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E41.When Is Anger Helpful?


Welcome to ADHD Crash Course! Today, we're going to talk about anger, ADHD and anger. This is an emotion that makes a lot of us feel really uncomfortable, just the emotion itself.


It makes sense, because we often see a lot of out of control actions that are triggered by anger. Or maybe we even lose control ourselves due to anger. And so, we see this emotion as dangerous.


But anger, just like all emotions, is not dangerous in and of itself, and it can even be used constructively. It's not a comfortable emotion. It's an uncomfortable emotion to experience, but we don't need to be afraid of it or "jumping off of it".


It brings a message to us, always. And it's a message that is important to listen to, to understand what our anger is telling us. Last week in my group coaching program, it was our week on thoughts. This is a fun week, where we just go into a lot of strategies about thoughts and approaches that help us work with our thinking to help support our brains, support ourselves.


We were looking at all these strategies and we were talking about the messages that our emotions bring us, that our emotions carry. One of my group members mentioned jealousy. This is an emotion that I know for a lot of us, myself included, (jealousy) is a really uncomfortable emotion that comes up. You don't usually hear anyone have anything positive to say about jealousy, it's kind of like, "Ooh, you should be grateful", right?


We have research about how gratitude practice is very powerful and helpful and that state of mind is the opposite of jealousy. There's even a little bit of shame wrapped up in having jealous feelings. One of the group members pointed out that jealousy brings a message about what's missing, what we're longing for, what we want to add to our lives. That can even be constructive if we take time to look at that and see why we're feeling jealous, what we want to add, and how we want to take action to change that.


It can be a constructive thing in our life. So, even something like jealousy, that makes us feel so uncomfortable, can be helpful if we slow down and pay attention to the message of an emotion.


Anger is very much like this! We often have a lot of bad experiences of seeing anger done poorly, seeing people not process anger well and do all kinds of things either to avoid it, or to release it that aren't helpful.


They define anger as a strong feeling of displeasure, annoyance, or hostility. Well, yeah, it's that. And anger is an emotion. Anger is a signal. Anger is communication. So, what is the message that anger typically brings?


It's usually letting us know when we have been mistreated or we perceive we've been mistreated in some way, a boundary has been crossed, there's been some injustice. Anger is not action, and that's a really important one to differentiate here. A lot of times we think of anger, and we think it's synonymous with all the things people choose to do when they're angry, and it's not.


Anger is the emotion, and so it's not rage, even though that sounds very similar, rage is uncontrolled or violent anger. In that description, uncontrolled or violent, is implying there some action, something that's out of control here.

Anger in itself is not that. Being enraged, being aggressive, being violent, those are all action based, and it's different. It's different than the emotion. Resentment is also not anger. We get that confused and it's not... anger is the emotion. Resentment is anger meets rumination; angry that a boundary has been crossed, angry that you've been mistreated, but then there is action in that we're repeating thoughts. We're repeating focus, that we are chewing something over in our mind, and that builds resentment.


And so none of these things are great things. We don't want to be enraged. We don't want to be resentful, aggressive, violent. Often anger leads to some of these things, but anger is an emotion that gets a bad rap. When we can listen to the message of anger, it can help us set boundaries, help us take action, help us protect, help us preserve people's dignity, and uphold justice.


Anger can be helpful when it's handled in a healthy way. I don't think we have a lot of models available of what that looks like. Right? Like, we know that when we see really reactive, explosive, Jerry Springer style expressions of anger, that's not so healthy. But, suppressing, not acknowledging, ignoring anger is also not healthy.


I've used that analogy of the mole head game before, when I've talked about strong emotion. The game where you use a little mallet to hit down one of the mole heads and then as soon as you do that, another one pops up in a different place. That is our emotions. When we don't deal with strong emotions, we just stuff that down, it's going to come up in some other way, it's going to come up with passive aggressive, avoidant behaviors.


It's going to come out in a myriad of ways, none of them are very healthy for us or the people in our lives. Not addressing and not acknowledging anger is also not going to be healthy or helpful to us.


So, we don't have a lot of examples of seeing healthy, bounded, constructive, anger. Anger that is assertive, but not aggressive. Anger that says, "This joke is making me uncomfortable. I don't think it's funny", anger that says,"If you speak to me that way, I won't be staying here".


If you're like me, and you're a "people pleaser" in rehab, managing your anger in that healthy, constructive way, where you're you're putting up a boundary, you're clearly communicating, feels very awkward. It does not feel comfortable. So, dealing with this, maybe in a healthier way, they may feel worse than whatever formula we normally use to deal with anger.


Whether it's waiting until they leave, and then totally talking trash about them, or waiting until all of our buttons have been pushed and our reaction is almost automatic and we don't really get a choice. These are patterns that we're used to seeing, we're used to using, and so doing something different, might not feel great, initially.


This is true for all of us. This is not specifically ADHD related, but let's shift over into looking at anger through the lens of ADHD, What else might be at play here for us? Of course, we have emotional regulation, and the fact that a lot of us struggle in this area. We might deal with angry feelings, they might be really intense, they might make it hard to slow down and make decisions. They may be something we want to jump right off of, like we were describing before.


We don't want to sit with that big, intense emotion. So what do we do? What helps? I think for a lot of us, we need to look at how "amped up" we are. You know, if you are really elevated in anger, it probably makes sense to pick one of those body based strategies to bring you down to a place where you can listen to the message that anger is bringing you, look a little deeper at what's going on and the message you're getting from your anger.


If you're really about to blow, it's not the moment to be curious, it's the moment to help bring your nervous system level down a little. Assuming that that's happened, and that you are at that level, that "I'm angry but I'm not on the edge" place, then we're looking at our anger with curiosity.


Aren't I a broken record? I'm always saying this, but it's so helpful. Because when you're curious, instead of judgmental, about why you're feeling angry and not you're not trying to jump off this feeling, then you're looking at it like "Okay, what is this communicating to me? What is my anger telling me? I'm angry. Why? What's happened?"

Looking at my boundaries: "I'm angry, what boundaries are being crossed that are important to me? What's going on that's not right or fair or okay?"


"Is there an action I need to take to protect me or others or to make things right?" Being able to be curious and take a step back and look at this. And a part of this, too, is looking at how we're thinking about a situation.


You know, we're going to be angry based on our interpretation of things that are happening. Sometimes (our interpretations) are off, right? Like, sometimes our thoughts are going to jump to something, and the normal reaction after that thought is going to be the emotion.


Maybe one of my friends is having a party and I don't get invited. And maybe my reaction is: I'm angry about that out of the gates. It's not that her action directly caused me to be angry. Her action was her action. I thought about it, I interpreted this, and then comes my emotion of anger.


When I'm looking at this party, I didn't get invited. So, immediately,when we experience something, our brain is going to tell a story about what that meant. You know, it's what our brains do and that's fine, but we interpret things that happen and so we want to be flexible here and consider that there's other explanations.


My default (thoughts) with not being invited to this party is that it was intentional, I'm being left out, this person does not want to include me, and there could be all kinds of other stories attached to that, but it brings anger. That wasn't kind, that wasn't fair, I've been mistreated.


Being able to stretch your thinking here, not deny your anger, not deny that this thing hurt your feelings, not deny that this could be the reason, you could have been intentionally left out, but consider that there could be other reasons. That we don't necessarily know for sure why the situation happened. We don't necessarily know for sure this person's intentions, and at least considering that there are other interpretations as far as what has happened, as a part of being curious about this emotion and looking at this a little deeper.


Not acknowledging our angry emotions really does not solve the problem. Saying, "Oh, no, I don't care", if it really hurt my feelings, "I don't care, just probably didn't matter. It's not important to me"... passive anger can be really destructive. So, if we just kind of brush it under the rug, with this anger, there's really no chance for resolution because problems aren't dealt with proactively.


We end up with bitterness and these little micro aggressions that kind of come out of nowhere, because we've not really given our anger a place. Even if we're wrong, even if I interpreted the situation completely wrong, acknowledging the anger about it is important. You know, I can backtrack and realize I was off in my interpretation, but it doesn't mean that I need to be afraid of that emotion, have to jump off of that emotion.


I can sit with it and figure out what's going on. So, wrapping up, anger serves a purpose. It helps us take action, it helps us protect, it helps us set boundaries. Anger makes it easier to take action. We have to be careful with it, right? Because of that, sometimes, we're quick to take action. But it makes it easier to take action, when the action is important.


Anger shouldn't be driving the bus. It shouldn't be running the show, but it is an important communicator to us if we slow down and listen to it.


Interested in learning more about my group coaching program, Embrace Your Brain? Considering 1:1 coaching or have other questions for me? Please feel free to contact me here.

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