How to stop feeling guilty when you’re angry (and why it happens in the first place)
Being able to express anger freely can make a positive difference to your mental health. Here’s how to reclaim your rage in 2023.
Emotions can be confusing things at the best of times, let alone when you’re feeling sad, lonely or angry. While you might not do it very often, taking a step back and thinking about the emotions you’re experiencing is much easier when you’re in a good mood; when you’re feeling rubbish, it can be a lot harder to see the wood for the trees.
But our ‘negative’ emotions and the relationships we have with them have just as big an impact on our wellbeing as the more palatable ones.
For many people – especially women – one of the trickiest emotions to confront in this way is anger. Being angry at someone or something isn’t exactly pleasant, but often these feelings of anger are often accompanied by a healthy dose of guilt.
For example, if you’ve ever pushed down feelings of anger for fear of seeming rude or aggressive or spent hours seeking reassurance from friends that your anger is justified, you’ll know what we’re talking about.
Also known as a ‘meta-emotion’, these feelings towards feelings are surprisingly common, but they can take a toll on your mental health if left unchallenged. So why is anger so commonly accompanied by feelings of guilt? And why are women so prone to feeling guilty about anger in particular?
According to Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, it’s often to do with the way we’re taught to deal with anger as children.
“If someone feels guilty for feeling angry, it would suggest that somewhere along the way they were taught that anger was a ‘bad’ or ‘ugly’ emotion,” Dr Touroni explains.
“Women, in particular, have often been expected to play the ‘nice girl’ role and haven’t necessarily been taught how to sit with – and express – their anger,” she continues. “But anger is a normal, healthy response to feeling wronged in some way. Very often our anger is alerting us to something that needs to be changed.
“When anger is validated and expressed in a healthy way, it can help direct us towards making positive changes in our lives.”
Dr Touroni explains that knowing how to express anger in a healthy way won’t just help to relieve any unnecessary feelings of guilt you might be experiencing – it can also have a positive impact on your mental health in the short and long-term.
“Emotions need to be felt and experienced – given the space to move and eventually pass through,” she says. “When our anger isn’t expressed, it doesn’t just disappear. And feeling guilty for feeling angry only causes us more unnecessary suffering in the long term.
“Ultimately, when we deny our anger, we are denying what it means to be human. And in the long term, guilt can lead to anxiety and depression, as well as difficult physical symptoms.”
Of course, learning how to be OK with freely expressing anger and other ‘difficult’ emotions isn’t easy – especially if your response is the result of what you were taught as a child or how you were gendered.
Even with this in mind, however, there are things you can do to unpick these responses and become more comfortable with your emotions. One sure-fire way to get started is going to therapy, Dr Touroni explains.
“Therapy provides a safe, non-judgmental space to connect with your anger and identify where this guilt-tripping voice stems from so, over time, you can work to challenge and destabilise it,” she points out.
Of course, not everyone has access to therapy or feels ready to sit in front of a therapist and talk about how they’re feeling. If this is the case, there are methods you can use at home to work through your guilt about feeling angry – including keeping a mood journal.
Indeed, as relationship strategist Mairead Molloy previously told Stylist: “A mood journal gives you a record of where your feelings have come from and what responses have been helpful, which can then help you change how you respond in future. It’s a form of self-coaching that gives you time to express yourself and give yourself a break.”
Other techniques you could try include simply ‘sitting with’ your emotions instead of pushing them down, or trying to reframe ‘negative’ emotions as opportunities to express yourself, learn new things and make changes.
Ultimately, however, it’s important to remember that there’s nothing wrong with feeling angry. Just like every other human emotion, anger is the brain’s response to the circumstances we see unfolding around us – and while it may feel unpleasant to confront this reality, you deserve to express yourself and what you’re feeling.
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