Being in recovery is about more than simply refraining from the use of drugs or alcohol. Lasting sobriety requires you to find new ways to manage your emotions—including anger.
Recognize That Anger Can Serve a Purpose
Anger isn’t inherently negative. Sometimes, anger lets you know that an aspect of a situation needs to be changed. For example, anger may lead to the realization that a relationship has become toxic and give you the courage you need to set healthy boundaries for yourself in the future. In a broader sense, anger over injustice in the world can inspire you to take action—whether you decide to volunteer at a local food bank to help hungry children in your community or begin attending protests drawing attention to the dangers of climate change.
People who have trouble managing their anger were often taught to believe being angry is shameful. This is particularly true for women since traditional gender stereotypes view angry women as “hysterical” or “irrational.” Feeling ashamed of your anger can lead to cravings for drugs and alcohol as a temporary escape, so it’s important to keep reminding yourself that you’re entitled to experience a full range of emotions.
Put Yourself in the Other Person’s Shoes
Although anger can sometimes indicate that a relationship isn’t working, jumping to conclusions can be dangerous. Sometimes, situations that make you angry are nothing more than a misunderstanding or miscommunication. Don’t assume that people are trying to be hurtful.
For example, imagine you are angry because your friend left you sitting at a restaurant alone for over an hour when you were supposed to meet for lunch. You might think she’s careless and inconsiderate, but perhaps she was dealing with a crisis such as an injured child, a car accident, or a death in the family. Unless you give her a chance to explain, you risk ruining the friendship entirely.
Realize That There’s a Difference Between Anger & Aggression
While anger is a normal and often healthy human emotion, it’s not an excuse for aggression. Violence is never an acceptable response to feeling angry. If you think you may become violent, the best course of action is to remove yourself from the situation. Find a safe, private place where you can calm down before you attempt to deal with the problem at hand.
Keep in mind that aggression doesn’t have to be physical to be hurtful. Verbally lashing out when you’re angry can cause just as much damage as hitting, kicking, pushing, or shoving—especially when you’re trying to rebuild trust and repair the addiction-related damage in your relationships with the people you care about the most.
Express Your Feelings in a Healthy Way
Coming up with healthy ways to express your feelings is a vital part of your recovery journey. This can include:
- Explaining how you feel using “I” statements that refrain from blaming or judging the other person
- Diffusing the situation by making a gentle joke about a situation made difficult by unrealistic expectations or factors beyond your control
- Calming down with yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises
- Privately processing the situation by writing in your journal
Note that it’s a common misconception that actions such as screaming, punching your pillow, or trashing a room will help “release” your anger in a meaningful way. Research has actually shown that people who take this approach to deal with their anger feel worse in the long run.
Choose to Forgive
Sometimes—even if your anger is justified—forgiveness is in your best interest. Unchecked anger can lead to a number of chronic physical symptoms. This includes anxiety, headaches, trouble sleeping, muscle tension, teeth grinding, and high blood pressure. Over time, this negatively affects your health and your overall quality of life.
Choosing to forgive someone who has harmed you frees you from the burden of toxic anger. This is true even if they’ve yet to express any remorse for their actions. When you release the negative energy in your life, you’re making space for a brighter future.
Turn to Your Treatment Team for Help
If managing your anger is a struggle, your treatment team can help you find ways to address the problem that won’t put your sobriety at risk. For example, anger can sometimes be a sign of untreated depression that needs to be addressed with counseling and/or medication.
Waypoint Recovery Center‘s South Carolina drug and alcohol addiction treatment program provides a full continuum of care designed to help you build the foundation for a lasting recovery. This includes support for mental health challenges such as anger management. Whether you’re a current client or an alumnus looking for extra support, we’re here to help.