The Boogie Monster of Rheumatoid Arthritis: Anger (Part 2)

In my last article, I talked about realizing that anger has been part of my life with rheumatoid arthritis and why it took me so long to figure that out.

Today, I’m going to talk a bit more about what I’ve uncovered about anger as a part of dealing with chronic illness and why this knowledge has made me understand that I need to deal better with the anger I feel.

A closer look at anger

Anger is a feeling; some call it a secondary emotion because there is always another emotion that triggers anger. This is why it can be used as a warning that something isn’t right in your life.

According to the American Psychological Association, anger “is an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong.”1

What triggers anger with RA?

Anger can happen when you feel threatened by something and, in the case of rheumatoid arthritis, anger can be triggered by fear, pain, uncertainty, or lack of control, not to mention the many injustices we have to fight against in the medical system and in life every time we leave the house. For a good article by my colleague Kelly Mack talking about this, check out, "How Many Fights Can We Manage?"

How the brain operates when you are angry

Anger is natural and can be harnessed for positive change if you can let go of the anger instead of letting it consume you.

One thing to remember is that when you’re angry, your brain turns off its logical, problem-solving abilities and operates as if it is under intense stress, letting stress hormones dominate and control body physiology in ways that can be very destructive over time. There is a good infographic from the National Institute of Clinical and Behavioral Medicine about this, and I have included a link below in the references section.2

Realize unhealthy patterns

Realizing that I’ve lived with arthritis my whole life and not even known that anger was a part of my life was an epiphany.

Since I was living with passive, chronic anger, I wasn’t showing my anger outwardly. Instead, I was turning it inward so nobody knew, apparently even me.

I did a lot of distracting myself from my real feelings and justifying my anger at myself which was easy because, after all, the problem was me. Very occasionally, I would explode my feelings on my loved ones and, of course, all that did was make me ashamed of myself, pushing the anger further inside.

Knowing how you express anger is helpful because, ideally, anger expressed in a healthy way creates positive change, and only through knowing your unhealthy patterns will you ever get to change them.

Get to the root cause

Once you can recognize where and how anger shows up in your life, you have the power to work with it. You can use the information to get to the root cause - the feeling that led to the anger - and to make the changes you need to feel better.

Often that takes strategies like taking a break from the situation, practicing relaxation or breathing until you feel calmer, and then talking it through with someone or spending time exploring possible solutions with yourself.

Use anger for positive change

The idea is to understand that anger is normal and to be expected, but to not let that be an excuse for letting it show up in destructive ways. Instead, when you feel anger, learn ways to calm your body enough to understand what is triggering the anger, and then deal with that instead of letting the negative emotions consume you.

Consult with a professional to find strategies

If like me, anger is something that is overwhelming to you, consulting a professional is never a bad idea to help you find strategies to work with your anger, and help you uncover the emotions driving it.

Anger will always be a part of life, but it can be a very good warning system. We can use it for positive change or we can let it fester, blow up, sublimate, and self-blame. It’s all a choice.

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