Why is anger an obstacle in recovery

Why is anger an obstacle in recovery. A person in recovery may face any number of challenges to their recovery process. Some of these challenges are external, we have problems with our family, friends and in our careers. Our financial situation may change, or our health may fail us. Other problems are a bit harder to pin down. We may struggle with flawed thinking, our attitudes and behavioural patterns may hold us back, and our emotions may control us despite our best efforts. A dragon many addicts and alcoholics must face in recovery is their own anger.

What is anger

Anger is an emotional state brought on when a person feels offended or threatened. The same way human’s express anger and rage at perceived danger is present in many animals, this suggests that anger is part of a survival mechanic, rather than just a state of being. It is part of the “fight or flight” response. The body and brain are flooded with adrenaline, epinephrine and norepinephrine. This increases blood flow to the muscles, allows you to react faster and fight harder. This type of response is crucial when living in a situation where you must out run predators and fight for your life. But you’re not running from a grizzly bear, you are not fighting off hungry scavengers, a taxi just cut you off on the way to work. Despite the reality of the situation, the brain and body still react as if your life is on the line.  

Anger and the recovery process

Anger is very often an emotion used to cover up other emotions. This is the main reason why in a recovery process anger is particularly damaging. It is a superb defence mechanism. When a person is sad, or fearful or feels ashamed, it is so easy to just cover all those unpleasant feelings in a layer of anger. It is a way of protecting the ideas we had about ourselves and the things we went through. It helps us shift blame and fuels denial about the part we play in the situations we find ourselves in. Simply put, when angry it is near impossible to be vulnerable. Anger tells us that we are always right. That we don’t need to change and that these people (counsellors, sponsors, friends and family) who are telling us that we need to change are wrong. Recovery demands vulnerability. To fully solve our problems, we need to confront them head on. Being able to accept criticism, have our illusions about ourselves and the world around us shattered takes a great amount of courage.

What do we do about our anger

The initial feeling of anger is not actually the problem we have to solve. We often cannot control how our brains and bodies decide to react in the moment. There are however areas where we do have control. How am I going to react to this situation or person which is making me angry? And, how long am I going to be angry about this situation or at this person? The first often comes with time, practice and self-examination. It is almost as if you are trying to get in front of your thought before they run away with you. Studies have shown that meditation techniques are quiet effective in facilitating this type adjustment in thinking patterns. In extreme cases anger management therapy and support groups may be necessary. When we are talking about the second choice we have, how long am I going to be angry, this often takes the form of a conscious decision to work through our feelings. When we hold on to resentment it is not an active process we are participating in. It is an underlying and unconscious pain, and whether we are aware of this pain or not, could our judgments and our interactions with other people. In the 12 steps it asks up to do a searching and fearless moral inventory, this is often where we are made aware of our resentments and just how deeply they have affected us. We are then asked to share this. It is in the sharing of our pain and anger that we can finally start to forgive, accept and let it go.

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