About Johanna


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May 19, 2010


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I have been feeling anger the last couple of days, and I ended up having a good conversation with my therapist about anger today. I wanted to share what I learned:

Yesterday, last night, and this morning, I was feeling anger. I was just so pissed and I wasn't even exactly sure why. In talking to my therapist, I realized that anger is a new emotion for me to be experiencing. She told me that, "Before, you would have not felt anger... you would have just taken it in, felt like you weren't good enough, tried to be "better" and become more symptomatic." That is probably true. It occurred to me that, in this recovery process, I have become aware of anxiety and now, if I do say so myself, I am actually pretty good (or at least a lot better than I was) at managing anxiety. I've just made such improvements with managing the anxiety that it occured to me that I now need to do the same sort of "managing emotion" work with anger. It does take work for me to manage anxiety, but I am able to 1) notice when I'm feeling it and 2) manage it well pretty much every single time. It's not to the point where it happens subconsciously, but it is to the point where I really am in control of the anxiety now. I first notice I'm anxious, then observe how it makes me feel physically, then ground myself in the facts and reminding myeslf that I'm not actually threatened. I then focus on my breathing as a way to tell my body that it is okay, I am okay... and I can now do this even as I go on about through my day... I don't need to take a time out to do it. So, as we talked about anger, I realized I simply need to learn to manage anger as well.
Here are some things I learned:
1) When I feel anxiety, my hands feel numb, my limbs feel week, my chest tight, my head light. When I feel anger, my quads feel tense, my body feels hot.
2) When I feel angry, I notice that, since I don't yet know how to deal with it, I want to act out like a 5 year old. I want to not eat. If someone gives me food, I want to chuck it against the wall. I want to run fast. Then I want to cry. This all happens because I don't understand the feeling.
3) Just like anxiety, sometimes I will know where the anger comes from (like what I'm angry at) and sometimes I won't. I DON'T have to figure out the origin of my anger though.
4) Just like all emotions, every human experienes anger. Sometimes we don't even understand why we experience the emotion, but it's just there - and we feel it physiologically - and that's okay to not know the reason.
5) With anxiety, I was able to label it, observe it, and ground myself in the truth (I am not in danger or out of control) and go on throughout my day. With anger, I wasn't able to do this. That is because I WASN'T JUDGING the anxiety, but I WAS JUDGING the anger. Like, it's okay for me to feel anxious... but I feel guilty I think for feeling anger. Now that I realized that though, it's almost enough to take the judgement away. But I realize that me judging my anger was getting in the way with me managing it.
6) In order to calm the urge to yell at someone or throw something or run or restrict when I'm angry, it his helpful, like it is with anxiety, to stay grounded in the what is real. For anxiety, what is real is that I'm not in danger, my weight isn't getting out of control, etc. For anger, what is real is I actually do care about the person that I want to take my anger out on (others or myself) and I love them an appreciate them. I never would want to yell at them. what's real is that I care about myself and that I care about others.
7) Some of the reasons I was angry have to do with feeling like I wasn't "seen." (theraist's word). She means that I felt like I wasn't being acknowledged for my work that I was doing. I then realized other times in my earlier years of life that I also didn't feel "seen."
7) A statement that would describe how I feel: "I am not angry at them at a cognitive level, but feelings of anger came up because I didn't feel seen. And I honor that I did feel the anger when I felt that way, but the truth is that I actually love and appreciate the them so I don't want to yell at them or throw my food across the room. Because I know that and because I know that all humans experience anger, I do not judge myself for it. It's fine to feel anger, just like it's fine to feel happiness and anxiety. I understand that I felt anger because I felt not seen." And, oddly, understanding all fo this takes away the physiological response I feel from the anger.


I guess I'm not glad I asked the question. :) I don't punch it "all out" unless I have gloves on so I don't think I'm really hurting myself. Plus, I would never try to hurt myself intentionally. It just feels so good to punch something when I'm completely pissed off. I do feel better afterwards too. It's better than punching someone else to, which I wouldn't do anyway even though I'd like to sometimes. :)


Laura thanks for sharing! Anger is a recent addition to the emotions I'm able to identify and actually feel. Although, the way I deal or cope with it is one of those ways Johanna says is NOT okay. I turn inward. For a long time, feeling physical pain meant that I was alive, not numb, not simply existing but actually alive. So, I would go on hard, long runs b/c the pain in my lungs and legs felt so good. With the anger, I didn't know how to let go, to release it. And I would/do see where it comes from and I get so angry with myself for being angry at my parents for simply living (making noise). I really need to move out, if only I can find a job soon. Anyways, I can recognize anger, and I can recognize that I don't want to be angry at my parents for being noisy, and I don't want to be angry at myself for being angry (man that one's complicated) always makes me physically feel like I'm going to explode. I also recognize that I can't always control the emotions that rise up in my, I guess if I think about it, emotions are physiological responses to something that's occurred. The physiological responses are involuntary and therefore cannot be controlled by me. What I can control is how I respond to the emotion, to the physiological response. I can choose to relieve/release the emotion by turning it on myself and feeling that pain (the obviously unhealthy approach) or I can choose to scream into a pillow, go for a walk where I can remove myself from the situation, if its safe go for a drive and listen to loud music that I can scream along with, I can do a messy painting (I really like the idea of filling balloons with paint and then throwing them on canvas or a board or something, that would be a sweet painting), I can call my mentor and try to talk through what I'm feeling, I can try some deep breathing to take me out of the situation and feel renewed/refreshed, I can play with play dough, I can go lie down with my head phones on and focus on the music. Wow, I guess there's a ton that I can do that doesn't involve feeling pain. I've also managed to not turn on myself all week so that feels pretty good. Here's to turning away from NOT Okay to the Healthy alternatives!!


Johanna, I'm really frustrated about this topic right now. I've been working really hard at feeling emotions, not turning them inward, and expressing them in creative ways that don't hurt myself or anyone else. The first time I feel a feeling, it does sometimes seem overwhelming, but I am finding that, as I let myself experience it a few times, it becomes less overwhelming. I come from a family that does not express negative emotions at all (unless my mom or brother explode in anger), and last night my Mom asked me if I have considered that I might be becoming bipolar. While experiencing my feelings does sometimes make me wonder if I am crazy, I know I am not bipolar, and I find it really frustrating that my family cannot accept that it might be normal to not be "fake happy" all the time. I am really proud of the fact that I am starting to let myself feel things and to sometimes cry or express it in other ways, and yet this also seems to be one more way in which I do not fit in my family anymore. It seems like the further I get into recovery, the more they think I am crazy, which I suppose plays into why I used the eating disorder to cope while I lived at home. But I am really frustrated. My therapist has been helping me to see that my expressions of emotion are actually normal and healthy (and when they are over-reactions, there is a logical reason WHY I am overreacting), and no professional I have ever worked with has suggested that I might be bipolar. I think I'm kind of just ticked that I can't feel emotions around my family and have them accept that I'm not always happy! I'm sorry for ranting.


I am sorry being around your family is so hard, runforjoy! I had someone ask me one time if I was bi-polar, but when I look back it was funny because when i entered counseling mty therapist spent a long time trying to help me get comfortable both with emotions and showing them. My family of origin did say things like, "Don't feel that way." When they did I thought I was defective for feeling what I felt. Some of the work we do in our support groups is to let the women sit in their emotions with out trying to fix them or talk them out of them. It is interesting watching which emotions that others express make us uncomfortable.


Thanks, Wendy. It really is an incredibly powerful thing to just be present with someone else and not tell them they shouldn't feel the way they do. This is something I have really been learning this year, with the patients I meet in the hospital, and with my friends when they are upset. It seems to take real work to be comfortable being in the presence of certain emotions, but that is exactly what I want when I am feeling hard things, and my friends have told me that is exactly what helps them the most when they are going through hard stuff. Thank you for helping me feel a little less alone in my frustration!

And Laura, WOW! You did some incredible thinking through about anger. I feel like what you wrote is so powerful.


Last night I was feeling the anger and I had a choice in front of me. I could follow Ed's coping strategies or I could open my tool box and see what's inside. So, :) I opened it up and thought about the balloons filled with paint. Instead of balloons, I had a case of unused water color tubes. I took it outside along with a canvas. Took the lids off about 6 tubes and one by one I emptied the tubes onto the canvas. I was really throwing it on there hard. The painting that came out of it is just awesome :) I really love it. I used the mess of paint I made on the side walk to create two other paintings. One was with my hands and feet, I walked thru the paint and then stomped all over a matte board I had, then I put my hands in the paint and slapped the board. I absolutely love this painting too :) Then I took a square stock of canvas board that I had drawn a heart on a long time ago and never did anything else to it, I took this board outside to the still wet paint on the sidewalk and I slammed the board on top of it all over and over and over again, I really like the overall effect.

It was a very energetic process and helped me release some emotion in a healthy way.

Tonight, I'm not feeling well and I was just feeling worse by sitting and not doing anything. So, I decided I would paint some more and this time I took my acrylics out put each color in its own cup, added some water and went outside with a big canvas. And I started dipping the brush in the paint and flipping the paint onto the canvas. It was a blast, tonight instead of painting through anger and using that energy, what I'd call abrupt/harsh energy, I painted through graceful energy, more of an athletic energy. I created 9 pieces tonight and I have to say I really like them all. One I actually titled graceful, it was me expressing care/grace/love toward myself sort of a way of appreciating my body, I created it with my feet and I just gracefully moved about the paper. I was nice to just slow down and have some "me" time.

I'm starting to feel/see all of these emotions, anger/crying/anxiousness/fear/excitement/guilt/ exhaustion. . . etc. as a healing process and that I am actually moving forward and still in recovery even if I fall back to Ed's coping strategies every once in awhile. My friend described this process as thawing out. I really like that visualization, I've been crying a lot lately and I'm not able to just numb out when something uncomfortable comes up like an emotion I don't want to feel. I just really like the analogy of thawing out, going from numb nothingness, to warm/cool, colorful emotional soup. It may not always be fun or happy times, but that's okay. I'm human and I'm going to experience all types of things and I'm going to have all types of reactions to those things. And hopefully I won't have too many reactions to the reaction.


Very cool, Ann! I wish I could see your paintings :)


Ann, that sounds totally TOTALLY awesome! I like the idea of angry painting and graceful kind painting! What a totally cool contrast. Way to go for taking care of yourself!


Ann, that sounds so neat...I wish I could see them, too!

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