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Shelley Karliner, LICSW, and Tricia Bassing, LICSW, Licensed Psychotherapists image


Shelley Karliner, LICSW

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Many people feel entitled to their anger. Something painful, hurtful or unfair happens and we think we have the right to be angry. Many people feel anger is powerful. They believe anger is the way to let people know how they feel. In fact, they believe anger is the only way that they think they can impact on others. I believe, however, that our anger pushes people away from us—and leaves us feeling impotent.

  • Some say anger is powerful. It is a powerful way to let others know how we feel. I disagree. I don’t think anger lets others know how we feel; anger covers over how we feel. The feelings anger usually covers are hurt, shame and humiliation. If we slow down and look at the moments when we have gotten angry, we will find that—whatever happened, whatever was said, however we were treated—was hurtful, embarrassing or humiliating to us.

  • The culture we live in does not allow us to tolerate feeling hurt, ashamed or humiliated. These are very painful feelings and I don’t think we have learned how to let ourselves feel them. The cultural mechanism we have developed to deflect these painful feelings is anger. And, as many of us can probably attest, anger comes so quickly in those moments we aren’t even aware there is anything else we feel.

  • We get hurt or humiliated and what is it others see? They see and feel our anger, but they never see what we feel. It takes a lot to allow ourselves and to give to others what we feel. One of the reasons it is so hard to ”be giving” in those angry moments is we are caught up in trying to “get.”  Anger is a getting activity. We are trying to get something from the person or situation we are angry at—we’re trying to get our partner to admit they are wrong, we’re trying to get our mother to apologize, we’re trying to get our children to do what we want them to do, we’re trying to get things to turn out they way they didn’t turn out. Anger is all about getting.

Sharing our anger with others, rather than blasting others with it, brings us closer to people. And that’s something we may and may not want. Getting closer to others can be difficult. It challenges our capacity for intimacy. One thing about being angry at someone—versus sharing with them why you’re angry—is it helps us stay away from each other. Anger pushes people away. Anger intimidates others. And in some ways, it’s designed to do just that. Anger helps us stay away from the emotional experience of creating something new with someone else. If you share your anger—rather than be angry—it opens up the possibility the other person may be impacted by what you’re saying.

Working on our anger includes the following:

  • creating a new way of “being” in response to feeling angry
  • doing something we don’t know how to do with our feelings of hurt, shame and embarrassment
  • improvising in the moment rather than relying on knee-jerk reactions and
  • seeing our anger as an opportunity to develop emotionally

I think that’s a whole lot more powerful.


 Anger: What’s So Powerful About It Anyway?
 Creating the Relationships We Want
 Creating Conversation: Philosophizing at Work,
 Home and on the Playground
 On the Job and In the Director’s Chair
 Living With Loss: Letting Go and Moving On
Shelley Karliner is a psychotherapist who has helped thousands of people from all walks of life develop new emotional capacities and create healthy intimate relationships. She was trained at the East Side Institute for Group and Short Term Psychotherapy by Fred Newman, the founder of the social therapeutic approach to emotional development. She gives talks and workshops on topics related to the emotionality of everyday life.

Grow. There’s Nothing Stopping You. Feel better.

Shelley Karliner and Tricia Bassing, Licensed Psychotherapists
4115 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Suite 203, Washington, DC 20016—202-244-0442

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