By Kelly Wright
I grew up experiencing strong emotions that I believed weren’t okay to feel. When I was sad, I was encouraged to put a smile on my face. When I was mad, I was put in the corner. When I was jealous of my little sister, I was told that my sister was a gift to me.
Negative feelings weren’t acceptable, so the message I received was that if I had ‘bad’ feelings, I was bad. Now, I know my parents had the best intentions in trying to help me navigate my emotions. Ultimately, you can’t teach what you don’t know. Denying and minimizing feelings has been one attempt to manage emotions for centuries. But that way of dealing with feelings simply doesn’t work.
Like Hank, I stuffed my feelings. I’m also an 8 on the Enneagram. In the past, instead of processing my feelings, I was constantly happy—at least on the outside. But when someone asked me for a symbolic paperclip, I exploded. Not in public, of course, but privately. Not an explosion of anger, but often tears—think ugly crying.
It’s funny how marriage can reveal things about you that you would rather not know. My husband and I had only been married a couple of weeks when my anger took a turn I didn’t expect. I don’t remember what the conflict was about, but I do remember my feeling of enrage and I remember my reaction. For the first time ever in my life, I slammed the cabinet door.
It was both freeing and scary.
Freeing because I could be honest with what I was truly feeling. I was SO mad and I didn’t have to hide it deep down. I could let it out authentically.
Scary because it was so intense. I mean, I was so angry that I slammed the cabinet door. I had crossed the line and was now a door slammer. I wasn’t in control of my anger in that moment and it was a bit unnerving.
Anger, like all the other emotions, isn’t right or wrong. It just is. But the difference is what we do with our anger.
I’ve heard it said that when we are triggered, it’s like our brain is set on fire. I totally get that connection. In that moment when I slammed the cabinet door, my brain was on fire. I’m sure my blood pressure was raised and I know my heart was beating like crazy. And why? Because in that moment, all the feelings I had stuffed deep down exploded like lava from a simmering volcano.
I still erupt. Not every day, because I am at a much less stressful stage in my life, but I still get angry. But today, instead of slamming doors or stuffing my emotions deep down, I have other strategies. I walk (okay, more like stomp) when I have intense anger. Walking or other physical activity is such a helpful way to process anger. When we are angry, we need a physical way to release this intense emotion. When I walk, I also talk with God about all the things that are creating stress in my life. God is such a great listener and I find so often on these walks His invitation to tell Him more.
Paul writes in Ephesians 4:26-27, “In your anger, do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath. Don’t give the enemy a foothold.”
I love this encouragement. Anger is an emotion that we all have and we don’t sin just because we are anger. It’s what we do with anger that makes the difference. We are also encouraged to deal with our anger sooner than later. If we don’t process our anger, we stuff it and it simmers under the surface until it eventually explodes. And then finally, Paul reminds us that not dealing with our feelings gives the enemy a foothold.
Slamming the cabinet door was a wakeup call for me. It was permissible for me to be angry, but what I did and do with anger is key. One daily practice I have found so helpful is when I’m journaling, to ask myself, “What am I angry about today?” Many days my anger feelings are uptight or irritated and mostly because I overextend myself on a regular basis. I’m working on that one, too.