There is wisdom in your anger – this is how you process it

There is wisdom in your anger.

We get taught not to acknowledge anger, not to express it.

We grow up hearing, “Don’t get angry, it’s unattractive. Be nice, be quiet, be accommodating. Calm down, you’re overreacting.”

We hear about “anger management.” We learn that anger is a thing to be controlled, softened, dissipated.

And then on top of that, many mindfulness communities teach that feeling anger is just a cover-up for sadness, or that feeling anger is ultimately poisoning ourselves. Or that anger just means we’re feeling triggered, and we need to work on ourselves.

But anger is an intelligent emotion.

Anger tells us when our boundaries are being crossed. Anger shows us what is and is not ok with us, from the ways we are treated to the ways the world works.

Anger is our bodies saying: this is not ok with me.

I often hear from clients: “I just don’t feel angry. About anything in my life. I just can’t connect with that feeling… I just feel… tired.”

And this is saddening to me, because what it actually says is: I have so much anger that I’m scared to feel it, because I don’t know what it would look like.

There is a difference between integrated anger and unintegrated anger.

Unintegrated anger spews all over the place. We might become irrationally angry at tiny things. We might start getting passive-aggressive or overreacting to certain situations. We might stay quiet most of the time, and then explode with anger out of nowhere.

When we let anger build up without expressing it, we don’t get to feel its gifts. Its gifts aren’t clear; they’re confusing.

Unintegrated anger will make us feel uncontrollably angry, constantly unsettled in our everyday lives, or exhausted, not really able to feel strongly about much of anything at all.

Anger becomes integrated when we’ve felt it fully. When we’ve examined our triggers, examined our responses. When we’ve listened to what the anger is telling us, we’ve approved of all parts of it, and we’ve moved the pieces through our bodies that we want to help release.

Integrated anger can fuel our lives, help us set boundaries, show us our power, and wake others up. It can feel ecstatic and empowering. It can teach us more about ourselves. It can create change in the world.

Unintegrated anger doesn’t help anyone, often harms others, and keeps us stuck.

You might say, “But… I really don’t feel angry about anything right now! How do I know if I have anger to process?!”

Everyone has anger that can be processed, all the time. If we’re really connected to our own emotional processes, we become very able to tap into collective emotions. There are many things to be angry about in the world right now: the way minorities are treated, the unfair rights of women, constant sexual assault, bombing of other countries, people dying, humans killing the planet.

I also don’t believe that we ever integrate an emotion to the point where we can’t access it ever again. I used to carry a lot of anger from my brother being in a car accident, for example. I’ve processed that anger enough that it doesn’t rule my life anymore or get in the way of me experiencing joy. It’s not built up and unprocessed in my body. But you better believe that I can still tap into that at any moment I choose.

One incredible aspect of feeling integrated in your anger is that it becomes possible to both feel these things and to not feel them at the same time. I can choose to feel in complete peace with everything going on in the world and my life, to completely approve of it all, and to feel that everything is one.

And I can also very immediately tap into the anger I have about all of these things, scream bloody murder, and destroy pillows in such a way that you’d probably be terrified of me.

If we don’t have easy access to both emotion and peace, we’re blocked. If we “don’t feel angry,” we’re bypassing emotion.

So… how best to process and integrate anger?

I could give you a big, creative list, but honestly, there is one major way that helps us process anger, and it’s the only thing I’ve seen work really well:

Move the anger physically through your body.

The gym doesn’t count. If you aren’t intentionally connecting to your anger and moving it through you, it doesn’t count. Too many people bypass this by saying, “I did a workout class and now I feel better!” – they’ve moved their bodies, which makes us feel good, but it does nothing with the actual anger.

Create a stack of pillows on your bed and beat the shit out of them. Scream into the pillows. Cover your mouth with your hands and scream into them. Blast angry music and do an angry dance – make yourself seem as “unattractive” as possible and stomp around, growl, and roar. Sit in your parked car and play music and scream, if you can’t get privacy anywhere else.

The most important thing to know when doing this is to stay intentionally connected to your body the entire time.

You can think of a past experience if it helps you feel more connected to your anger initially, but don’t get lost in the story. Don’t stay in your head. Feel your body physically. See if you can feel where the anger lives in your body – is it in your solar plexus? Your stomach? Your womb? See if you can feel the physical sensations of it.

Stay connected physically to yourself the entire time you are doing this practice.

If you start to get overwhelmed or check out of your body, pause. Connect for a moment to a place in your body that feels good. Slow down. Healing doesn’t happen with force; it happens gently. You don’t want to (and can’t, anyway) release every bit of anger you’re holding onto at one time. 5-10 minutes is enough. 5 minutes multiple times a week is way, way better than 30 minutes once a month.

The physical practice matters most because our bodies heal in this way. Animals in the wild process experiences through their bodies by fighting or shaking, and we aren’t any different. The “logic” piece is important, and we’ll get to that in a moment – but what will be most effective is to allow your body to complete its emotional cycle. Let your body move the anger. Our bodies innately know how to process and heal – we just have to unlearn the conditioning we’ve been taught around how it’s wrong or scary first. And the only way to teach ourselves that it’s okay, is to do it.

If you struggle with connecting to the anger in your body and experience an overwhelm of exhaustion or resistance to hitting pillows, for example, sit with this for a moment. It can be helpful to validate those feelings and acknowledge why they’re there – if you were never taught to express anger, or modeled it in a healthy way, it can feel scary.

If you can’t connect to any feeling of anger, try doing the movements anyway and see what arises. Sometimes it can be effective just to gently guide ourselves through that initial block and show ourselves that it isn’t dangerous to feel. If one movement isn’t resonating, try another.

Something else that can help is to journal about it. I suggest doing the physical practice first, and then journaling about what came up and what you’re feeling afterward.

If you did the physical practice without a particular topic in mind, you can just write about what came up for you. What did you notice? Were you able to connect to anger, today? What did you feel? Write it down.

If you did have particular topic in mind, write about how you feel about it now.

Why are/were you angry? Was it because a boundary was being crossed? What part of you feels most hurt by it?

This doesn’t mean our anger is always justified – but some piece of us always thinks our anger is justified, whether this is a piece of us we want to listen to or not.

This practice is about connecting with the piece of you that feels angry and giving it the permission to feel angry. We don’t logic our way out of anger.

You might notice afterward that you were creating a story in your head, or that your inner child was just feeling hurt even though no one actually hurt you, or that you never set a boundary in the first place and so no one knew they were violating it. Or, of course, you might still feel that you have lots of reason to have felt angry – and that’s fine, too.

The practice of processing your anger is for you. It’s so that you don’t build up stores of it – it gets to move through you, it gets to be allowed.

Often, only if we physically feel it and move it through us can we understand what was underneath it in the first place.


If you liked this piece, you might also enjoy:

The ultimate guide to processing emotions in a healthy way

Anger toward the patriarchy vs anger toward men

Grief is not a thing we need to get rid of

Self-created grief vs true grief

Why it hurts to be angry towards men