Expressing Anger

“It doesn’t matter how you feel inside, you know. It’s what shows up on the outside that counts. Take all your bad feelings and push them down, all the way down past your knees, until you’re almost walking on them. And then you’ll fit in, and you’ll be invited to parties, and boys will like you. And happiness will follow.”

– Marge Simpson to her daughter Lisa in the television program “The Simpsons”

There is a tiny bit of merit in Marge Simpson’s advice. But rather than pushing down our emotions as Marge suggests, it’s healthier to learn how to recognize them and manage them. Take the emotion of anger, for instance. It is a normal emotion, but controlling it is a skill. Here are some ideas parents and children could use:

Check your gauge. Be aware of rising anger signals: necks can get tense, throats may tighten, thoughts may get jumbled. Those are some signs of anger approaching. Once you recognize the signals:

Control the temperature. Don’t react. Try to be calm. Take slow, cleansing breaths. Stop and think. Yes, you can think and be angry at the same time.  Then:

Express your feelings. Do not submerge your feelings as Marge suggested in the quote, but learn how to express them in a healthy manner that communicates how you feel. Use “I” messages: “I feel put-upon when I have to pick up your dirty laundry.” What also helps is to:

Get physical. When angry, kids can jump up and down, draw a picture (when my daughter was angry at me one day I told her to draw a picture of how she felt – she drew me with fangs and horns!), run around outside. Adults can exercise, clean the house, yell into a pillow, write down their feelings, talk it out with a trusted friend.  Finally:

Use your head – literally (and teach your children how to use theirs). The thinking part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, can turn up or down the activity in the amygdala, the ancient part of our brain which initiates anger as well as fight-or-flight reactions. Studies show that these two parts of our brain can communicate. Through efforts like meditation, the brain can actually be changed to help us react calmly.  The more we practice controlling the amygdala and the more we call on the judgment and wisdom generated in the prefrontal cortex, the more we can control our response to anger-producing situations.

Marge’s heart was in the right place when she told Lisa to push her feelings down past her knees; anger makes some of us uncomfortable. But since it is an inevitable part of life, learning how to deal with anger in a healthy fashion is crucial.

By Claire Gawinowicz, Certified Parenting Educator
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