
On the flip side of hidden anger is vented anger which can be equally destructive. I am not suggesting that expressing your feelings when you are angry is a bad thing. In fact, it is a necessity. Unfortunately, some take it to the extreme, using their anger as a means of establishing power over people and circumstances. Take Melinda, for example. Here he is an excerpt of her story as told in my book:
“Melinda gave free vent to her anger at all times, in all situations. Anger was her expression of choice. Of course, if you asked Melinda, she was never responsible for her anger. Other people and situations made her angry.
When Melinda was angry, she felt powerful and invincible; she felt vindicated and not at fault. This was very important to her as an adult because of what happened to her as a child. When Melinda was a child, she felt powerless, damaged, responsible, and guilty. Melinda had been sexually molested by her grandfather from the time she was five until she was twelve and the family moved away to another city.
Distrustful of relationships and scarred from intimacy, Melinda kept people at bay with her anger and forceful personality. In school, her anger fueled her superior grades. In her career, her anger stoked the flames of professional competency and a relentless desire to be better than all expectations. In relationships, her anger protected her from any possibility of being taken advantage of again. It also alienated anyone she might have wanted, in a weak moment, to get close to.
The older she got, the less able she was to keep it under control. The older she got, the more she began to realize her anger was less of a protective positive in her life and more of a destructive negative. The only problem was she felt naked, exposed, and vulnerable without it – just like she’d felt with her grandfather.”
3) Find the root of the anger.
Though the source of Melinda’s anger stems from a particularly traumatic childhood experience, by no means is destructive vented anger linked primarily to physical abuse. It can stem from any number of circumstances in which a woman feels threatened or frustrated:
Unfulfilled expectations. From family life to professional success, have things turned out differently than you planned? Instead of determining the course of your own life, does it feel more like circumstances beyond your control are making these decisions for you?
Keeping score. Do you keep a mental list of all the wrongs perpetrated against you? Do you make it a habit of running through this list when you need reassurance that you a re surely right and “they” are surely wrong?
Stress. Are you overworked and overwhelmed? Do you have so many commitments to your job, family, friends, finances, church, children, and community that instead of enjoying your life you feel like a slave to it?
Life is unfair. Do you feel victimized by life? Are you so convinced things will never be different that your anger has transformed into depression simply so you need not feel anything at all?
Rewriting history. Do you play out the same relationship dynamic with different people? Do you hope and expect a new relationship to somehow resolve the issues you had in the last one?
Countermeasures. Do you avoid dealing with situations that you feel are beyond your control by masking the pain with things you can control, like food, alcohol or drug use?
Your body. Are you tired of irritations that normally reside underneath the surface predictably erupting beyond your control in a pattern you see connected to your menstrual cycle?
4) Learn the power of acceptance.
Whether it is based in truth or simply a matter of their own perception, many women hide who they are – from themselves and from the very people they should be opening up to the most. We are all imperfect, thus making perfection an impossibility. Though we all need to welcome growth in our lives, having the level of self-awareness and self-respect to make necessary changes means accepting ourselves for who we are today.
As much pain as you may have experienced from a person or event in the past, holding on to anger will always hurt your well-being the most. Yet as I touch upon in the book, forgiving is often much easier said than done:
“Letting go of your anger is a process, and forgiveness is often the last stop on the journey. Forgiveness requires that you release the wrong – the source and power of your anger. You cannot truly forgive yet retain your anger. If you’re still angry, you haven’t really forgiven. Forgiveness, then, can be viewed as increasing your vulnerability because it releases some of the power you’ve built up with your anger. For many women I’ve worked with, the thought of letting go of this power is the last option on their list.”
Just remember, “Forgiveness is a release, but is not a release of your personal power. Rather it is a release of your anger and a restoration of your true power.”
6) Embrace optimism, hope and joy.
I know you’ve heard it before but it is such a universal fundamental truth that it bears repeating. Let go of any negative thoughts that may play in your head on a continual loop. Then go one step further and fill the void with the positive, living your life intentionally toward focusing on the good.
To help women work through their own issues while reading through the stories and practical advice included in the book, I have included a Note to Self section in each chapter of Every Woman’s Guide to Managing Your Anger. One of the most powerful examples of this type of exercise is provided for you below.
Note to Self: An Exercise
In order to incorporate more positive things into my life, I realize I must give up some negative habits, perspectives, and attitudes:
• In order to become more optimistic, I need to get over this one habit:
• In order to become more hopeful, I need to overcome this one perspective:
• In order to become more joyful, I need to give up this one attitude:
• I want to become more optimistic in my life because…
• I want to be more hopeful in my life because…
• I want to be more joyful in my life because…
• In order to be more optimistic, I will do the following:
• In order to be more hopeful, I will do the following:
• In order to be more joyful, I will do the following:
7) Rely on the power of God.
You are a work of God so He has the power to change you. His presence is a constant, whether you realize it or not. So instead of doubting the role God plays in your life, remember that his timeline for change is not based on what you want but what you need, including the lessons you must learn from past, present and future challenges.
I close each chapter of the book with a prayer so I will do the same with you now:
Dear Father, help me to choose to live a life devoted to you, trusting you to protect me and alert to the blessings you bring each day into my life. I want to be able to get up each morning, to say and really believe “this is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). Just as I need your help, your strength, wisdom, and direction to get rid of my anger, to get ride of the bad things in my life, I need your help to fill up my life with good things. I confess I can be suspicious of good things. I confess sometimes I don’t want to accept good things because I don’t want to feel obligated to change and give up something else. Help me to unclench my hands of the things I think I need in order to be able to grasp hold of what you provide.
Father, you are a God of hope. I claim Romans 15:13 for myself: fill me with all joy and peace as I trust in you, so that I may overflow with hope and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Gregory Jantz has dedicated his lifes’s work to developing ways to create more possibility for others, helping people change their lives for good. He is an innovator in behavioral healthcare, best-selling author and an international speaker. Dr. Jantz authored Every Woman’s Guide to Managing Your Anger to help men, women and adolescents change their lives for good! Connect with Dr. Jantz at www.aplaceofhope.com where you can learn more about The Center.