Anger

Facing Our Truth for Healthy Anger and Overall Well-Being

Why is facing our truth so difficult? In what ways do we benefit by doing so?

Posted Feb 23, 2021

Becoming still. Sitting in silence. Directing attention inward. This is a pause we require to more fully explore, recognize and acknowledge how our inner landscape fuels our anger. It is in this moment that we can observe the tension in our bodies and mind triggered by feelings such as fear, anxiety, shame, and sadness. It calls for the courage to face our truth — an essential step for transforming destructive anger into healthy anger and for accessing our authentic self in general.

The challenge

Facing our truth is not easy. While the truth can set us free, it can also be powerfully threatening to our sense of safety. Just as a child learns not to touch a hot flame, we may learn to steer clear of painful emotions and the thoughts associated with them. This is especially the case if we’ve endured more severe emotional pain, and notably when we lack sufficient skills in self-soothing and the resilience for frustration tolerance.

Consequently, many of us become “emotionally avoidant.” Just as we might experience a “fight-flight-freeze” response to threats that are external in origin, we may similarly respond to those that come from within ourselves. The arousal of certain feelings and thoughts may be painful in themselves. And certainly, our judging them only enhances the intensity of their threat. However, by avoiding them we train our brains to be reactive to them — and our tendency to avoid them becomes our default reaction.

There is a myriad of ways by which we can distract ourselves from our truth. For example, we may employ denial, like a dependent child whose sense of safety is threatened by his anger with a parent. Without full awareness he buries it deeply, hidden from conscious recognition.

Or, we may displace our truth, as when we direct anger, not at its true target, but rather toward someone or something else. We may also “project” our feelings or thoughts on to others, as when we attribute them to others as they are too threatening to own.

123rf Stock Photo/Valentin Valkov/Golden
Sunrise+Quote
Source: 123rf Stock Photo/Valentin Valkov/Golden

And certainly, we may also engage in addictions or obsessions regarding achievement, wealth, or even physical exercise as ways to avoid our truth — whether regarding anger or the negative feelings behind it.

I’ve observed that much of anger, while not considered a formal defensive mechanism, is in fact a strategy by which we can momentarily distract ourselves from experiencing deeper suffering. It draws our full attention – moving us away from awareness of the more challenging feelings behind it.

The benefits of accepting our truth

Every feeling reflects our truth, offering a message about our experience in a current moment. Cultivating the courage to face our truth opens us to all feelings, those that are positive as well as those that are negative. Exploring our truth is foundational for living a life that is true to ourselves, rather than the life others expect of us. It is essential for embracing our humanity.

For many of us, the tension of having mixed or contradictory feelings or thoughts can be overwhelming. It’s so much easier to acknowledge a singular emotional reaction or a thought about a situation or issue rather than feelings or thoughts fraught with tension. It’s so much easier to compartmentalize our experiences in simple rather than complex terms.

However, accepting our truth releases energy wasted on protecting ourselves and helps us to redirect it toward more fully embracing life. I vividly recall this experience when I was in my early twenties. I awoke one morning from a dream about my mother (one I fully explored in my own therapy). I was in that state of consciousness marked by the conclusion of a dream while slowly gaining conscious awareness of awakening. At that moment I thought, “Who am I kidding? I felt both love and rage toward my mother!” There was a tremendous sense of relief throughout my body as if a heavy weight had been lifted off of me. I felt emotionally and physically lighter – the relief that comes from more fully accepting ambivalent feelings toward my mother.

It helped me to understand my confusion and tension when thinking about her and even being in her presence. I had so often found myself thinking, “Yes, but…” when feeling either positive or negative feelings towards her. Specifically, when I felt loving toward her, I soon felt my anger towards her rising. And, in turn, when I felt angry towards her, I was quick to remind myself of how loving she could be. I was clearly not fully accepting the anger and other negative feelings I had experienced in our relationship.

I’ve witnessed similar experiences in many clients who reported a similar sense of feeling lighter. Some have even looked back at their chair as they opened the door to leave the office. They sensed that they had left something behind. In fact, they had.

Accepting our truth informs us of our desires that need attention. Accepting our truth can inform the language we use when being assertive. Similarly, we may become more capable of identifying and then discussing our expectations in our relationships — whether with others or ourselves. We feel more confident of our boundaries, comfortable in setting limits and subsequently more free to genuinely listen to and get to know others.

Finding the courage to face our truth

Courage to face our truth begins with cultivating skills to broaden our sense of safety as we explore the unknown within us. Several approaches to help meet this challenge include the following:

  1. Mindful meditation
  2. Mindfulness practices described by Tara Brach
  3. Envisioning a safe place: with a person(s), in nature, or things around which we feel safe, relaxed, supported and maybe even nurtured
  4. Practicing fierce self-compassion described by Kristin Neff
  5. Practicing self-compassion so poignantly described by Chris Germer
  6. Setting our attention on our breath
  7. Engaging in “embodied self-awareness” exercises (Fogel, 2013)
  8. Loving-kindness meditations such as those described by Sharon Salzberg 
  9. Learning strategies described by Rick Hanson that can help us to recognize and savor the positive in our lives

A word of caution. It can be extremely unsettling to seek our truth, especially if we have experienced any form of trauma. As such, it may be helpful to enlist the assistance of a mental health professional to provide support and guidance in this venture.

Clearly, facing our truth prepares us to effectively manage anger. However, it makes us more resilient to deal with all of our feelings associated with it. In the process we move beyond the trance dictated by a script that we have unwittingly internalized. And by doing so, we free ourselves to more assertively choose how to live a more fulfilling life.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory

References

Fogel, A. (2013). Body Sense: The Science and Practice of Embodied Self-Awareness, New York, NY: W. W. Norton and Company.