Why so angry?
Are you feeling angry after recognizing someone’s toxicity, dysfunction or narcissism and how it might have negatively affected you?
Do you find your angry feelings so overwhelming that you’re not exactly sure what you’re angry about? Maybe it feels like you’re angry all the time, at just about everyone.
It can be frustrating to feel such a powerful emotion and not understand why it’s so strong, or not be able to control it. It can make you feel bad about yourself and contribute to low self-esteem.
Additionally, anger can create issues between you and others; creating problems in your relationships, or draining away your productivity and energy. So, let’s talk about why you might be feeling so angry after recognizing how someone’s toxicity has negatively impacted you.
When you feel angry if a particular event happens or when you recall a certain memory, it’s because your brain hasn’t fully processed the situation before reacting. These are the knee-jerk reactions known as “triggers.” To identify our particular triggers, we need to examine our angry feelings in deeper detail.
What’s going on here?
When we stop and take a closer look, anger can provide us with important information. When you understand what is triggering your anger, you can heal those triggers. When your triggers are healed, you’ll be able to feel angry without over-reacting. You’ll be able to feel angry and still be in control of what you say and do. Learning to control anger and its triggers are a step in learning “emotional regulation,” something that you may not have gotten a chance to do as a child.
Anger is actually a secondary emotion. When you get angry, it feels like it’s the first and only emotion you feel, but that’s not what’s really happening. What actually happens is that you feel something else first, before the anger, and THAT emotion is what triggers the anger. In all likelihood, you have a memory or experience an event, and your mind interprets it so quickly that you don’t even notice it, but you feel something. That “something” triggers the anger.
“Emotions” are feelings that have thoughts connected to them. Understanding this, you will see the importance of your interpretation of that first fleeting feeling (and trigger) that ignites the anger. It’s that first thought, that interpretation which gives meaning to the event or memory and sparks the anger.
For those of us healing from the effects of someone’s probable or diagnosed narcissism, or chronic toxicity, our anger is most likely associated with painful past experiences. If you haven’t dealt with those traumatic experiences, your anger will be triggered more easily. You may feel angry much of the time.
Feeling anger is also a way of protecting ourselves. Have you ever thought of that? Sometimes we use anger to keep others at a distance so we don’t get hurt again. This can become an internal conflict: we don’t want to feel angry, but we don’t want to be hurt again either.
In my childhood family of origin, the rules were that it was OK for my mother to openly display anger at whomever she chose, for any reason, but I was not allowed to express anger without risking punishment. If we grew up with a mother who was intolerant of anyone’s anger but her own, then as adults we have some specific challenges that need to be dealt with. If we were not allowed to express all of our emotions, including anger, because they were judged or punished, we may have learned that anger is bad, frightening, useless, unfair, should be avoided, denied, or held inside.
When you grow up believing these things about anger and enter adulthood holding these beliefs, you’ll likely behave in ways that demonstrate that you believe your anger is useless or irrelevant (victimhood), or you may not know how to express anger in a healthy manner. You may even feel guilty for having angry feelings. Guilt on top of anger. Great!
These are aspects of “Childhood Emotional Neglect,” which occurs when parents don’t notice, respond to, or validate their child’s feelings, including anger.
Essentially, if we’ve been emotionally neglected, we’ll have no coping mechanisms for dealing with anger, and we may become passive-aggressive. (This means that we’ll act out our anger by doing things that don’t look like they’re done in anger but are the result of feeling angry. Passive aggression includes behaviors like: making intentional “mistakes,” procrastinating something that’s important to someone else, disguising criticism as compliments, feeling resentful, sabotaging, ignoring, slamming and banging objects, and saying “nothing’s wrong” when your behavior or body language clearly says there is.
Let’s unpack it
Our reactions are what’s important, not the memory or event itself. A memory or an event doesn’t really have any meaning until we give it one. Think about that.
We give the memory or event a meaning with our interpretation of it. We interpret memories and events so that we know how to think about and deal with them. And while you’re interpreting, you’re also making judgments (whether you’re conscious of it or not) about whether that memory or event is “good,” “bad,” or “neutral.” That decision is based on how you’re emotionally feeling at the time. Here’s an example I use in the book “Lemon Moms”:
Can the weather cause you to feel an emotion? If you’re inside today, cozy and warm, with nothing planned, and it begins to storm, do you feel any emotion about it? What emotion would you feel? Would others feel the same way about it as you do? Why or why not? If you’re getting married today, and it begins to rain, you’ll probably experience some feelings about it that might be different than how you’d usually feel about rain. You might be disappointed, angry, or sad. What else might you feel? Is the rain causing those feelings, or is your interpretation of it causing your feelings? Do you see the difference?
If you’re a farmer, anticipating the end of a long, detrimental drought, you’d probably be ecstatically happy about the rain. It would mean that you wouldn’t lose your crops, and you’d have some income to pay your bills, replenish your supplies, and pay your employees.
In each example, the meaning, or “interpretation” given to “rain” is very different, and the resulting emotions will align with that meaning.
If I ask ten people about how they feel about it the next time it rains, I’d get ten different answers. That’s important to remember. Our reactions are all about our interpretation and the judgment we give to the initial feeling.
So, why is that?
Our interpretations and judgments have to do with our expectations and our emotional state.
As we know, emotions are not data; they’re not factual. Emotions are driven by chemicals in our bodies, called hormones. They are also affected by other variables such as our environment, physical health, age, worldview, self-talk, sleep quality and quantity, stress levels, food choices, beliefs, memories, thoughts, and much more. All of these, and more, can and do affect our emotional state.
If you have a particular memory, or an event, that causes you to feel angry, you need to unpack that angry reaction step-by-step and look at all of the pieces involved. Right before the anger, what do you feel? Maybe you feel belittled? Humiliated? Shamed? Unimportant? Ignored? Not mattering to someone? Slighted? Insulted? Mocked? Dismissed? There’s a pretty good chance that you feel one of those, or something closely related.
Those primary feelings triggered the anger, NOT the memory or the event. NOT what the person said or didn’t say, did, or didn’t do. Yep, you heard that right. The first fleeting, almost imperceptible feeling that you felt (insulted, dismissed, unimportant, etc.) came from your interpretation and judgment of the memory or event, and is what triggered your anger.
Let’s say someone just did or said something, and you felt that they were saying (or thinking) that you’re not important, that you don’t matter, that you should be ashamed, that you’re stupid, etc. and you immediately felt angry. But upon closer inspection, you see that they didn’t actually SAY it. That was your interpretation of what they said. The meaning of what was said is coming from you! Can you see that? Your interpretation may be correct or incorrect. The person has not actually said that you’re not important, that you don’t matter, that you should be ashamed, that you’re stupid, etc. It just feels to you, through your interpretation, like that’s what they said or implied. Do you see how your interpretation can drastically affect what happens next?
This interpreting happens quickly and you’re probably not aware of it when it happens. That’s because it happens unconsciously. But after today, if you start to apply conscious awareness, you will become more and more aware of it.
You’ll see that the meaning and judgment cause you to feel some primary emotion; shame, feeling unimportant, dismissed, disrespected, mocked, etc. That primary emotion triggers your anger. Once you’re aware of this process, you can stop right there and question whether your interpretation is accurate or not.
Why are you giving the memory or event that particular interpretation? Why not a different one? Look deeper to see what else is happening that could be impacting your perception and judgment.
By taking the time to understand where your anger comes from, you’ll learn a lot about yourself and begin to heal those triggers. You’ll begin feeling a new sense of peace and calm. When someone or something triggers you, you’ll understand what’s happening and be able to deal with it. Sometimes all it takes is awareness of what’s happening “behind the scenes” in your brain. With a little practice, you’ll begin responding to your triggers in a different, healthier way. You’ll begin seeing your anger as a tool that you control, rather than as an emotion that controls you.
Any time you feel angry, whether it’s slightly ticked-off, annoyed, or full-blown furious, get in the habit of asking yourself, “Why am I angry right now? What was the primary emotion I felt?” “What interpretation have I given it?” “Why am I giving it that interpretation instead of some other?” It’ll bring you a step closer to learning how to regulate your emotions, and that’s something many of us didn’t get to learn, if we grew up in an emotionally neglectful home.
Tools for healing:
Conscious awareness: Be aware and make conscious choices before acting. Self-awareness releases us from making impulsive and potentially damaging decisions. Practice mindfulness.
Understand the abuse cycle
Learn about letting go of what you can’t control, by using loving-detachment
Learn about expectations
Learn about setting boundaries
Self-care: We can only choose to focus on and be responsible for ourselves, our own thoughts, actions, and behavior. We can take responsibility for getting our needs met, instead of waiting for someone to change or meet our needs for us. We are in control of ourselves and no one is responsible for us but us. We can change ourselves with patience, persistence, and practice.
Learn about codependency and maladaptive coping skills
Take the Adverse Childhood Experiences quiz
Learn about Narcissism Awareness Grief
About the author
Diane Metcalf is an experienced advocate, speaker, and writer on the topics of domestic violence, abuse, and family dysfunction. Currently, she writes about toxic relationships and recovery tools. Diane holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and has worked in numerous fields, including domestic violence and abuse. She also holds a Master of Science degree in Information Technology.
As a result of growing up in a dysfunctional home, and with the help of professional therapists and continued personal growth, she has developed strong coping skills and healing strategies. She happily shares those insights with others who want to learn and recover.
Her books and articles are the results of her education, knowledge, and personal insight regarding her own abusive experiences and subsequent recovery work. She is no longer a practicing Social Worker, Counselor, Program Manager or Advocate, nor is she or has she ever been a licensed psychologist.
Currently, Diane runs her own website design company, Image and Aspect, and writes articles and tutorials for Tips and Snips, her inspirational blog for creative people. She continues to learn and write about Emotional Healing.
This website is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional therapy.