Anger and the Three Boundaries

Posted by on Jan 3, 2009

I recently got angry.  Really angry!  And I found myself needing to set a physical boundary.  I picked up my chair and left the dinner table,  and in front of my grandparents, aunts, niece, parents, brother and husband declared that, “I need some space!”  We were talking politics, but that’s another article…

What is it about anger?

We have all gotten all kinds of messages about anger, basically that it is “bad” and that if we were just a little more enlightened, we wouldn’t have to feel this pesky emotion anymore.  There is no doubt that people often do things that they later regret when angry, which seems to be the main cause for concern.  We worry that we will say something we didn’t mean or worse yet, become violent when we feel angry. So, we learned to suppress our anger and become aggressive with ourselves instead when anger arises.  “I shouldn’t feel angry,” or “I am over-reacting” are 2 common phrases I often hear.  The thing about anger is that it seems to find a way to be expressed- maybe not in that moment, but eventually, sometimes when we least expect it.

3 Ways Our Boundaries Get Crossed:

  1. We cross our own boundaries.  We do this by not taking care of ourselves.  Some examples are:  skipping meals, not getting enough sleep, over-scheduling ourselves, saying “yes” when we mean “no,” etc…
  2. We don’t set a boundary, but we expect that people know it anyway.  Example:  It is really important to you that your friend show up on time for your work party, but you assume she knows that and you don’t make it clear.  When she shows up late, you are angry and feel she “should have known.”
  3. We do set a boundary, and it gets ignored.  Example:  My grandfather asks me if I’d like another piece of cake, and I say “No thank-you” only to find another piece of cake on my plate.

The Gift in Anger:

Anger is a big, red, flashing neon sign saying, “Set a boundary!”  “Take care of yourself!”  “Respect yourself!” It helps us understand ourselves better, our sensitivities, and our passions.

How do I set a boundary?

There is a misconception that setting a boundary is telling other people what to do.  “Don’t ever talk to me like that again!”  or “You need to change,” are a few examples.  Really, setting a boundary is about stating what you are going to do given someone’s behavior.  “Don’t ever talk to me like that again” becomes, “I am hanging up the phone now because I feel angry about how you are speaking to me.”  “You need to change” becomes what you will do to change given the circumstances.

What are some ways to set boundaries?


  • Physically- Move or leave a situation
  • Verbally- Use I statements and say what you feel and will do
  • Energetically- Sometimes all it takes is a look
  • Humorously-Boundaries don’t have to always be serious!  Some people respond very well to humor, depending on the situation

If I Express My Anger, No One Will Like Me:

Most of us have some version of this going on in our heads.  We are terrified that if we are authentically who we are that we will find ourselves all alone.  The only way to know for sure what is true is to try expressing your anger and setting boundaries, and see what happens.  You already know what happens when you don’t, right?  One way to try this out is to choose a safe person, and let them know you are trying this experiment.  It might feel safest to start with something small.

Returning to the Table:

After I had the chance to take care of myself by removing myself from the triggering situation, I reached out to the person that I’d been arguing with.  We were able to come to a new level of understanding of each other that I don’t think would have been possible had I not allowed the truth of my experience, my anger, first.  Had I chosen to suppress it, I would have continued to be angry, and there would not have been any opportunity for authentic connection later.  We didn’t resolve the content of what we were arguing about, but rather addressed the deeper layer of what was happening in our relationship. In this situation, I got to experience the wisdom of anger.

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