Expressing vs acting out anger: Assertiveness So we have established that anger is a fully human and natural response, typically in reaction to a wide variety of perceived threats and blocked goals (frustration). It is imperative to recognize the difference between acting out angrily and expressing anger. Acting out can run the gamut ranging from interpersonal threat and physical/verbal aggression to “blame” statements, the later being an extremely common form of acting out. So contrast these two statements:
1) “How many times do I have to tell you to shut the light in your room! Why are you always so thoughtless?”
2) “I’m frustrated that you are not turning off the light as we discussed. I would really appreciate it if you would do what we agreed, OK?”
OK, so the first example is what we often refer to as a “blame statement”. While not overtly aggressive, it nonetheless makes a supposition about the person’s motivations, in this case, thoughtlessness. Overgeneralized terms such as “always” should also be avoided. Blame statements are likely to be perceived as attacking and thereby increase defensiveness in the listener.
In contrast, the second statement is what is referred to as a “responsible assertiveness response”. When being assertive, one states their feelings (in this case frustration), sites the behavior ( not turning off the lights), and offers a brief prescription for change (“do what we agreed”). Such a statement is far less likely to be perceived as attacking and nobody will feel that their rights are being transgressed. Consequently, such a request is far more likely to result in compliance.
So the main point here is that when angry, frustrated, disappointed or whatever, it is very possible to express one’s feelings without acting out. However, this is much easier said than done. There is so much societal and personal conditioning that undermines this ability. We must therefore explore for ourselves, what are our personal beliefs, fears, perceived vulnerabilities, shames, guilts, etc., that might stand in the way of giving direct expression to our feelings. We may need to mindfully expose the fears and feared consequences of opening up to others through implosion https://www.mindfulexposurebook.com/wp/fear-exposure-implosion-therapy/ , emotional surfing https://www.mindfulexposurebook.com/wp/integrative-mindful-exposure-emotional-surfing/ or equivalent exposure based practices.
It is also critical to recognize that in order to express our feelings, we have to know our feelings. So the first step is to practice mindfully labeling and watching our feelings. When labeling our feelings, we need to do so in a discriminating and specific fashion. So rather than labeling feeling states as “good” or “bad”, “shitty”, “sucky”, “hurt”, and so on, we should use terms such as “angry”, “sad”, “disappointed”, “frustrated”, “afraid”, “helpless”, and so on. I recommend reviewing one of many good emotional adjective lists provided on line to help with this such as http://www.alturtle.com/archives/234 .
As we learn to label and express our feelings in a consistent and ongoing manner, we will be less inclined to act in or act out our feelings and will develop a degree of emotional freedom.