Solving Boundary Issues with Healthy Anger
Now hold on just a minute, how can anger be healthy?
Let me explain.
Even though anger can be very destructive when acted upon unwisely, it is actually a very protective emotion by nature. Because of its protective nature, anger is the emotion most intimately connected with our boundaries, and it plays a vital role in our ability to cultivate healthy boundaries.
Anger arises to let us know when our personal sovereignty is being threatened or violated, and it can even arise on behalf of others when this violation is happening to someone else. It is the natural emotion to arise in any situation of injustice.
We can think of anger as a sentry, stalking the edges of our boundaries and standing ready to defend them.
Anger exists to move us into action, whenever action is needed to maintain the integrity of our boundaries, our sense of self, or whatever we consider to be “ours”.
Because of this, it carries with it tremendous power - which is why it is so important to be able to handle our anger well, and act on it appropriately. I emphasize this last point, because it is a widespread cultural belief that anger is a “negative” emotion and inherently toxic.
The problem with this belief is that it narrows our response to anger to one thing: repression. And while it is true that unfettered expression of anger is often harmful, repressing anger is also harmful (to the person feeling it).
Luckily, we have a third option! Instead of expression or repression, it is entirely possible to channel our anger into constructive action. To me, this is emotional intelligence at its best.
Acting on anger constructively allows it to accomplish its purpose of keeping us safe and empowered in life. In this way, it also allows our anger to chill out - because all of our emotions will naturally recede when their job is done.
Conversely, the quickest way to create chronic anger problems (feeling anger all the time) is to repress anger and fight against it. And the other tragic consequence of denying our anger is that our boundaries are left undefended - which means they are, for all practical purposes, useless.
Having healthy boundaries not only requires being able to say “no”, but also being able and willing to enforce that “no” when necessary. If we don’t stand up for our boundaries to enforce them, then they have no substance, no reality.
Our anger is a fundamental aspect of our power.
Without access to our healthy anger (our devoted sentry!), it becomes nearly impossible to enforce our boundaries.
Not only are we left without the incredible energy that anger provides (the kind of energy that allows us to fight off an attacker), but we are also left without the willpower that goes along with that energy. Without access to our anger, we’ll find ourselves choosing to stay silent and give in, even when that’s not what we actually want.
When our anger is exiled from our psyche, we will have a hard time standing up for ourselves, and will actually end up valuing the needs and desires of others more than our own. This is the reason why so many of us self-abandon, and say “yes” to things that we shouldn’t in order to make other people happy.
Anger gives us clarity about where our boundaries need to be, by arising as irritation when they are being pushed against, and in full-blown anger mode when they’ve been well and truly crossed.
This anger also communicates our boundaries to others, even without speaking, because we all evolved to empathically sense others emotions - and anger is the emotion that tells us when we’ve bumped up against another person’s boundaries. But even when someone doesn’t notice our anger, it also gives us the desire and energy to verbally (or even physically) communicate our boundaries as needed.
Anger is our single biggest ally in achieving healthy boundaries.
So if you find yourself being taken advantage of over and over again, take a look within and see if your anger is suppressed or not allowed in your psyche. If this is the case, now is the time to make friends with it again!
The first step in establishing a healthy relationship with your anger is to notice when it arises, preferably in its more subtle forms (before it gets big and ragey!).
If you find yourself feeling angry about something, that is often a red flag that your boundaries have been crossed in some way. Perhaps you waited too long to set a boundary because you didn’t realize that it needed to be there, or the person disrespected a boundary because it wasn’t communicated clearly enough. Or perhaps they’re just a jerk!
Either way, your anger is a sign that some additional boundary-setting action is needed. So the second step in a healthy relationship with anger is to feel into what action it is calling for, and then do it.
This is not only good for you, but it will also be good for others - because the more you respect your anger by listening to it, the more it will stay at a lower (more manageable) level, so the easier it will be to act on your anger while also staying respectful of other people.
If your anger comes on super strong, it is much harder to act on it honorably.
Luckily, there’s a way that you can bring your anger level down to a more manageable level before acting on it. Here’s how to do it.
First, get in touch with the anger that you’re feeling in the moment. Then use your intention, and ability to visualize, to feel/see/sense your anger pouring into your energetic boundary.
If you are unfamiliar with this concept, see my previous article on boundaries for how to get in touch with your energetic boundary. You can imagine it as an oval shape that goes all around your body, about half of an arms length out.
When you pour your anger into it, you can visualize this happening however works best for you. For example, you can imagine that your anger is a flame-thrower, setting your entire boundary aflame with its power.
Continue channeling your anger into your boundary for however long feels right. This is great to do before taking action because it helps our anger to calm down, not because we're repressing or "releasing" it, but because we're allowing our anger to do the precise job it wants to do: strengthening our boundaries and our sense of self.
A caution, however, is not to use this practice as a way of releasing anger without taking the actions that are ultimately needed to enforce and maintain your healthy boundaries in the world. The danger with all effective ways of down-regulating our emotions is that they can easily be misused, as a form of spiritual bypass.
Tools to calm down our emotions are best used to help us engage with our emotions more fully, whether this is acting on our anger constructively, or exploring past emotional wounds for healing. Emotional intelligence doesn’t mean not having emotions; it means knowing how to engage with our feelings so that they serve us in the best way possible.
May your anger serve you well!
Most emotional patterns are learned in childhood, so if you were not allowed to feel anger in your family, that can set you up for life-long boundary challenges. I specialize in transforming patterns such as these, so if this is something you struggle with, I offer free Emotional Breakthrough sessions to help you clarify what exactly you need to move forward. With the right tools, even the most persistent pattern can be transformed!