Managing anger is essential to successful relationships. Codependents can have a lot of anger that they manage effectively. They’re frequently found in situations with people who contribute less than they do, who break promises and commitments, violate their boundaries, disappoint or betray them.
Symptoms of codependency, such as denial, dependency, lack of boundaries, and dysfunctional communication, can contribute to anger. Because of dependency, codependents attempt to control others in order to feel better, rather than to initiate effective action. But when people don’t do what they want, they feel angry, victimized, unappreciated or uncared for, and powerless — unable to be agents of change for ourselves. Codependency also leads to fear of a confrontation. Codependents prefer to not “rock the boat” which can jeopardize relationships. Poor boundaries and communication skills can inhibit expressing needs and feelings effectively. This can lead to feelings of anger and resentment because as codependents we have a tendency to:
Expect other people to make us happy, and they don’t.
Agree to things we don’t want to.
Have undisclosed expectations of other people.
Deny or devalue our needs and thus don’t get them met.
Try to control people and things, over which we have no authority.
Ask for things in nonassertive, counterproductive ways; i.e., hinting, blaming, nagging, accusing.
Don’t set boundaries to stop abuse or behavior we don’t want.
Deny reality, and therefore,
Trust and rely on people proven to be untrustworthy and unreliable.
Want people to meet our needs who have shown that they won’t or can’t.
Despite the facts and repeated disappointments, maintain hope and try to change others.
Stay in relationships although we continue to be disappointed or abused.
Anger Gone Wrong
The truth is that anger is a normal, healthy reaction when our needs aren’t met, our boundaries are violated, or our trust is broken. But it can overwhelm us unless we know how to manage it. Codependents don’t know how to handle their anger. Different people react differently, depending upon their innate temperament and early family environment. Some people explode or attack, though they may regret it later, while others passively hold in their anger or don’t even recognize it. Most codependents are afraid their anger will damage their relationships. They don’t want to rock the boat and please, appease, or withdraw to avoid conflict. Instead, they stockpile resentments and/or are passive-aggressive. Their anger comes out indirectly with sarcasm, grumpiness, irritability, silence, or through behavior, such as cold looks, slamming doors, forgetting, withholding, being late, even cheating.
Some codependents may not realize they’re angry for days, weeks, years after an event. Difficulties with anger stem from our childhood role models. When parents lack skills to handle their own anger, they’re unable to teach their children to do so. One or both parents may have been aggressive, passive-aggressive or passive, modeling that behavior. If we’re taught not to raise our voice, told not to feel angry, or were scolded for expressing it, we learned to suppress it. Some of us avoid conflict if our parents fought frequently or we fear we’ll turn into the aggressive parent we grew up with. Many people believe it’s not Christian, nice, or spiritual to be angry and they feel guilty when they are. Unexpressed anger can get turned against ourselves, leading to guilt, shame, and depression.
Anger can contribute to illness. Mark Twain wrote, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” Stressful emotions wear down the body’s immune and nervous systems and its ability to repair and replenish itself. Stress-related symptoms include heart disease (high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke, digestive and sleep disorders, headaches, muscle tension and pain, obesity, ulcers, rheumatoid arthritis, TMJ, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Expressing Anger Effectively
Anger is a powerful energy that requires expression and sometimes calls for action to correct a wrong. Its expression needn’t be loud or hurtful. Handled well, it can improve a relationship. The following are some steps you can take:
First, recognize the signs of anger before they escalate. Become familiar with how they manifest in your mind and body, usually tension and/or heat. Pay attention to repeated mental or verbal complaints or arguments, which are signs of resentment or “re-sent” anger.
Signs of anger can warn you to slow your breath and bring it into your belly to calm you. Take time out to cool-off.
Examine your beliefs and attitudes about anger and what has influenced their formation.
Acknowledge that you’re angry. Acceptance rather than judgment of your anger prepares you for constructive action. Your anger may signal deeper feelings or hidden pain, unmet needs, or the necessity of an assertive, rather than reactive, response.
Identify what triggered you. Sometimes, resentment is fueled by unresolved guilt. If you frequently over-react and view others’ actions as hurtful, it’s a sign of shaky self-worth. When you raise our self-esteem and heal internalized shame, you won’t over-react, but are able to respond to anger in a productive, assertive manner.
Look at your contribution to the event. Assess whether you owe an apology. Acknowledging your part and making amends can help you grow and improve your relationships.
Finally, forgiveness doesn’t mean we condone or accept bad behavior. It means that we’ve let go of our anger and resentment. Taking time for reflection and prayer can help us navigate our anger and make sense of it. Asking for forgiveness and forgiving ourselves can help us to find closure and not continue to carry the pain. Praying for the other person can help you find forgiveness.
Retreat, Rethink, Respond Overview
A beginner’s tactic for dealing with triggers and anger, “Retreat, Rethink, Respond” will allow you to process through your triggers with less pressure, and increase your chance of short-circuiting a negative anger pattern.
Whenever you experience a trigger leading to anger, take the following steps:
Step 1 – Retreat
Remove yourself from the situation completely. You could excuse yourself for as long as you need. It could be 5 minutes, or an entire day if needed.
Step 2 – Rethink
Strip the situation down to just the facts, analyze, and plan an appropriate response. Remove your judgments and emotions completely until you can objectively evaluate the situation.
Step 3 – Respond
Re-enter the situation and respond accordingly. You could even prepare your response in writing to help you stick to the facts and get your point across. If you find yourself triggered again in the heat of the moment, you may need to retreat again if possible.
The main point of this exercise is to remember that it’s okay to be angry, you just need to give yourself time to identify and process your anger in a healthy way before you ultimately react in a negative manner.