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Struggling With Anger in your Family?

Anger is a normal human emotion that gets a bad rap. It is often seen as something to suppress as it can get expressed in destructive ways. Unhealthy expression of anger is when anger is turned inwardly and the resulting behaviour hurts you or when anger is expressed outwardly in a way that hurts others.

It’s very important to note that anger is also considered a secondary emotion. This means that we become angry right after we have felt another primary emotion which we are uncomfortable feeling as it makes us feel vulnerable. This primary emotion is most commonly fear. This emotion can also be described as sadness, overwhelmed, attacked, pressure, injustice, shame, trapped, grief, guilt and many others. Anger really can be seen as the tip of the iceberg, with so much more going on under the surface. But what can you do to make sure you don’t sink?

The good news is that there are better ways to express our anger instead of swallowing it or exploding all over the place. Some well-known alternatives include awareness & breathing (I am really angry right now, I’m going to do some deep breathing to regulate myself), scribble drawing with crayons for the young and letter writing (Dear Mom, I am SO ANGRY right now. You had promised we could X and now we can’t, etc). As our body physiology switches to fight mode, the urge is often to kick, squeeze or punch and so some recommend punching a pillow. I’ve never personally had much satisfaction from pillow punching. When catching up with one of my favorite social workers, Colleen, the other day, she pointed out that punching a pillow or a punching bag could actually make things worse as it fosters a punch reflex.

Colleen introduced me to a new way of expressing anger which I am really loving as a healthy, satisfying way to express anger! It’s called “towel twisting” and it’s as simple as it sounds! Take an appropriate size towel (bigger could be better or maybe doubling up) and twist with your hands, twisting in opposite directions. Repeat as many times as necessary to get the physical release anger can demand in the moment. Try it! It’s actually super satisfying to “wrestle” with it, even when not angry. Be sure to teach your kids about this option before they become angry so they will be ready for it when it happens!

About the Author

Vanessa Elias is a mental health activist, certified parent coach, speaker, and writer featured on NPR, PBS, and in the WSJ. She is the founder of Thrive with a Guide, LLC and serves as a group facilitator for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Block Party USA is her passion project. Vanessa helps parents achieve healthier family relationships and lasting, meaningful connections.


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