Monday, December 17, 2007

Dealing with Anger

Anger is an emotion that almost any addict or alcoholic knows very well. Many of us seem to have a great deal of anger at real and perceived injustices. Anger can be self-defeating, or it can energize us and push us to take action. It can protect us and keep us from being vulnerable to psychological assault. Anger can often be used to mask our many fears.

For the addict, anger also can cause feelings of guilt, which serves to fuel the anger further. So we are angry because we are afraid and guilty because we are angry thus creating a damaging cycle of emotion.

Guilt also adds another layer of complexity to our anger. Many of us were raised with the idea that it is wrong to feel anger and that anger and love cannot coexist. If I am angry at someone, I have to reject them and despise them. In sobriety we may feel guilty if we are angry at loved ones that we may have hurt or disappointed. We don’t have the ability to express angry feelings appropriately, and our relationships suffer because of this.

So what are we angry about? Many of us get triggered when we have no control over people and events in our lives. We can’t make others love us, like us or accept us. Mostly we can’t make others meet our needs. Another source of anger is our disease. We feel that nature has betrayed us by inflicting on us a chronic illness that we have no control over, one that causes us to hurt ourselves and those we love.

What are we afraid of? One thing we fear is that we don’t deserve to be loved or liked and we don’t deserve to get our needs met. We are afraid of being unlovable, we fear rejection and we fear facing the things we don’t like about ourselves. Sometimes the most benign comment or gesture can incite anger and rage because it touches those fears.

Another aspect of anger the alcoholic/addict may experience occurs when they first achieve abstinence from their substance of choice. When the fog begins to lift, we are faced with the consequences of our behavior. It is painful to have to confront our actions, especially since we didn’t have control over many of the things we’ve done.

Anger can be a positive force if we learn to accept it as a feeling that is neither good nor bad. We need to use our anger as a motivating force for change and not turn it on ourselves. Through the recovery process, working the 12 steps of whatever fellowship program we participate in or learning anger exercises we can harness this powerful emotion and make it work for us. Anger groups or individual therapy can help us learn about anger and realize it is a universal emotion. These activities can lead us to accept our angry self, explore how anger manipulates us and develop strategies to turn the anger into positive pursuits.

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