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It takes so much energy to stay mad at someone. Making sure the person who did us wrong knows we’re mad at them by planning on being visibly angry in his or her presence is emotionally taxing. What about if you live with that person? That’s a lot of acting! Sounds pretty tiring, huh? Learning to forgive and move on takes less effort in the long run than holding on to anger does. But why do many of us still hold on to our anger?
Negative experiences are easier to recall than good ones…unless they’re extraordinarily good. Think back to that time when you had an angry confrontation where someone did or said something hurtful to you. Did you get over it quickly? Did it take some time to get over it? Are you still not over it? It isn’t pleasant to think about the times when someone has treated us badly.
I’m not suggesting anyone recall negative experiences to make them upset, but rather to show how easy it is to relive that bad moment and remember how it made us feel. All it takes is something small to trigger us and we’re suddenly right back in that moment.
It makes us feel safe
I know it sounds crazy, but staying angry can make you feel safe. Anger is one of the first emotions we experience from birth. When those angry cries are met with coddling, milk, and fresh diapers, we realize that crying gets us what we want.
As adults, when we get irately angry, we stop thinking clearly and the rational part of our brain shuts down. There is no reasoning with us and no calming us down; just stay out of the way. When we are in that state, we can’t think clearly and we probably don’t want to – especially if someone did or said to us that hurt or disappointed us.
Our anger saves us from having to admit we are hurt. That would make us feel vulnerable, unsafe. Nobody likes being around someone who is always angry, so people avoid us. It prevents the threat of having someone get close enough to us to try finding out why we’re angry. Keeping emotions bottled up makes us feel a lot safer emotionally than sharing them. We get exactly what we want.
It makes us feel powerful, in control
Some of us might get aggressive or even violent when we get angry. If we’re that upset, we might lack the words to express our anger in a more positive way. Sadly, this destructive behavior can make someone feel powerful. They were able to take this strong emotion and express it physically by destroying something (or someone). Just think. We actually have the power to destroy something.
It can also make us feel in control. Only we can decide we are not too angry to talk to the person who hurt us. Even if he or she wants to move past it, they can’t get past it unless we do. We can make them feel guilty for hurting us for as long as we want. We have the upper hand in the relationship (if we can still have one after what they did or said).
It allows us to get sympathy from others
If we’re to be honest with ourselves, we have to admit that it feels good when people notice us. I don’t mean making us the center of attention; that could be embarrassing if we aren’t feeling the best. When someone shows they have been thinking of us or noticed we haven’t been our normal self, it can make us feel really good. When someone asks, “What’s wrong,” we shrug and say, “Nothing,” knowing they’ll continue asking what’s wrong. This game of emotional cat and mouse gives us the attention we want. At least somebody cares enough not to simply go away when we say nothing is wrong. It shows they care, and we like that.
We don’t know how/don’t want to let go
We are creatures of habit. That means that if something good happens to us, we want it to keep happening. We develop superstitions and routines that we do all the time – sometimes without realizing we do them. All we know is that we’re mad and ignoring the problem definitely is not the right answer, but we may not know where to begin to properly address it.
If being angry with people for a long time has become our pattern and we’re able to manipulate the situation until we get what we want it must be working for us! Why change anything? We might not even want to let go of our anger.
The best way to let go of anger is to first identify where it comes from and then take active steps to resolve it. That also requires some work and a whole lot of honesty.
Here’s to releasing ourselves from our anger!