I’ve felt angry and generally uneasy this past week. I think that’s been true for a lot of people, due to the US election and other world events. It’s also come up for a more personal reason for me: I overheard someone call me ‘shy.’ (See my post in this blog on myths about introverts to find out how I feel about that word.)
Anger is a powerful tool that can help us figure out what is important to us and what really, really has to change. While many introverts don’t feel at home at protests, you can express anger in constructive ways. Here’s how.
#1: Figure out what really makes you tick
I’ll admit it: I got angrier over getting called shy than I did about the election results. I hate the results, but I generally don’t get riled up about political disasters that I already know are going to cause outgoing, protest-y people to assemble. I know that other people are better off going to protests than I am—I’m more of an everyday-ally type.
What does anger me intensely is labels—whether it’s me getting called shy or anyone saying that “all ____ people are lazy/stupid/dangerous.” Whenever I hear a label or assumption, something stirs inside of me, this deep anxiety that if I don’t say or do something I’ll let that false belief continue.
You could get angered by any number of little or big things. If you work to figure out what angers you, you can begin to learn how to deal with it when it comes up. You can more easily control your emotions and take full responsibility for your resulting words and actions. You won’t have to go back and say, “actually, that’s not what I meant to say.”
#2: Talk to someone, anyone
Here’s a quote I like from the novel Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, about a teenage girl who stops talking after a traumatic summer experience:
“It’s easier not to say anything. Shut your trap, button your lip, can it. All that crap you hear on TV about communication and expressing feelings is a lie. Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say.”
It really is easier to say nothing. It’s also easier to believe that anger is unhealthy, not natural, best ignored. Keep it inside, so your relationships and the world around you aren’t affected negatively by it.
Here’s what I think about that, in the words of a certain politician: wrong.
Reality check: if you keep your anger inside or deny that it exists, it’s going to come out in a worse form later on. You’ll snap at someone who never saw it coming. Maybe you‘ll start feeling anxious or depressed. You could let it fuel actual unhealthy habits, like drinking too much, smoking, or maybe even violence.
Here’s a simple example. Just a few months ago, I became angry with a friend. For weeks, this feeling stewed inside of me, causing huge anxiety, until finally I exploded at them. I quickly found out that I had made false assumptions about the situation. Fortunately, because this person was sympathetic to my mixed-up emotions, we patched things up just as quickly.
If only I had talked to them sooner, we wouldn’t have had to go through that mess. Sure, our relationship might be stronger now, but it would have helped just as much if I spoke earlier.
So, speak up. Using ‘I statements’ (When you did __, I felt __) sometimes works, but not always. If you‘re unsure of how to approach the situation, or you can’t or don’t want to talk to the person who is angering you (i.e. the president of the United States or your really unapproachable professor), find someone else. A friend, a counselor, or someone online might have great insight into the situation, and you’ll feel less burdened.
#3: Create something, exercise, or yell at no one
If someone yells in a forest and no one is around to hear them, did they still relieve their anger?
Sorry, I don’t have a witty response. It’s pretty simple, actually: If that’s what they needed to do to rid themselves of something negative, then they’re on their way to a calmer life.
Introverts can get into these ruts of repeating the same thoughts over and over in their heads. Like I said, talking about them is often incredibly helpful, but sometimes the right person isn’t around. That’s one of the reasons why art, kickboxing, meditation, writing, running, yelling at nothing, and slamming the fridge door exist.
If you can’t express your anger to someone else, or if you tried to do that and it didn’t work, express it to yourself—outside of your head. You can share what you made or did with someone later, or you can throw it out. It depends on your needs. Writing this blog post, knowing that others could benefit from it, was like therapy to me today. Other times, I need to go for a run around the park near my place, music in my ears and ducks quacking around me.
Despite its bad reputation, anger is one of the best forces for positive change that exists. You have great power within you—to improve yourself, your relationships, and the world around you.