Anger is a natural and important emotion, though it is often socially stigmatised. In this blog, we explore how to honour anger throughout eating disorder recovery.
What is anger?
Anger is defined as ‘a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.’ Though it may feel uncomfortable to read, it is important to note that anger is a very natural, normal, and important emotion.
As human beings we are wired to be alert for situations or people that disagree with us. This alert creates bodily reactions. According to an article by Psychology Today,
‘Anger creates energy surges, and when energy surges occur, chemicals such as adrenaline enter your bloodstream, your heart rate increases, your blood flow increases, and your muscles tense.’
Our bodies are built to prepare and feel this emotion, in response to the angry energy. It is therefore entirely natural to feel angry and respond whilst within that state.
As the saying goes “if you’re not speaking it, you’re storing it – and that gets heavy”, and by not allowing ourselves to express true feelings, such as anger, 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, ‘acting out’.
We have explored anger and the body more in a previous blog. You can read it here.
Eating disorders and anger
People with eating disorders can often struggle to tolerate uncomfortable emotions, such as anger. This could be because feeling angry requires us to dig deep and to sit with the uncomfortable, which can be hard. As Pippa, Orri’s Head of Creative and Somatic Therapies, shared in our latest Nurturing Hope event:
“Self-love requires ‘presence’. It also requires us to bring tenderness to those parts of ourselves that may feel hard to love.”
(Pippa explores how to befriend emotions and to work with them in unity throughout eating disorder recovery in a previous blog.)
The path of eating disorder recovery asks us to become aware of our internal experiences; our thoughts, our beliefs, our emotions and how these inform our actions, behaviours and relationships. In essence, to heal and to grow, we need to feel. Feeling is ok!
We understand ‘presence’ can feel anxiety-provoking or difficult, as it requires us to ‘be’ with our bodies. However, learning to nurture this connection again strengthens our understanding of what our body needs and what it tries to tell us. Over time, these signals will start to feel more familiar – and you will become more familiar with yourself. For, when we’re in tune with ourselves – body and mind – we can work with ourselves to navigate the world, as opposed to working against ourselves.
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.
The danger some may face when they do not permit themselves to feel rage, anger or other ‘negative emotions’ is that in the times they do rise in their bodies, this can feel overwhelming and scary.
‘When people sense a negative emotion coming on, their first impulse is to control it so that they do not feel overwhelmed or threatened by it. If they can, they would like to get rid of it immediately or flee from it; they rarely think it merits deeper understanding. This is probably why people use such expressions as “managing anger” or “overcoming hatred” instead of “befriending your emotion”.’
‘The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down: How to be calm in a busy world’, Haemin Sunim
If this resonates with your experience of feeling anger, we have a gentle guide on how you can be angry whilst honouring your recovery:
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.
Anger, gender and society
Anger has held a tricky place in society, especially when in the conversation of gender and expectations. Socialisation has a big hand in this! The Guardian highlights this in a poignant 2019 article:
‘At the earliest stages of childhood socialisation, anger becomes firmly associated with masculinity and manhood. Studies show that by the time most children are toddlers they already associate angry expressions with male faces.
“Softer” emotions, such as empathy, fear and sadness, are less emphasised and sometimes actively discouraged in boys. These are seen, by many, as feminising weaknesses, whereas anger is considered a marker of masculinity.
Girls and women are subtly encouraged to put anger and other ‘negative’ emotions aside, as unfeminine.
Girls and women, on the other hand, are subtly encouraged to put anger and other “negative” emotions aside, as unfeminine. Studies show that girls are frequently discouraged from even recognising their own anger, from talking about negative feelings, or being demanding in ways that focus on their own needs.’
What is unhelpful in this learning here, is that emotions, such as anger, are seemingly given gender boundaries. This makes it harder for those who do not fit the ideology of “man” or “male” to experience these completely natural emotions. Does this sound fair? Not to us. We believe everyone, no matter who they are or how they identify, should be allowed the right to feel how they feel – regardless of how ‘masculine’ they are.
As Andrew, Orri’s Specialist Eating Disorder Psychotherapist explores in a blog, in context for Eating Disorders Awareness Week, ‘these traditional notions of masculinity tend to favour strength, stoicism, dominance and control. Ideals and norms of masculinity can leave men feeling that it is not ok to express vulnerability or weakness. A sense they must be fit, strong, muscular, stoic, together, independent.’
We interpret strength in a different light, here at Orri. To us, strength is not defined by gender, or by being ‘muscular’ or ‘together’ – strength is defined by going to those internal places that feel scary; by having that cry; by leaning on that trusted one when things feel too heavy; or by making that call to enquire for specialist treatment or support.
It takes courage to stand out in the crowd as your authentic self, especially when society has tried its best to shoehorn you into its own and (frankly, archaic) ideals. It takes bravery to challenge the unknown (and this includes challenging your emotions).
Remember, all emotions are welcome, and this is actually encouraged in the therapy room. You can start with us today to unlearn all the external judgements and values that shape who we are – let’s try and reconnect with our authentic selves, and really listen to what we have to say.
Find out more about Orri’s campaign for Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2023, here: https://www.orri-uk.com/eating-disorders-awareness-week/
As always, remember your #BROS.