Early in her practice, psychotherapist Andrea Brandt, Ph.D, M.F.T, found that the clients she was seeing were able to talk about their anger. They used popular techniques such as “I” statements. They were able to articulate when they felt angry.
And, yet, their anger wasn’t dissipating. Communicating their anger wasn’t the problem. The problem was their inability to fully feel that anger.
For many of us, feeling our feelings is uncomfortable, especially when the emotion is anger. The tension may seem too much. We don’t want to deal with the discomfort or we may worry what we discover on the other side.
However, fully experiencing our emotions means they don’t get buried and we receive the important information they’re trying to give, Brandt writes in her book Mindful Anger: A Pathway to Emotional Freedom.
It also means that we can make positive changes. “Recognizing our true feelings makes it possible for us to change behaviors and situations that do not support us — leading to a more honest, satisfying life,” according to Brandt.
In Mindful Anger she shares mindfulness strategies to help readers access, process, release and resolve their anger.
Below is a mindfulness-based exercise from the book, which helps you tap into your anger and any other accompanying emotions:
- Find a quiet spot and focus on your breathing.
- Stand with your feet a short distance apart. Make sure they line up with your hips. Notice the support of the floor, and really feel how it sustains you. “Dig your feet and toes into it.” Bend your knees slightly.
- Pull your shoulders back. Take several slow breaths. “With your hands, knead the skin on your arms, neck, and shoulders.” Pay attention to the sensations in your body.
- Visualize an incident that triggered your anger. Picture the details, until you can feel the anger arising.
- Say, “I am angry.” Say it in various ways, “louder, softer, faster, slower.”
- Notice what happens in your body when you’re practicing the various ways. For instance, do you feel hot, clammy, cold, confused, fatigued, floating, faint, nauseated, sweaty, shaky, stiff, tense or weak?
- Check for any feelings other than anger. Name them aloud, one at a time, such as “I am hurt,” “I feel embarrassed,” “I am heartbroken,” “I feel anxious,” “I am scared,” or “I am ambivalent.”
- After you’ve mentioned all the feelings you’re feeling, relax your stance. Take several deep breaths.
- Journal about this experience. For instance, you can start with: “It’s safe to be present in my body. It’s safe to feel my feelings.” Explore how just writing these sentences feels.
According to Brandt, when you’re able to tap into your anger — or any emotions — you’re able to examine the message, before you figure out how to respond.
Feeling your feelings may not be easy. It may not come naturally to you — especially depending on your earlier experiences. However, you can learn to feel your emotions in safe and healthy ways and to process them in safe and healthy ways.