While I’m hesitant to say I have an anger-management problem, it’s not a secret among those close to me that I have a short fuse. It’s long been joked about in my family, who often reminisce about the epic tantrums I would throw as a child. But what might have been dismissed as cute at four years old quickly became a problem as I got older.
As an adult, I try to keep my fuse in check, believing, as many of us are taught, that a temper is something to be controlled and hidden away. I was intrigued, then, to learn about the concept of rage therapy. Specifically, activities that encourage and advocate for embracing anger and rage and letting it all out.
Understanding anger and rage
Socially, expressing emotions like anger and rage are frowned upon. Even experiencing these emotions can make us feel like “bad” people. We’re conditioned to think that those who can’t keep these emotions in check are inept or lacking emotional stability. Overcoming excessive feelings of anger or rage has been managed through therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) — a series of interventions focused on regulating physical symptoms and reactive thoughts. This process helps individuals understand and change their responses through counselling and behaviour modification.
More recent research has started to shine a light on how these emotions can actually be a beneficial driver. A 2017 study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that anger is one of our core, basic emotions and plays a vital role in personality growth. Further research documented in the book Fuel in the Fire: How Anger Impacts Judgment and Decision-Making has pointed to the ways in which anger and rage can have positive benefits for self-improvement, helping motivate you to achieve your goals.
Keen to learn more about an aspect of my personality I’ve always found a hindrance, I spoke with Dr Sheri Jacobson, Clinical Director of Harley Therapy, a UK-based online counselling and psychotherapy platform. “Many mental health conditions stem from unexpressed emotions. If we don’t give space to these emotions, then we’ll come up against psychological difficulty,” she advises. “Rage and anger are no different. If we can release those emotions in safe ways, then we can provide some relief from them, in the same way as scratching an itch.”
There are many reasons anger and rage might show up in our lives and the past year has given us plenty to feel pent-up about. Thankfully, there are many productive ways to scratch that anger itch.
Exploring the alternatives
While I don’t feel my anger “issues” are in need of counselling or CBT, I am interested in embracing and using these emotions in positive ways. From rage room experiences where people can vent their anger by destroying objects, to online scream clubs where individuals can sign in and scream into a microphone, there are options out there to help you express your rage in a safe environment.
At best, such activities might offer a brief release, but Dr Jacobson warns that without getting to the source of your emotions, feelings of anger will persist. “Venting can be helpful, however rage is often violent and uncontrollable,” she says. “You can smash and scream away all you like, but it won’t necessarily address the underlying issues.”
I knew there had to be more to it than stress balls and microphones and that’s where Abby Gilbert came in. Trained in Advanced Alkymia Energie Healing, Wild Grace and the Parasympathetic Restoration Technique, Abby runs a series of workshops called ReWild Dance. The workshops combine Abby’s lifelong relationship with dance and nature connection, intuitive wisdom and body knowledge to “ReWild” people back to their untamed and uncorrupted natural state.
“It’s all about emotion — what we’re stepping into, what we’re experiencing — and making sure we stay attached to it so we can work with the felt emotion and honour the story it’s telling us,” Abby explained to me over coffee. “ReWild is about getting under it so we can connect with the body through the emotion. The dance space is a safe space to work through what we’re feeling.”
Conditioning and imprinting are inevitable parts of our social lives. We’re taught from a young age which emotions are acceptable and which aren’t, but we’re also taught the “proper” ways to express all of our emotions. “In families with low emotional intelligence, we can often become stuck in a cycle of acting out old wounds. If we’re not given a chance to move through our emotions in positive ways, they have to go somewhere,” advises Abby. “ReWild is a process of tapping into our ability to self-heal, of getting back to ourselves. It’s learning to accept that no emotion is better than another; it’s just what resonates with you and what you need to work through.”
Abby’s work reminds me of something Dr Jacobson spoke about in our conversation a few weeks before. “Part of the work we do with managing anger is ‘thought balancing’. We’re wired for negative and repetitive thoughts, so we need to focus on finding balance,” she remarked. “This doesn’t mean being artificially positive, but acknowledging and accepting our emotions in balance with our experiences.”
When we begin to unpack our lives, there are often common threads that tie us to our past and the ways we’ve been conditioned to live. If Dr Jacobson and Abby stressed one thing, it was to have empathy for the parts of you that you may not like.
Rage and anger have a place in our lives. The key is what we do with those emotions. A rage room might be all you need to find release, but true acceptance of yourself can only come about through understanding.