Anger is usually viewed as bad or something that should be stifled from a very young age. However, anger can be a force for good too! A lot of folks tend to repress their anger or express it in unhealthy ways. In this episode, we cover how to use your anger in a more positive and constructive way in your relationships. We share some of the ways we've expressed and handled anger in the past and provide ways to use it for the better.
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Dedeker: You just, "I slightly broke my hand-
Jase: I slightly broke my hand.
Dedeker: -by punching an electric box." Jase Lindgren.
Jase: Yes. Wow, there it is.
Emily: If you're happy with the same old ways of dating.
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Emily: Broaden your sexual horizons.
Dedeker: Develop a better understanding of yourself.
Emily: Or learn more about non-monogamy.
Jase: Then you've come to the right place. I'm Jase.
Emily: I'm Emily.
Dedeker: I’m Dedeker.
Jase: This is the Multiamory Podcast.
Jase: On this episode of the Multiamory Podcast, we are angry. We're angry that too many people are using their anger in ways that are unhealthy, repressive, and destructive. We're also angry that people are repressing their anger and it's affecting their health negatively. This week, we're going to talk about ways that your anger can be a force for good in your life, and in your relationships, as well as how to do that.
Dedeker: You sound very angry, Jase.
Jase: I'm so angry. Can you tell?
Emily: I just like how it was normal initially and then it got angrier a little bit, and you’re like, “We’re angry.” It was good, though. It was good.
Jase: Thanks, thanks.
Dedeker: Anger. What a topic. I do feel like what I've noticed in at least the cultural zeitgeist of the Internet has been more of this narrative around everyone being a lot angrier in the past couple years. I feel like probably attached to election cycle and political goings on. Beyond that, as well, it seems like there's a lot of people who are angry just at the state of the world in general.
However, I do feel that when it comes to how we deal with anger in our personal lives and in our personal relationships, there's still some places where we tend to get stuck. I think especially getting stuck I’m like, “Is anger good or not? Is anger bad for us? Should we be angry, should we not?” It feels exhausting to be angry sometimes, but also, I feel like being responsible if I'm not angry about certain things.
These are just a lot of things that I've noticed. A few weeks ago, I just, not necessarily a whim, but as an experiment, decided to try holding a trauma and PTSD-informed polyamory processing group that I invited a number of our patrons to just to try and see how it would feel and what would happen, and if people would get something out of it. I noticed for me, when I was taking part in the processing group that at least my experience of is it felt like the discussion didn't really take off for me or become super engaging for me until we started acknowledging how angry a lot of us were or acknowledging--
Some people brought up the fact that they had difficulty even allowing themselves to feel angry in the first place, and maybe even to a point where they weren't even sure what felt like anger and what was sadness, or what was frustration, or what was something different. I noticed a lot of people also expressed feeling confused, and including myself, feeling this confusion about how to feel anger, and then also express it in a way that's not going to hurt someone else. Because of that, in the absence of having these clear roadmaps, or clear scripts or strategies for expressing anger in a healthy way, a lot of people talked about that they would just bottle it up, or just clam up, or downplay it until the feeling passed, which I've definitely done like a jillion times in my life.
Then which is a tendency that, as we'll talk about later on the new episode, is actually not great for your health, home, and also not great for your relationships. That was my inspiration in putting this episode together as I wanted to talk about ways to acknowledge and embrace anger, and talk about people's different experiences of anger, then also, strategies for being able to express it in a way that doesn't cause harm or destruction.
Emily: I feel like there are moments in life where one might ask themselves, “I feel as though I should be potentially angry at the situation that I was dealt or certain things in life that are unjust to me. Therefore, I should be really angry about it.” It is very easy to just go along and realize that you have bottled that up for a very long time and not really done anything about it. It is interesting to try to parse through how to effectively manage that anger or that really bottled-up emotion inside you. I felt like this was a very cool episode to do and I'm glad that you brought it to us.
Jase: It reminds me of something that I read years and years ago about- I'm blanking on his first name, but Maslow, the psychologist, who was one of the first people to ever study what do healthy people look like, instead of just studying people who have some clear mental illness or something that's wrong, that they're trying to fix and instead being like, “What are we trying to get people to? What do healthy, well-adjusted people look like?” He was one of the first people to study that. I remember reading about this years ago and that one of the traits was getting really angry about injustice in the world.
Jase: I remember at the time being really struck with the idea that anger would be a trait of a healthy person. Because at the time, I think I was in high school or something, that it never occurred to me. Anger, I'd always thought of it as a negative thing, that a healthy person just would never be bothered by anything, wouldn't be upset by anything. Actually, being angry-- In this case, it was specifically over injustice. I thought that was really interesting. It's something I've thought a lot about over the years since then, of remembering that and being like, “You're right. That is okay and maybe even good feel that way."
Dedeker: I feel like everyone has a different personal relationship with how anger comes up in their life, or how anger comes up in their body, or how they feel it. I know that for me, I had this weird crisis of identity for a number of years where it wasn't until I was in my 20s that suddenly my mom and my sister mentioned to me that they both felt that I was a very angry child. I remember being like, “That's weird." I don't evaluate my childhood that way. I don't necessarily remember being angry. Then over time, as I started thinking about, I realized, like, “No, I don't think that I was necessarily like an outwardly angry child, but I think I definitely was a super bottled-up angry child."
I think it was more of that, that I think maybe was more destructive when I was small, was less of being outwardly, expressively angry and more of that suppressing and bottling habit that I think a lot of us get into. Something that like my own therapist pointed out was that anger is one of the first emotions that we get shamed out of as a child depending on context. To some people, that's not the case, but with a lot of us, anger and outward expressions of anger, the first thing that get disciplined or get shamed out of us essentially. We carry that into our adulthood often feeling like anger itself as an emotion is a bad thing, like what you said, Jase, of assuming that a healthy person just wouldn't feel angry, or wouldn't allow themselves to feel angry.
Emily: It's surprising that your family characterized you as that even though you were keeping it bottled up and inward that they could still see it. We are able to see that in other people and characterize it as being angry even though we ourselves are trying to bottle it up.
Dedeker: Right, right. Exactly. That's what I mean. That's the thing. It's like when you bottle it up, it comes out somehow. It finds a way to come out somehow. What about the two of you? What have been your personal experiences, your relationships with anger in your lives?
Emily: I definitely know that anger was not something that I was allowed to be in my opinion growing up and not something that I did very often at all. Definitely, I know it's very difficult for me to express any anger or sense of injustice towards older female, authoritative women, because that's what my mother was, and I wasn't able. I didn't develop good ways of being angry or standing up for myself in those types of situations. To some men, I feel like I'm really good at expressing myself to some men, although I definitely will default to sadness or frustration in myself rather than outward anger towards someone else or towards a situation that is maybe unjust, like over my father not being in my life. That’s more just sadness, I think.
Dedeker: That makes sense. What about you, Jase?
Jase: For me, it’s interesting because something that we talked about while we were preparing this episode is the gender differences and how anger is treated for boys and girls growing up, and what we were taught is okay or not. There's this cultural thing where women aren't allowed to be angry, that anger is unattractive. Whereas on the other hand, men aren't allowed to be sad. It's like we can be angry, but we're not allowed to be sad or afraid, I guess.
Both of those have to get sublimated into anger. I think that was definitely at work culturally. At the same time, actually, in my family growing up, especially in my early tween and teen years, anger was very not allowed in my house, that was immediately, like, "No, that's not a thing you're allowed to do." I don't know. I feel like I have this weird mix of a lot of that time in my life, which if you all remember, it's a pretty angry time in the child's life, is that-
Dedeker: As a teenager or a tween?
Jase: Tweens to teens. We just had to move, and my parents had gotten divorced, and all the stuff that I was angry about as a kid, that wasn't allowed to be expressed, so there was a lot of that repression of it. Yet, on the other hand, I was angry, and for me, it would end up coming out in explosions of just getting really angry over a video game I was playing, or over something that happened, and punching a wall. It would have to get expressed physically usually in a way that hurt me somehow, like punching a wall or something that would hurt your hand. I think I actually broke my hand ones.
Jase: Just very slightly, I didn't go to a doctor anything about it, but punching an electrical box.
Emily: Broke my hand, but it's very slightly.
Dedeker: Hang on, you just, "I slightly broke my hand-
Jase: I slightly broke my hand.
Dedeker: -by punching an electrical box." Jase Lindgren.
Jase: Yes. Wow, there it is.
Which is not-- [chuckles] Even just on the surface level we can go, "That's not a healthy expression of anger because you hurt yourself."
That for me took a long time to get away from that, and sometimes that urge to hit something if I'm feeling angry is still there because that I guess being physical in my manifestation of anger was a way that was okay, I guess. Whereas just expressing my feelings wasn't as much maybe, I don't know. I don't know. I'm psychoanalyzing myself now.
Dedeker: What was basically thing. I feel the common threat in all these stories is that it seems like in our childhoods, there was definitely this conflation of anger the emotion with anger the physical expression of it. Let's say something like punching a wall, or like yelling, or throwing something, or something like that. If the parenting is, "Don't do this thing of like punching the wall, yelling or throwing a book," whether that's intentional or not, it seems the message received can be, "Anger it's just not okay. Feeling this way is just not okay." I mentioned the throwing of the book because one of the times I got in the most trouble in my life, was because I tried to throw a book at my sister when I was angry.
Dedeker: Yes. For some reason, I feel like it was more about the preciousness of books than about the anger, or maybe a combination of the two, I don't know, but I never threw a book again, let me tell you.
Emily: Wow, jeez, goodness. In anger, also, it's experienced in different ways. We have a lot of, unfortunately, stereotypes surrounding anger in society just in general not just with men and women, but also people of color, even the Spicy Latino. A Latino person, unfortunately, like an angry woman might be a shrill, or bitchy, or de-legitimized, or thought of as crazy. Whereas, an angry white man might be taken seriously and might be thought of as very inspiring or very passionate. Then obviously, is that awful stereotype of the angry black person, which is terrible and bullshit.
All of these, unfortunately, are things I think that in our society we do tend to think of right away when we think of anger, or when we try to look at anger, and someone attached to it. Sometimes maybe one's mind might go to that as opposed to, how is this being expressed and is it something that I need to listen to because this person is in pain, or they need to express themselves in a certain way?
Dedeker: I think it's interesting because we give different consequences for different groups of people when they feel angry. Personally, I don't know, maybe this sounds like a tiny bit of a conspiracy theory, but I think there's some truth to it. I think the reason for that is because anger is a powerful thing. Even on a very- let's just talk total surface level out-of-control anger where you do feel you want to hit something, that's a powerful manifestation, that's intimidation, that's domination. It's like anger itself has this power to it where maybe even in a healthy way it's just being able to be assertive or to stand up for yourself or something like that.
I suspect that that's why we have all these double standards is because people that routinely have been marginalized, it's like, "Well, we can't let their anger actually be powerful." We can't let a woman's anger actually be powerful, so we have to write it off as like, "She's mentally ill, or she's being bitchy, or she's just getting herself worked up over something that's not actually a huge deal." With anyone who's a person of color, we have to de-legitimize the anger, we can't let it be powerful. Usually with a white cis man, then it can be read as passionate, or inspired, or motivated. I think that's the reasoning behind, but I'm sure there's many other reasons why as well.
Jase: I think something too for men and something that's been an interesting process of learning in my life is that the physicality of anger. For me, I just, in general, experience all of my emotions pretty physically. I'm just that tactile kinetic kind of person. Something that was interesting is that, for me, my perception of myself being angry, or punching walls, or whatever, is that in my head I'm still the scrawny little nerdy kid that I was as a child.
Dedeker: With your coke-bottle glasses.
Jase: With my real big glasses that were super thick. I was a very skinny, little kid. I was pretty skinny and unimposing for most of my young life. A few years ago, I guess like 10 years ago or so, I got into working out and I'm now a much larger human being [chuckles] than I was back then. I had this repeatedly shocking realization that my anger was scary to people in a way that I had never perceived it myself.
Specifically, scary to women that I'm with, the partners, not even being at all physically aggressive toward them, but just the sheer physicality of my anger, especially if it's directed at them in argument or something we're having, or in punching a wall, or something. That that's really scary for someone else, was something that had never even occurred to me. I think for a lot of men, they don't realize that. They don't realize that we associate anger with being out of control, especially when it seems like it is out of control.
Even if you're physically on equal footing with someone in terms of your size, and your muscle mass and things like that, that's still a very scary thing that this person could be out of control and not be able to stop them from hurting me physically or trying to, and to then amplify that if the person is smaller in size than you are, like how serious that is. I think a lot of men don't get that and that we're almost shown the opposite that that should be an attractive trait of being physically angry because our action heroes are physically angry. They take out that anger in a physical way against the bad guys and then all of the women are like, "We's so great. We love this."
Dedeker: I feel like in a lot of action movies, there's that moment when the male action hero usually has lost the female protagonist in some way, or the love interest, or whoever it is they've died, or he's failed in some way, and instead of being sad, he flips the table,-
Jase: That's how we know he's sad. [chuckles]
Dedeker: -or knock something over. Exactly. That's how we know he's upset is because he's destroyed something and we look at that and it's not seen as like, "He's out of control," we see it as like, "He’s so moved and he’s so hurt.”
Emily: The most recent season of Luke Cage, Luke punches the wall in front of his lady love and she leaves and does not comes back the rest of the season. You do not know if she’s coming back ever, especially now that apparently the season, Luke Cage, is going away from Netflix and is going on the Disney streaming thing or whatever. It was really interesting and-
Dedeker: She punched them right off of Netflix.
Emily: No, exactly. Well, yes. I don’t know parts of that potentially felt problematic. Also, I felt like, "Okay, they’re showing the consequences of this man being really angry and manifesting his anger in a way not directed necessarily towards her, but towards something else that’s in an inanimate object, but yet she felt very threatened by that and chose to leave." Even though he’s the protagonist, that was very interesting to me to see that, but I think an important message potentially to show.
Dedeker: Yes, I know. I think that is really important because like you’re saying, Jase, I do think a lot of people don’t realize, you kind of think like, “Well, me throwing this thing or hitting the wall or whatever, I’m not hurting someone. I’m just trying to get my anger out," but it still has these consequences. I want to shift focus a little bit because I want this episode to be about the good things that anger can actually bring into our lives and can actually do for us.
Because I think that’s the thing. It’s like we’re so used to having all these negative memories and negative associations with expressions of anger and that then gets translated into, "Anger itself is really bad and I need to avoid it, and so I need to repress it," then it comes out, and then it becomes like this just continually perpetuating cycle. I would like to take a moment to talk about what are the good things that some healthy expressions and manifestations of anger can do for us.
Emily: Yes. Initially, when you feel anger within your body and within yourself, it is like this personal red flag that indicates when a boundary might have been crossed or when something might be encroached on that you feel is not okay. It’s a good indicator for us just to say like, “Hey, this lights something up within me.” I realized that maybe something is going on here that to me is not okay.
It’s also a great opportunity to check in with our core needs and values to see like, “Hey, am I just getting, I don’t know, insecure about something here, and therefore, it’s causing me to feel anger, or is a real core value of mine being encroached on? What do I need to do about that there?” It does show us that those things might be happening in the moment.
Dedeker: Yes, definitely. I find for myself that I think that anger gives me a reminder to be self-compassionate, which sounds totally counterintuitive. Because it’s like when you feel angry, usually it’s the last thing on your mind to think about being compassionate towards yourself or self-loving. I recently realized, and I mean literally just like a couple of weeks ago, I just had the sudden flash of realization that the days where I’m feeling the angriest, or the most frustrated, or the most testy, or where I’m being more harsh to the people around me, or angry at the people around me, I suddenly made this realization that there’s this correlation that the days that I’m doing that also happen to be days that I’m also being really harsh toward myself and like really angry-
Emily: That’s really interesting.
Dedeker: Yes, and really angry towards myself. I realized like, "It’s like the same level of harshness that I hold toward myself I’m also expressing to other people." It feels like they must be related in some way. Even before I made that particular realization, I started to try to take this different tactic for the times that I would get angry instead of feeling ashamed, or feeling like I needed to not feel it, or feeling like I needed to ignore it.
I started thinking about myself as an angry toddler, essentially, or it brings to mind images of myself as a toddler being angry. Because, honestly, any toddler get angry. It’s not necessarily scary, maybe it’s annoying hearing a toddler gets a tantrum, but you’re not personally scared, or feel like this toddler is going to cause you any harm. It’s just like, “She’s throwing a temper tantrum.”
I started looking at myself that way or speaking to the part of me that felt angry as though it was like my three-year-old self that was I just kind of soothing and just saying like, “Hey, it’s going to be okay. I know you’re angry, but it’s going to pass and it’s going to be okay.” Doing that helped me to take a little bit of a different approach that helped me actually get through the anger a little bit faster when it was more like that of validating, and being compassionate, and being gentle like you would with an angry baby, essentially.
Emily: That’s cool, yes.
Jase: Another good thing about anger is that it can fuel us and enable us to communicate about our needs, or our values, or our beliefs assertively. It also can really fuel putting energy into something that does matter of making social change. Examples that came up a lot when we are researching this is things like the civil rights movement in the US and the women suffrage movement. The both of those were very fueled by anger justifiably. That is what helped keep people motivated, give them the courage to do something about it, and to communicate your needs and your values.
That anger was a very useful thing and was used in ultimately very healthy ways in those instances of making social change. We read about one example of- on a more individual scale. If you’re angry about people constantly running a stop sign, or a stop light at an intersection near your house, it makes you angry because you’re worried about the safety of your kids, or if people in the neighborhood, you--
An unhealthy expression of that is either to just be angry and repress it, or to sit there and yell, or throw rocks at cars that drive through the intersection. A healthy expression of that is to take that anger and be like, “I’m going to go contact my local police department, or local legislature and try to do something about this." Is there something we can actually do to stop this, which could then have a positive impact on your neighborhood by making it a safer place? Even on an individual scale, that same thing can happen where it can be used to really fuel something good.
Dedeker: Yes, let me tell you, it’s a really a good cure for writer’s block also.
Jase: No. She’s always encouraging me when I’m trying to write stuff and feeling that I can’t she’s like, “Here, read this.”
Emily: Just kidding.
Jase: She’ll send me an article that’s written about polyamory or about masculinity that she knows is going to make me angry. She’s like, "Read this."
Emily: Oh my gosh. Wow.
Dedeker: It’s true, though.
Emily: That’s fine.
Dedeker: When I was writing my book, is not that the entire process was filled by anger, but it’s like the inspiration for sitting down to start to write an outline was being angry about the ways that I was reading relationship advice written for women. Flipping through Cosmo and I was physically ill and so angry about all these stereotypes, and all these assumptions, and all these really unhealthy things being pushed on people that I was like fuck this. I’m going to write something better and I did. I will tell you that if you’re experiencing some kind of writer’s block, I feel that’s one of the best ways for to find something that you’re angry about and start writing about that.
Jase: See whether that’s related to the thing that you want to write about right?
Dedeker: I don’t know, it doesn’t have to because sometimes I find-
Emily: Now I mean-
Dedeker: -even if I’m just able to get the juices flowing and write something, that sometimes that helps to get some momentum to keep writing about even something else, even if it’s not necessarily the topic that I’m angry about.
Emily: I remember I was really angry about Brad that once upon a time when I went to yoga like seven days in a row or something. Just going and working out constantly, I was good, yes.
Jase: Yes, I got some real good workouts out of Brad as well, actually.
Emily: Yes, yes. For sure, thanks.
Dedeker: I definitely got some good works out of some bad relationships, I will say.
Emily: Yes, yes, for sure.
Dedeker: Is ironic because now I’m in these relationships that feel really good and I’m like, “Man, I’m only doing yoga like one day a week when I was doing seven days a week and my shoulders were popping off, my arms looked so good dangling."
Emily: Those were utopian days, too, when your arms were like tree trunks.
Dedeker: Exactly, right. Okay. Let’s talk about some stints and stats, some of our favorite things to talk about.
Emily: Yes, of course. Of course.
Jase: Love it.
Dedeker: There was a 2004 study that was published in Motivation and Emotion, which a social-psychology journal. In the study, they found that the participants, they were surveying and studying specifically people who are in relationship and who are communicating their anger within their relationships. They found that when the participants were able to describe their anger in a controlled way to their partner, both members of the couple found that the anger itself was a really illuminating force as in like, "This anger, whether it was experienced by both of us or one of us, it highlighted areas that we needed to work on."
It didn't just do that, it highlighted both our faults and our pitfalls. It also highlighted what we're good at, what our strengths are. They found that, ultimately- their takeaway was that getting angry and letting themselves feel angry, ultimately, lead to making positive changes in the relationship. Again, it's that same thing, that it's like your anger can be this indicator of like, "Something that I don't really like is going on, or something needs to change here." If you can find a way to express that in a productive direction, that then it can produce these much more positive results, and maybe making the change that actually is going to help you in the future.
Emily: That's great. Another study was from the Journal of Family Communication. It found that couples who express their anger productively are likely to live longer than couples who suppress their anger. I think that makes sense. There's a lot of talk recently, and I don't know, within at least the last 10, 15 years about the mind-body connection and just how obviously modern medicine isn't the only thing that is going to make you disease free. You also have to do things from within and be as peaceful, I think, on the inside as you can be.
That also is a manifestation of healthfully being angry when you can. That makes sense that if you're just constantly suppressing your anger and bottling it up towards your spouse, then you're not going to be a very healthy person, perhaps is life continues on with that person. Also, you can have better arguments and disagreements with your spouse, if you can talk about your anger in a productive way.
Dedeker: Right. I feel we were reading some other studies recently that was supposed it was just so obvious.
Jase: I was just about to talk about that.
Dedeker: Where it was just like, they found that people who directly communicated actually got what they want into relationships.
Jase: Right, right, right, that one. Yes.
Emily: What a concept.
Dedeker: Without asking for support. I feel there's been this bigger thing of I feel like we have-- I want to say, we've been fed this lie and that sounds really dramatic. It's like we've bought into this story that anger itself is physically bad for you, that angry people are the ones who experienced the heart disease, and stress, and blood pressure issues. I think it really is time more to it's the suppression, it's the fighting against the anger. That is what gets trapped in your body and it ultimately has those negative health effects for you.
Jase: This is such a fascinating subject to look for studies on, to Google this and stuff. Just one thing was an old study about type A personalities. It was showing that the type A personality, which was originally associated with heart disease and others sort of health problems because of the high levels of stress and anger and things like that, in studying it more, it was found that actually things like work addiction and competitiveness are actually not clearly linked to health problems. However, being overly suspicious of other people and quick to get really angry over things that other people do, or things you suspect people are doing was tied to higher risk of heart disease as well as other things.
There was that other one we read about. There was this study done over the course of 18 years from the '70s to the '80s of studying men and women about different situations. Giving them different situations and asking, "Would you be angry about this? Then would you say something about it or would you just bottle it up, basically?" Then they came back to those people 18 years later and found specifically that with women, the ones who said that they would be angry in situations, but would not say anything about it, were three times more likely to be dead 18 years later.
Emily: That's horrifying. Good lord.
Jase: There's some Bonkers' studies out there, but this other one more recently that I thought was interesting was from UC Santa Barbara, Moons and Mackie, which I just love saying their name, did a study in 2007-
Emily: Moons and Mackie.
Jase: Moons and Mackie.
Emily: That sounds like someone that might be in Santa Barbara.
Jase: These are two people, these are their last names.
Emily: Okay, two people.
Jase: Moons and Mackie did this study in 2007 that showed that angrier people were better able to distinguish between strong and weak arguments that they were reading.
Jase: They did this by having people write down or recollect a memory that made them angry, and then threw some questions verified that they were actually feeling angry, and then presented them with these two different arguments, one that's actually citing studies and things like that. Then this other one, arguing the same point but just using all anecdotal things or unsupported observations, things like that. They found that the angrier people were better able to identify the weaknesses and the weak argument and that this one was better.
They did the study again, this time where the difference was in who the argument was supposedly written by. In one case, it was written by a board of researchers on this topic. Then the other one, it was written by some medical practitioners in a field totally unrelated to the subject. That, again, the angrier people were more likely to identify the source that came from a more reliable source as being more reliable and more compelling. Really interesting that anger can also fuel that, can fuel being a little more critical and not so susceptible to someone's argument.
Dedeker: Wow, that's so interesting. That seems like it's a really good thing because I feel we definitely need more critical thinking in our lives. I think all of us do. I think that's generally a good thing. At the same time, I could see that that increased critical thinking skill making you also more critical of a partner's argument as well, which is maybe a good thing, maybe a bad thing, I don't know. Sometimes logic is not. Logical debate is not always the thing that solves arguments in relationships, I found, but sometimes it is, I don't know. It's like...
Jase: Yes, and it is interesting.
Dedeker: Yes, the case about that.
Jase: Well, it makes me think about that earlier study you mentioned about couples identifying that healthfully-expressed anger helped them resolve things better. Maybe there is something to it that if both people are able to bring that in a healthy way, that it helps your critical thinking together as a unit, not just tearing each other down. I don't know.
Dedeker: I like that. I like that theory. Do you think that being angry could help you be more critical of your own bullshit arguments?
Jase: Maybe, I wonder.
Dedeker: That I'm not sure.
Jase: Let's put that study together.
Emily: I feel when you're angry, it can be the self-perpetuating cyclical thing. It's good if you're able to be angry, have that emotion, and then walk away from it and think more globally afterwards. I don't know. Maybe not.
Dedeker: No, no, no, you're totally on the right track because in our second part of this episode, we're going to be getting specifically into that about tools and techniques for handling your anger well, and for expressing it in a healthy way, in an illuminating way as they described it in the study.
Dedeker: Yes. All right, you all, are you ready for some tools, some techniques, some stuff that we can actually do with our anger other than just feeling it and then denying it, which I think normally our MO or at least my MO. We're going to start out and I'm going to introduce you to this great acronym that I found. I didn't come up with this, I wish that I did.
I found this specifically in an article that was on the Montana State University, I think psych department website. I could not find this acronym referenced anywhere else in common usage. I assume maybe they're the ones who came up with it, I don't know, but I thought it was really useful, really interesting way of thinking about dealing with anger. Basically, if the situation is, let's say, you're at home, something happens like your partner-- What usually happens in my life is that my partner put something in a place that it does not belong.
Emily: Or it's someone's loaded the dishwasher poorly.
Dedeker: Oh gosh, okay. Jase's situation, someone's loaded the dishwasher poorly. Maybe your partner said something to you impersonate that hurt, or whatever. Something's happened where you're feeling angry. You're going to use the acronym area, A-R-E-A. Yes, and that stands for admit, restraint, express, action plan. You're going to start out by admitting that you're angry in the first place, which I think is really important, because that's the first step because, otherwise, it's stuffing it, it's repressing it, it's denying it, it's claiming that it's maybe something else entirely, instead of just admitting, "Hey, what I'm feeling right now is anger and that's okay."
Emily: There are warning signs.
Dedeker: Exactly. I don't know what's the best way to go through this because we came up with tips and tricks for every single stage of this, maybe it's the best way to go through it that way?
Jase: Why don't we talk about them just briefly first and then we'll go through the tools for your plan.
Dedeker: You're going to admit your anger, restrain your anger. I really want to emphasize that this R is restraint and not repress. There's different. Repress is shoving it down, bottling it, not expressing it, not doing anything about it until inevitably explodes at some later date. Restraint is a little different. The nuance of restraint is the idea that before you express your anger, you get it under control. You do what you need to do to get yourself in a place where you're not going to be yelling or you're not going to be punching a wall or something like that or you're not going to be straight up attack mode on your partner but that you're still able to express in a more calm way even if you're still feeling angry.
Jase: Which is the third part is to express.
Dedeker: Yes. Which is third one which is to actually express in a healthy way. The last one is an action plan and we love action plans because they're part of our radar, coming up with action points but it doesn't have to be part of radar. It can be part of when you go through this, when you're able to actually express your anger then it can be a productive conversation with your partner about, "Okay, let's come up with something actionable that we can both agree that only help prevent this negative feeling in the future." Let's go through these again, the A-R-E-A but with some more specific strategies for helping that to actually happen.
Emily: Well, should I go through all the signs of admitting?
Dedeker: There's so many signs.
Emily: There's a lot.
Jase: These are the clues and I think it seems like, you would think it would be obvious to just go like, "I'm angry right now." I feel like when we're actually feeling angry sometimes it's easy to not even realize we are.
Emily: What is going on right now, I'm just feeling not good and then there's are bunch of reasons. Well, there's a bunch of things that you should look out for. Can I get on the list?
Dedeker: Well, before you launch on the list, I just wanted to clarify, I've also spoken specifically to a lot of women. There's a lot of women that I know that have expressed like, "I don't even know what my relationship to anger is because I don't know if I've ever actually felt it." I feel like a lot of people it's because it's kind of the same thing that women's anger often gets diverted as something else entirely. That's why I think it's important to go through a list like this, so that you can have these little clues to indicate to you like, "I might be feeling angry right now."
Emily: Yes. All right. Here the signs. The first one is going to be blood pressure, pulse racing, and then feeling hot or flushed, a stomach ache or a headache. That's interesting. Yes. Tightness in the chest. Yes.
Dedeker: I get that all the time.
Emily: Yes. Clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth. What if you grind your teeth at night? Does not mean you're always angry?
Jase: I'm always angry while I sleep apparently. Yes, yes. Those are physical symptoms to look out for and then these next ones are like, if you catch yourself doing these behaviors, it might be a clue.
Emily: Okay. Rubbing your head like, "Ah." I don't know.
Jase: No, I think it's that forehead rub. The like, ''I'm so angry." [crosstalk] my forehead.
Dedeker: For me it tends to be a temple rub.
Jase: I've seen that.
Emily: I've seen you do that. I've seen you do that. Also this one is interesting, cupping your fist with your other hand. Cupping?
Jase: Yes. I think it's like if you're watching the video you can see it, but it's that, not even like your- punching your hand but just like you're holding your fist inside your hand.
Dedeker: Clenching your fists in some particular way.
Jase: It's like a variation on that.
Emily: Yes, yes. Cupping is a funny way of putting it. Okay. Hazing, hazing around the block. Getting sarcastic. Wow. Well, what if you're just sarcastic in general? What then?
Jase: I feel like this one ties to the next on which is acting in an abusive or abrasive manner. I think it's when you notice you're starting to respond very sarcastically in a way that's mean, in a way that's--
Emily: That's true.
Jase: There's fun sarcasm and hurtful sarcasm.
Emily: Sure. Absolutely.
Jase: It's like that.
Emily: Well, then also it's as losing your sense of humor which is really, that definitely is a big tell tale sign, I think. Yes. Then as you said, acting in an abusive, abrasive manner, creating a drink or smoke, or other substances that relax you.
Dedeker: I've been guilty of that one.
Emily: Raising your voice of course and then beginning to yell, scream, or cry.
Jase: I love that cry is on that list because that's--
Emily: That's surprising.
Jase: It's something that I remember, Emily mentioned this earlier on and I remember you and I having conversations years ago where something would be coming up that you were angry about and you would start crying.
Emily: Oh boy.
Jase: The assumption could be like, "I'm sad about this thing." I think it's worth noting here that, no, that can also be a symptom of anger especially if anger wasn't something you were allowed to express that very likely could show up crying.
Emily: Yes. It just manifests itself in crying. Totally.
Dedeker: Yes. I think that's really common.
Dedeker: Yes. It's really common I think with people who are socialized to be women. It's this idea that again, crying is acceptable for people to our women to do. Often when that angry emotion comes up, it comes out as crying but it is that same thing where it's like, "What if I start to cry? If I'm going to start to express his anger I'm going to start crying which means I'm going to be seen as out of control or sad, or all these things I'm not." Actually, when it's actually about my anger which I think is another thing that often holds people back from expressing their anger is because they know they're going to cry at the same time.
Emily: Yes, eventually.
Dedeker: Actually, in a book that I was reading recently, they talked about the fact that particularly with women in positions of power in a workplace for instance. A male boss for instance, if he gets angry and starts yelling, that's okay but if she gets angry and starts crying, that's an entirely different image and much more likely to be labeled as like, "She's too emotional or things are falling apart for her," or whatever. That again keeps people in the cycle of not necessarily wanting to express their anger for fear of not wanting to cry in front of people or at work.
Jase: With all of these, they can be clues of how to realize you're angry even when you might not like Dedeker was pointing out and that leads us to the second part which is about restraining that anger. We've talked about this before in our Five Ways to Suck Less at Communication, I believe is where we first talked about this. It's the idea of halt or it's now become halt to this. The original halt means hungry, angry, lonely, tired that if you're any of those things having a discussion and argument, just stop, fix those things and then come back and continue the conversation. We've expanded ours to be horny, hungry, angry, lonely, tired, drunk or sick.
Emily don't have any serious discussions right now. What's interesting about that is I feel like a lot of those, for example, hungry or tired. Lonely is a little bit trickier but those are clear. It's like, "I'm feeling hungry." "Yes." "I'm feeling tired." "Yes." "I'm sick." "Yes." There's others that are on this spectrum like drunk. It's like, "Well, I've had a drink or am I to drunk to be having this conversation?"
Emily: Honestly, that's why I don't list that as drunk. I call it drinking.
Jase: Drinking as he just said.
Emily: She just clarified.
Jase: Okay. Sure.
Emily: There's not even a qualifier of like, "Well, I just had two beers, I'm not drunk." It's just like, no, just don't have this conversation while you're drinking.
Jase: I think we also included that to be drugs also that it is a double purpose. So same thing if you're--
Emily: Double D.
Jase: "I'm too high to have this argument, man." Things like anger for example is harder because it's like, "Well, we're talking about something that I have a lot of feelings about. When is this crossing the line from just like, 'Yeah. We're having a serious discussion to being angry?"' I think that identifying those symptoms from before is useful but I think really getting to calibrate your ability to detect when you've gone into anger mode is a very valuable thing and not something that we're really taught especially if we're not even taught to recognize anger in the first place.
Dedeker: Well, I think something you pointed out which is tricky with halting is that if you realize that it's hunger, you're hungry that it's easier to stop because you can realize like, "Oh, okay. I think I'm just- I'm hungry. We need to go get some food. Let's stop and go get food." "Yey, we're looking forward to food." When you're tired it's like, "Okay. I'm way too tired. We need to go to sleep. Let's go to sleep and try to revisit this again in the morning." "Okay, whatever. That's easy. We can just go to sleep."
With anger, I think that's the hardest one to stop because there's not an external thing, the need to sleep or the need to eat. That's like, okay, clearly there's this thing that's going to break us out of. It clearly is you need to have the self-determination to feel angry but still pause and walk away which I think is the hardest thing to do. I think, I know for me, I love halt, but when I am angry it is so difficult for me to actually halt.
Dedeker: It definitely it takes practice. It takes a lot of practice when you're actually angry. I think that's the important thing is it takes practice. You have to constantly get yourself to do it while you're actually are feeling anger in order to get better at being able to do.
Jase: This is something that just will get better with practice but one way that you could very intentionally go about practicing this is, for example, say this comes up with a particular partner, right? Especially if there's a certain subject where you tend to get angry and your conversations are less productive is to go in with your partner with the intention of we're going to halt doing this. Setting that up from the beginning, so it's not we failed somehow and we have to halt, but it's we're going to halt, we're going to learn how to do this.
Evaluating that threshold and being as soon as I start to feel we're going into this, let's halt and let's halt early. Let's err on the side of halting too early just to get what that feels like. How to identify that? Then, as you develop your sensitivity to it, you can figure out what the right threshold is for halting. For you, it may be very early, it may be as soon as I start to go here, I have to halt for a little bit so that I can continue this conversation in a productive way, but just going in knowing you're going to halt can actually be very helpful and very empowering, though it's not seen as a failure.
Dedeker: This is the last note, just remember that it's calling a halt for yourself as opposed to calling a halt for your partner because generally, if it's, "Okay, I need to halt, I need to take a pause, I need to take a break, and then come back to this." It's generally going to better received than, "Hey, you need to take a break, you need to halt, you need to walk away from this." Again, new statements are going to be much for a life to just get you-
Dedeker: Yes, exactly. Get of defensiveness and I know that I've definitely experienced that in the past, but with that even if it's true, even if a partner is like, "You need to halt," and I know in my brain I'm like, "Yes, that is correct."
Dedeker: For assuming exactly. Yes, just bare it all in mind. That was their strength. Let's move on to the E which is express. This is after it's restrained, after it's under control, maybe you've halted, you've taken some time away, you've been able to calm down and you can come back to it. Some ways that you can express your anger at the situation or with your partner in a healthy way. It can include things like the old classic by writing a letter.
Jase: Specifically, I think a letter you're not going to send is a very useful thing to add to that. I find that very valuable for me at least.
Dedeker: Yes, it doesn't have to-
Emily: Have you done that in the past.
Dedeker: Oh gosh, yes.
Emily: Yes, so many times.
Jase: I've found for me, I actually write a literal journal thing as if I was telling someone else rather than directly to the person.
Jase: Kind of like I'm venting to someone, but I'm just doing it in writing.
Emily: That's cool.
Jase1: I'm like, "Then I did this, and then this, and this, and this and I'm so upset about this and I can't believe I cannot do this." Just like getting it out. I'm not sending it to anyone.
Dedeker: Right. I think when I've used writing as an outlet, it's sometimes been less of a letter and how to spend more of a combination of getting it on paper with also physically expressing it because it tends to be a lot of using a very large red pen in writing curses. Sometimes it's writing out mean things that I'm feeling, but once I've written it out, then I don't feel it anymore. I know I'm not going say that to the person or I'm not going send it to the person, but I've gotten it out of me. Now, I'm not scared of my anger now hurting someone as much.
Definitely, I encourage people to write either write a letter, either if you want to address it to the person or to the situation or someone else entirely or it doesn't even have to be incomprehensible letter format. Just writing out your thoughts and your feelings can be very helpful. Like we mentioned earlier, I deciding on taking an action that will actually change something productively can be helpful, too. Again, this is clarifying from it's not taking an action as an, "Okay, well, this is an action that I can take to get back at this person," but it can help inspire you're taken action that actually going to move the situation into somewhere productive.
Emily: Right now at this period, recording this it's in the middle of the very historic LA, the school district strikes that are occurring. It's very rainy here right now and all those teachers are striking, but obviously, like that I think many of us have that of frustration and anger are over their current predicament and the lack of funding, the giant class sizes in just overall lack of funds also for them as teachers their salaries are shit in comparison to what they deserve. There are on strike right now I think yes, that's a great manifestation and showing that anger can fuel and bring about good change for sure.
Dedeker: Right, that was also something that took this process. It wasn't angry teachers just on the spot position decided to walk out of class in the middle of class.
Emily: No, it's a whole group together thousands and thousands of people striking and choosing to do it as a united front.
Dedeker: Right, exactly.
Emily: That's very different.
Dedeker: That's a very good example. Another way to express it is to talk or defend to someone a friend that you trust who is totally outside the situation, ideally. That's the ideal is either it's a friend who you feel is objective enough outside of your relationship at the situation or whatever could be a professional, could be a therapist. Again, having this outlet of someone where you can just vent and you can just express. I know that after we reference an ethical slot, they have their poor baby exercise where you can just vent and have a friend just like, "Oh poor baby," back to you. If you feel that's going to be helpful just you can feel hurt, but again, that is defusing the anger so that is not going to be unleashed on your partner, for instance.
Now, the next one, there's the series of suggestions around things like hit a pillow or take a golf club to your bed or take a strike to the couch or something like that. I've seen that suggestion come up a lot. It is helpful for some people. There is some research suggests that doing that doesn't tend to diffuse anger and it's actually more to keep you more worked up which different people respond to that in different ways. I feel a little bit hesitant about recommending it as a go-to. I don't think it's necessarily the best thing to do, unless it's you're going to punch a wall or you're going to punch a person. Your last resort is I'm going to punch this pillow ideally not in front of this person. I will say that the recommendation to take it out physically on something, I feel hesitant about, but I know it does work for some people, it doesn't work for other people. That's just my take away from the whole thing.
Lastly, being able to just verbally express that you are angry in the first place, but expressing it in a calm way can be really helpful. Sometimes I feel like this is a good implementation like Triforce One, for instance, to just tell a partner, "Hey, Triforce One, I just need you to know I feel really angry about this thing happening. We don't need to talk about it right now or we don't need to do anything about it right now or I don't need anything specifically from you, but I just need to be heard and I just need you to know that I am angry."
Jase: I think even if you are talking about the thing, just start it out by just being like, "I need you to know that I'm actually very angry about this thing, I don't want to take that out on you, but I need you to know I am very angry about this and I really want to find a solution to it," can help that person to get it and for you to feel your anger is being heard without needing to yell at them or throw things or call the names or whatever you might want to do.
Dedeker: Right, exactly.
Jase: The last thing is action points. This one, if you go and listen to our episode on Relationship RADAR, we talked a lot about action points being specifically something that's a tangible actionable item that you can say either yes, I did it or no, I didn't do it. Rather than something amorphous like, "Let's be better about this, or let's do this more or less. Let's do this specific thing at this time or let's do this X number of times within the week or something."
With these examples of Dedeker being angry about me putting something in a place where it doesn't belong or another partner doing that. An example of an action point there is, "Okay, instead of her just being angry about this, what if we find ways specific actions both of us could take." Like, "Okay, if you don't want me to put this here, let's get really clear on where this does go. On the other hand, if you do know to sit there maybe ask me first if there's a reason why it's there if I'm about to use it again or write something like that."
It's very specific to the situation. It's not we can just give you like, "Here's the action points you can do," but to really look at what a very tangible-- Did we do it or not thing. That's not something vague being better about something or just doing something less or more, but try to be as specific as you could be.
Dedeker: I think just to reiterate what we said earlier, it's this idea that anger can lead to action to these action points that anger can be this indication of like, "Okay, we need to come up with some action points for a positive change." That's a good thing. I think that hopefully, that reminders something that enables people to know like, "Okay, it is okay to feel it, it is okay to express it because it can lead to action."
Dedeker: I want to take us into the bonus content for this week.
Emily: Let's do it.
Dedeker: We wrote down other notes, but I want to be a maverick and go off-script.
Jase: Oh boy.
Dedeker: -if you all can-
Emily: Be a maverick, wow.
Dedeker: If you all can handle it. We don't have to dive into this super deep, but are you all angry about anything these days?
Emily: Just in general?
Jase: My secret is I'm always angry. [chuckles]
Dedeker: That's a very deep dark secret. I wouldn't have suspected that of you.
Jase: Also the Hulk, yes.
Emily: I think coming back to America after being in China, I became angry over how safe it felt there versus here. Somebody casually today while I was at work was like, "A guy got stabbed the other day outside my apartment." I was like, "The fuck." That just happens in this country or the borderline shooting that happened right after I left that took 12 people's lives, I believe and somebody that I knew. That that is a way of life here and that that's something that we just live with in America on a daily basis and that those in Japan, where you guys currently are, it's not a thing at all that happens ever.
Dedeker: See, that's the funny thing, is I feel like my anger about that, because I've been angry about the same thing, about just how my own country feels less safe to me than so many other countries that I spend time that my productive take away from that hasn't been to call my representative, but has been to just spend as much time not in the state as I can, which is, I don't know. You can take that for what it is.
Emily: No, I get that. I probably could have better ways in which to, I don't know, try to enact change but it feels very hopeless honestly. I get the point because we are just single people in this giant culture of America and it seems like what can one person do except for vote and vote and vote some more and I don't know. Besides that, it's hard, but it's very easy to be angry, especially where we currently are standing in our American lives.
Jase: It makes me think of actually, just real quick, another study that we read about in prepping this episode, was one about feeling that in reactions to a situation that people who responded with anger rather than fear were more likely to have a more realistic and more optimistic view of the potential outcome of that.
Emily: Interesting. I think that makes sense.
Jase: There's also some negative side effects to it, where it can also lead to uttering other people more. The example that they gave was with 9/11. It was with the World Trade Center that people who reacted to that with fear were much more likely to have more highly elevated irrationally, fears of other attacks or of other dangers or things like that, whereas people who responded with anger were more likely to feel more optimistic and have a more realistic assessment of their risk and stuff like that. However, as we saw, that anger also was used for a lot of very bad things in terms of uttering people. Not to say, it's just universally good in that situation.
Emily: No, of course. It is interesting too that people's fear-- For example, my aunt didn't want me and my mother to go to China because she was like, "China is very, very bad and you're going to get hurt out there or something bad is going to happen." That's just from fear of whatever the media decides to say about China, whereas I felt constantly so much safer walking around there than I do here more often than not.
Jase: Gosh. Stuff I'm angry about, there's just so much. I don't even know where to start. The being angry over injustice thing is one that often gets me riled up, I think in a similar way to what Emily's talking about where it feels a little bit helpless. I feel like it makes me constantly ask this question about what could I be doing about this thing. For me, specifically in the work that we do with multiamory is mostly stuff around gender and the treatment of non-normative people, of people who are polyamorous or who are transgender or who are asexual or any number of things that are just so, that their needs or concerns or even just their humanity is so ignored by so many people, especially people in positions of power and the people who keep them there through perpetuating those sorts of just like not seeing other people as human beings.
It just makes me so angry and also frustrated that I feel so powerless about it sometimes. That's actually something I'm just having a conversation yesterday with a coach about projects that I want to do, to try and actually be effective in changing some of those things, specifically around gender and consent and sexuality and things like that. Anyway, I guess I'm hoping to use that anger like we talked about toward being productive and actually doing things to enact change even if I can't blanket change this around the world for everyone, but at least doing what I can and affecting the people that I can't affect.
Dedeker: Well, I'm angry about totalitarian capitalism, which affects all those things that you all talked about.
Jase: Yes, for sure.
Dedeker: I've been reading books on Anarchy. I'm taking some notes and thinking about books of my own. That's where I've been at these days.
Emily: We're such like social justice warriors right now, like geez. Good for us, I guess, but also the question is, "What do you do with that anger and how do you make the world a better place?"
Dedeker: Yes, definitely.
Jase: I was reading in one of the articles about the bad type of anger of being very suspicious and suspecting of other people and that that's particularly unhealthy. They gave the example of being in the check outline at the grocery store that's like 10 items or less thing and like, "Are you the person who sits there and counts how many items are in the person in front of you their basket?" I'm like, "Shit," I sometimes get in that mindset of like, "Got check, make sure everyone else is following the rules."
Jase: I definitely felt a little bit like, "That's a good example of maybe a thing that's not helping me or them or anyone," because I'm not making social change with that, I'm just being angry and suspicious.
Emily: Sometimes I'm the type of person who's like, "Don't push anyone's buttons. Don't make anyone upset," even if they clearly have 30 items in the 10-item. I know I'm not going to say anything obviously.
Dedeker: I get that.
Emily: There's a good middle ground there.
Dedeker: Of course. Well, thank you to all of you who joined us today for learning about this. We definitely love to hear from you. We want to know what's your relationship to anger, what has helped you in the past, how has anger come up in your relationships and how have you found ways to deal with it in a healthy way that's actually helped create productive conversations or create positive change in your relationships?
Now, the best place to share your thoughts on this with other listeners is on this episode's discussion thread in our private Facebook or discourse forums. You can get access to these groups and join our exclusive community by going to patreon.com/multiamory. In addition, you can share with us publicly on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can leave us a voicemail at 678-MULTI-05.
Dedeker: Or, you can also leave us a voice message on Facebook. Multiamory is created and produced by Jase Lindgren, Emily Matlack and me, Dedeker Winston. Our episodes are edited by Mauricio. Our social media wizard is Will Macmillan. Our theme song is Forms I know I Did by Josh and Anand. Full transcript is available on this episode's page on multiamory.com.