10 ways to manage anger or self-punishment


Hi, this is Shelley Treacher from the Stress and Anxiety Recovery podcast.

Today I’m talking about anger (Start at 06:55)


Part 1 – Q&A

But let’s start with the Q& A part of this podcast:

Three questions have come in, which I think you will relate to.

  1. “Do you think that a person can just binge eat because they’re greedy”

This is a great question because most of my clients who come in about binge-eating think they are just greedy. But let’s have a look at what greed is and how it makes you feel.

In the case of binge eating, it’s a compulsive need to satisfy an urge. The need to keep eating and drug use appear similarly in the brain’s pathways. They follow the same pathways as any addiction. So this may feel good at the time, but it often feels so much worse soon afterwards.

The compulsion to eat, like any other addiction, is usually a way to cope with emotional difficulty. The various substances or behaviours act as a way to soothe pain or discomfort. They do that. One of the characteristics of addiction, though, is the feeling that something is never enough. So the compulsion increases as we try to fix that need.

One of the reasons it’s not quite hitting the mark is that it’s not the right solution to the real problem anyway. So my answer would be that there is always more to it.

It’s possible that there might not always be emotional difficulty behind the desire to eat. There might be a genuine need for nutrition or a sensual pleasure in eating.

But perhaps it’s worth exploring how ‘greed’ takes place and the state of the body when it happens. This will give you some clues as to what’s underneath it.

You may have noticed that I’m saying the word ‘greed’ with an inflection and that is because it’s worth noting that often this is used in a judgmental way!

So my real answer is to urge you to be more compassionate with yourself and to use different words, different language and different understanding of what’s happening to you.

Even ‘a desire to eat’ is less judgmental than the word ‘greed’.

2. “How do you deal with having a rough day and feeling like a certain type of food will at least let me be happy for a minute?”

This is another great question because I think it’s something that everyone can relate to. This question was asked in my Facebook group, and I have to say my group responded so beautifully to it. I felt quite proud because they were first and foremost compassionate, and I think that’s always the answer – to lead with compassion.

Firstly, forgive yourself for wanting the food, and maybe even for having the food. Because the next step (wondering what’s behind your need for the food) requires compassion.

When I speak about coping with anger, I’ll talk a little today about mindfulness and having a pause between emotion and reaction. You might find this useful in this context as well.

In my group, I posted a poem by Pema Chodron. I’m going to read it for you now too.

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

The truth of overeating, because it’s a way to manage how we feel, is that it will take time to learn to do something different and  be compassionate with yourself where you haven’t been.

So next time you catch yourself eating the junk food you wish you weren’t eating, turn it into an exercise of curiosity rather than telling yourself off for it. See if you can forgive yourself for wanting this thing. But be interested in why you want it.

3. “I struggle so much to let myself feel what I’m feeling. I don’t accept my emotions, which I know just leads to suffering. It’s a vicious cycle, yet so hard to see when I’m in it.”

That’s not a question, but it’s something that I want to respond to. To some extent, this goes hand in hand with the last question. How can you recognise how you feel when you don’t want to and aren’t conditioned to?

First I want to say that it is hard to jump out of a stress response. It’s physiologically impossible, never mind emotionally. So everything I’m about to talk about to do with anger applies here too.

It’s a gradual process, learning to pause between emotion and reaction. It takes practice. If you think about how long it took you to become good at something that you’re good at in life. Maybe that’s your job, your career, or how you relate to your children; it took time to be good at that.

This is a skill that has to be learned. Another way of looking at this is to observe your desire not to feel emotion as self-protection. Once again, with compassion, let your desire to eat be there, but explore it and try to understand it. Be curious. Learn to observe overeating as a reaction to stress, before you look at the actual stress.

And then gradually, become more aware of this in your body. This need for stress relief. How does your body do it? Engage with the protection first. Understand everything you can about how you’re protecting yourself before you ask what you’re protecting yourself from. This will give you a good grounding in understanding yourself and relating to what’s going on in your body and your experience. This often leads to understandinging the stress.

That’s it for the questions for today, but if you have any questions you want answered, I would love to answer them. And just know that everything you tell me is completely confidential, I’ll never mention names, unless you explicitly tell me that it’s okay to do that.



Part 2 – Anger  (06:55)

What Makes You Angry?

Anger is often such a difficult emotion because, as a client put it,

“Anger was not acceptable in my house. I was taught, because it’s what they were taught, that anger was disrespectful. I would be sent to my room to deal with it.”

Can you relate to that? I think most of us can.

But anger is a necessary emotion or function, it’s just how we express or deal with it that can be the problem.

  • Anger can be a sign that something is wrong, and an attempt to stand up for yourself. It is often from fear or protest about suffering or a response to feeling you’ve been badly treated.
  • The underlying voice of anger is often, “You can’t do this to me.”
  • It often comes from being cut short by what someone else wanted.
  • The angry person usually expects something to be different to how it is.
  • Anger can be from being overwhelmed by too many emotions at once. You might call that stress.
  • it can be fed by shame.
  • It can be caused by stress addiction or a need to withdraw.
  • It can also be caused by biological issues.

But wherever it comes from, anger is usually ineffective at resolving a situation.

Anger can either go outwards as an explosion or turn inwards as an implosion. Often a binge or compulsion is a response to anger and a version of this implosion, where the anger is taken out on yourself, often as a self-punishment.

Can you relate to that? Are you angry when you say these words just before you act out with your compulsion?

“Stuff it, I don’t care.”

The words that come with anger are often like this:

“They made me do this”

“I wouldn’t be angry if it wasn’t for them”

“I was fine before they started”

“They deserve it”

Anger has a sense of blaming the other person but it can also be about a sense of self. Often, we’re thinking that the other person is selfish and in it for themselves. Arguments are about who is right. Sometimes, when anger comes from intolerable shame, it’s an attempt to make the other person feel the shame that we feel.


The Root Cause of Anger

Anger is a deep and visceral experience that gives you energy and makes you feel powerful.

It gives you the same hit or payoff as addiction. In the brain, it looks similar to happiness and arousal. It’s the same as what I talked about earlier where binge eating and addiction follow the same pathways. This is the same. Anger does the same thing. Anger is wired to make us feel better.

It comes with a sense that you need to do something about it. This comes from the fight or flight system. If anger didn’t feel good, we might not have fought for survival!

You can start to see the complexity here. Sometimes we may still need to fight for survival, but often it causes much more harm than good to vent anger.

With angry eating or the use of other substances, there are likely feelings of underconfidence about asserting needs, so we turn anger inwards.

Binge eating is similar to anger in that it feels good. But binge eating is often self-punishment, self-hatred and a lack of respect for your body. Underlying this is often anger and hurt.

So the place you need to get to is healthy use of anger, rather than self-blame.

  • How is anger treated in your family?
  • Why are you angry?

These are some questions I’d love you to answer.

My mother always told me that I had my father’s temper. I understand her doing this. It must have been horrifying for her to see it. But in my mind, as an impressionable child, this was a bad thing. So I learned to feel shame about my anger, which has led to me taking it out on myself many times in my life.

We have the message in our culture that we are ‘losing it’ if we’re angry. But it’s there for a reason, and that reason usually needs healing.

Here I want to talk about trauma and relational history a little bit.

Often we’re angry because of a dysregulated fight response to trauma. This dysregulation is usually formed in childhood.

Feelings are the hardest for us to manage as a baby. If our caregivers respond to our emotions and expressions with fear, anger, or switching off, this will affect how we express ourselves. So, if your caregivers ignore your feelings or become anxious or angry themselves when you have an emotion, you might learn to keep quiet about it.

But the resentment builds inside. Here, our lack of expression feels like self-protection. Because we relied on these people to survive. However, suppressed anger can be ready to come out in a destructive explosion, or other ways like self-hatred and punishment. How our expression was treated as a child also affects how we now relate as adults.

Arguments in adulthood are often about abandonment and rejection. Being shut out triggers rage. Another person’s passivity and avoidance can trigger fear and the knee-jerk response to protect yourself. If you had trouble with any of these as a child, your ‘fight’ response might be super-activated. And so you may blame the other for how you feel.

We all do this to some extent. It’s much easier than working out what our anger means and how it relates to our history. And it’s certainly quicker and easier than learning to pause before reacting!


How Can I Control My Anger?

This brings us to the last part of today’s podcast. How can you cope with anger? I’ll give you 10 steps, although there are also many other ways to cope with anger.

1. Understand how being less explosive or implosively angry benefits you. Write a pros and cons list. This is along the same lines as exploring the protector. It’s exploring why your defence or your coping mechanism is there in the first place. Seeingow it behaves, and what job it thinks it’s doing for you.

2. Understand the difference between fiery-losing-it-inanely-in-rage and calm assertiveness.

3. Become aware of your physiological response to anger. Become aware of your breathing. It will be faster. Your heart rate will also be faster. There may be an adrenaline surge. There may be heat in your body that’s being released. You might have a tone of voice that’s a bit louder or sharper. Try using a soothing voice instead.

4. What an explosion or implosion of anger often shows is that we don’t know how to put on the brakes. If we detect a threat, our nervous systems can accelerate from nought to a hundred in a split second. So what’s needed is the practice of using a parasympathetic brake system. We need to be able to limit and inhibit our limbic acceleration. Begin by becoming aware of the urge to release anger. Then, surf that wave, just being aware of it, without venting. Catch that moment between emotional reaction and response, and create a pause.

This is the practice of mindfulness. Here are some exercises you can try.

5. See anger as just a state, just one part of you. This part is trying to be understood, just like all the other parts of you. You are not a bad person for being angry. It’s normal and it’s necessary.

6. Understand what’s beneath the anger. What triggers it and what beliefs are there that keep it going? Anger always has a message, so try to work out when it’s useful and when it’s not. Ask who you are angry with, and who else.

7. Name and express yourself to the right person. This helps to release the energy of it less destructively.

8. Use the energy of anger. Screw paper up hit cushions, scream into a pillow, or channel it into something you’re interested in or excited about.

9. You can sing through complaints. This is a funny one, and of course, that’s the point! You’ll probably end up smiling and laughing rather than being angry.

10. It’s hard to stay angry if you do this: Open your hands in a receptive gesture, comfortably.


Final Words on Managing Anger

So, we come to the end of this podcast. It’s often said that it’s people who don’t express anger that we need to worry about.

Anger needs to be heard and understood. It’s a signal of something you don’t like. It’s there to help you protect yourself. So learn to become curious rather than switched off. Start observing and understanding that self-hatred and punishment, and create a compassionate barrier instead.

I want to end with a story told by Joan Borisenko:

She went to visit the juvenile justice system and she was quite nervous, She didn’t know how to address the people there so she tried something called ‘muscle testing’ on them. This is where you hold your arm up and somebody gives you a substance or says a provocative word or phrase to you. They then try to push your arm down as they say this phrase. You’re supposed to resist the arm going down.

She tried this with the words ‘anger’ and with the word ‘love’. Quite surprisingly, with ‘anger’, when the juvenile justice system kids were thinking about something they were angry about, they found it hard to resist the arm going down.

Whereas with love, when they were thinking about their families and people who mattered to them, they found it easy and their arms were strong.

As always, compassion is the real strength, and love is the answer.

Thank you once again for listening to me. I will be coming back sooner this time, and in the next couple of podcasts, I’m going to talk about anxiety and self-regulation. So look out for the next one in two weeks. Meanwhile, do keep sending me your comments and questions.

I’ll see you next time. This has been the Stress and Anxiety Recovery Podcast with Shelley Treacher.



Some ideas here were inspired by a Nicabm training on working with anger. You can buy your full training programme here


For help understanding and managing your anger, speak with Shelley now.

10 Ways to Control ANGER