How To Recognize and Handle Toxic Anger

Toxic Anger

Are you feeling angry? How often? Every time you drive home from work? Every time you have a conflict with a family member? Every time you read the news or scroll through social media? Understandable. Common, even.

But today I hope you’ll stop and consider whether all the anger you experience in your life is really necessary. In fact, not only might your level of anger be unnecessary, it might be making everything in your life worse.

What is anger, exactly?
We tend to think of emotions as good or bad, positive or negative. Anger is one of those feelings that’s often labeled bad or negative. Looking at feelings that way is not always useful, though. Here’s why. If someone invaded your home and started taking your things, you’d be angry, right? Is that a negative feeling? Not if it motivates you to do what you have to do to protect yourself, your family, or your property. In that case, your anger is a very good feeling for you to have.

Anger’s primary function is to protect us–to get our hormones into gear so we’re ready to put up a fight that might be necessary to our survival. Fair enough. So let’s apply a little test, shall we?

Think about the last time you were angry.

What happened?

How did you react?

How did it feel in your body to feel that way?

Most importantly:
Was your life actually in danger?

Chances are, no. If so, the anger you felt was toxic. You’re using it to hide from your feelings, deny your own vulnerability, or to run from a challenge. If so, your anger isn’t really protecting you–it’s harming you and the people around you.

What are you yelling about?
It’s often been said that anger is a secondary emotion, and to some extent, that’s true. We tend to slip from a more difficult emotion into anger because anger is simple. It’s kill or be killed! It doesn’t get much simpler than that. You may find, though, that it doesn’t exactly help you with complex problems that aren’t life or death.

Confirmation bias
Anger can also rise when you feel your grip on the world is slipping away from you. It can arise from beliefs that, when carefully examined, really make no sense, or at least don’t amount to a life and death struggle. See if these common, but silly ideas that tend to cause anger sound familiar:

“Life should be fair,” for instance. Or “this person should be able to anticipate my wants and needs!” or everyone’s favorite “They should drive exactly the way I would.”

What to do with it?
Practicing more mindfulness helps. Check in with yourself. Get curious about what you’re feeling and why. If you lash out in anger and don’t know why, ask yourself. Talk to a friend, or write about it in your journal. Are you passing over a challenging feeling you’d rather not confront, but which needs your attention?

This sounds hard, but even a toddler can do it.

Children’s Advocate and Entertainer Fred Rogers wrote a song you might remember from your own childhood, but it outlines with crystal clarity the best way to handle and subvert toxic anger.

Watch, and think about what these words mean. How could you put them to work in your own life?

Choose to live the good life.

The staff of The Good Life Massage are not psychologists, psychiatrists, or mental health professionals. This article is intended for informational and entertainment purposes only, and should not be construed in any way as professional counseling or advice. People with severe mental and emotional problems should seek help from trained professionals and physicians.

Tom Gunn is the blog editor and marketing director for The Good Life Massage. You can hire him to build your brand or enlarge your online presence by contacting him at tomgunn@gmail.com

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Swim Into The Wave: How Hiding From Your Emotions Can Destroy You

Swim Into The Wave

For experienced ocean swimmers, waves are just part of the challenge. So it is with life. Waves of emotions can throw us for a loop disorient us, and confuse us before we even have time to process what we’re going through. Unfortunately, our cultural biases have taught us to handle our feelings in exactly the wrong way.

Quick fix
What do you do when you’re hungry? Grab a bite (whether it’s nutritious or not). What do you do when you have a headache or some other kind of pain? Pop a pill. The tendency to want to avoid pain and discomfort is not only understandable, it’s completely natural. But it’s not always the best way to handle things, particularly your feelings.

What’s the quick fix for bad feelings? Take your pick! Food. TV. Pornography. Alcohol. Drugs. Everyone seems to have a favorite. You may feel good temporarily, but put off your self care indefinitely and you’re in for a world of hurt.

Here there be dragons
Think you have total contol over your feelings? Think again. You can control how you respond to what you’re feeling to some extent. But the stronger the feeling is, the more difficult it is to control your response in a given moment. You may soon find that you’re repsonses to things are way out of proportion and make no sense. This is often because of emotional problems you’re refusing to address properly.

So, guess what happens when you try to ignore, cover-up, or otherwise run from what you’re feeling? It gets strong. Your feelings are like a monster that feeds on your resistance. The more you ignore it or deny it’s there, the bigger it gets.

It’s like the dragon in this excellent children’s story:

The more the child bought into the mom’s argument that the dragon didn’t exist, the bigger it got. Before long, it was carrying their whole lives away from them.

Keep going
Winston Churchill said “If you’re going through Hell, keep going.” The only way out of an unpleasant feeling is through it. This is true for even serious emotional trauma and grief. Mental health professionals are trained in guiding their clients and patients through the process of feeling and re-living their trauma in the most vivid and detailed way possible. It’s not pleasant at all. But neither is surgery.

Even a massage, when used for treatment, can be very uncomfortable. There seems to be a principle at work that dictates that in order to overcome physical or emotional pain and to heal, one must feel it completely.

Ride into the wave, or risk drowning in it.

Tom Gunn is the marketing director and blog editor for The Good Life Massage. You can hire him to assist with your brand development and marketing my emailing him at tomgunn@gmail.com

Talking Through It: Conversation Do’s and Don’t for Massage

Talking Through It

Your massage is your own, so of course you have some latitude in customizing your experience. Massage therapy is one of those self-care treatments comparable to getting your hair done: you’re working with someone one-on-one in a vulnerable position. Not only are you in close physical proximity to your massage therapist, you’re undressed in a private room getting touched by them–it doesn’t get more vulnerable than that!

Naturally, a relationship of trust will develop between you and your therapist. Not only do we expect this, it’s encouraged! As your therapist gets to know your body’s unique needs and quirks, they can provide better massage with regular treatments. That personal trust and connection can play a vital role in the healing process.

Having said this, it’s important to understand that there are boundaries and limitations to that relationship, and that the conversation shared in a massage setting isn’t exempt from these.

What can I say?
Nothing, if you choose! As a rule, your practitioner will probably read your social cues. If you seem game to talk, they may engage you and start a chat while they work on you. If you don’t initiate a conversation, they’ll leave you to enjoy the massage in a peaceful, quiet setting.

You can also feel free to give your massage therapist feedback. Phrases like “That’s too deep!” or “Can you ease up on the pressure there?” or “That stroke is kind of chafing right there.” are all appropriate ways to help guide your practitioner and make your massage experience as good as it can be.

If you want to talk, that’s fine, but keep it light. Try to avoid heavy or potentially offensive topics. Would you discuss what you’re about to say with a stranger on the bus? If not, maybe reconsider your choice of topic.

If you’d like to talk and get to know your therapist over several sessions, that’s great. Just keep a few things in mind:

Massage therapist, not “Therapist”
It’s common for people come in for massage who are under serious stress. But the scope of massage therapy is only to address the physical component of healing and stress relief. The mental and psychological components should be handled by trained mental health professionals. You may develop a strong rapport with your massage therapist, but that doesn’t mean they have the training or skill to talk you through your stresses and emotional difficulties.

You wouldn’t expect a licensed family therapist or psychologist to give you a massage, would you? Of course not. The difference there is that those professionals don’t touch you, except to maybe shake your hand. A massage, however, can include a great deal of talking, and even emotional release. Clients under a great deal of stress have even been known to sob through their massage as painful emotions are released along with the muscle tension. But that doesn’t mean your massage therapist can or should become your therapist. Bring your mental health problems to a mental health professional.

Don’t ask for a date, for heaven’s sake
There’s nothing wrong with finding your massage therapist attractive, and the relatively intimate setting of touch therapy might unintentionally inspire romantic or sexual thoughts. But please: keep those thoughts and feelings to yourself during the massage.

Your massage therapist is there to help, and it’s completely inappropriate to flirt, touch them back, hold their hand, ask for dates, or try to initiate a romantic relationship with them. By the same token, your massage therapist has no business making romantic or sexual advances of any kind. In fact, such behavior at The Good Life Massage is grounds for termination.

Even if the advance would be innocent or welcome under different circumstances, it’s completely inappropriate during a massage. Besides, it makes the session far more uncomfortable and awkward. If you find that you’re developing romantic feelings for your massage therapist, consider getting your massage from someone else from now on. After all, we have several practitioners to choose from.

We won’t “take sides”
As people start talking, it can be natural to progressively get more personal. You might even feel comfortable enough to talk about personal relationships or conflicts. This is totally understandable. We all need to vent sometimes. But don’t expect your massage therapist to “take your side” or commiserate with you like a personal friend might. They might say “It sounds like you and your partner have some things to work out. I hope that works out okay,” or something equally neutral. We’ll help you release the physical tension from your whatever personal drama is impacting your life, but it’s not our place to join you in dwelling on it.

So, yes, go ahead and chat! Or don’t! But understand that your massage is a professional exchange. Yes, it’s a intimate, even a little personal, but within certain limits that are worth keeping in mind.

Book your next massage now.

Tom Gunn is the marketing director and the blog editor for The Good Life Massage. You can hire him to assist you with content marketing, social media, and logo/brand development by contacting him at tomgunn@gmail.com