People with eating disorders can often struggle to tolerate uncomfortable emotions, such as anger.
It may be that their experience of anger has been really negative – perhaps anger was the theme of an uncomfortable childhood, maybe it has been delivered in the form of aggression – which was frightening and threatening – or, perhaps there’s a general discomfort with “negative” emotions which stems from a fear that they’ll become all-consuming. In either of these situations, individuals may shy away from expressing anger in case they will cause similar pain to others or push loved ones away.
Yet, anger is a natural and important emotion. As human beings we are wired to be alert for situations or people that disagree with us. It is therefore entirely natural to feel angry and respond whilst within that state. The key is learning how to vocalise and express anger in a way that doesn’t negatively impact you or the person/situation you’re addressing.
What happens if we don’t allow ourselves to be angry?
As The School of Life so adequately put it, “for every one person who shouts too loudly, there are at least twenty who have unfairly lost their voice.” If we don’t allow ourselves to feel and express anger, we will internalise the feeling and it will remain held silently within us. As the saying goes “if you’re not speaking it, you’re storing it – and that gets heavy”, not expressing our true feelings can cause a multitude of issues. These include: not knowing how to communicate our values and needs, a feeling of bitterness, anger that can manifest through depression, anxiety and, most importantly for this audience, ‘acting out’.
‘Acting out’ in response to holding in our anger
Acting out is the experience of finding ways to cope in response to our needs not being met. One such need is the need to truly express our feelings.
If we don’t express our anger and instead choose to store it deep within us, we will look for ways to cope with the storing of such a powerful emotion. The act of restricting our emotional expression is reflected in that of a restrictive eating disorder, where someone denies themselves their true urges and needs. What’s more, someone with bulimia or binge eating disorder may feel that their chaotic relationship to food is reflected in a chaotic emotional expression – perhaps unloading their emotions all at once, to then suddenly pull back and restrain themselves once more for fear of doing “too much”.
How to be angry
- Give yourself permission to acknowledge the emotions arising within you with curiosity and compassion – everyone gets angry and anger is merely a tiny red flag telling us that things are not okay
- Recognise that there’s an underlying meaning or ‘trigger’ to this emotion and that your experience of a situation is entirely valid because it is yours. Try as hard as possible not to deny, minimise or dismiss your experience
- Find a way to express how you’re feeling. It may be that you want to respond directly to the person or situation in the moment through words, or, perhaps you might want to take to your journal or move your body mindfully in an effort to dissipate the energy and adrenaline in your body (you may want to read our blog on the bodily experience of stress)