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Cancer and Anger

I was all set to sit down and write about the subject I had on my mind for this month when an article in the New York Times caught my eye this morning and it completely changed my plan. So, the other blog will have to wait because I couldn’t stop thinking about this article and how it could relate to people dealing with cancer (and their caregivers.)

The article was written by a woman named Penelope Green. She wrote about her experience going to an “Anger Room”. An anger room is a place where people pay to go and demolish and smash things. Large, noisy things like computer screens, laptops, TV’s and dishes. The rooms are lined and people watch a safety video before they begin. They are given hard hats, safety goggles, crow bars and baseball bats and for 30 minutes they can whack away at things to their hearts content.

Therapeutic Techniques

Over the years, as a therapist, I have worked with many clients who have had trouble expressing some of their deeper feelings of anger and frustration. At times, talking was not very effective. People tend to either shut down or get more cerebral when “talking” about their feelings. One way or the other, they were stuck in a place of not being able to get them up and out of their body and it was causing problems. It is a fairly common therapeutic technique to give a client a soft bat and have them hit something. It can often help to externalize their feelings. In fact, I have even had clients purchase old thrift store dishes and find a safe place for them to be smashed. I don’t know whether it is the sound or the physical exertion or both, but it can really provide an outlet for feelings.

Cancer, Anger and the Need for Release

Anger is not an uncommon emotion for anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer. In fact, many oncologists say it is one of the earlier emotions to surface after diagnosis. The initial feeling of “WHY ME?” is often accompanied by anger. Anger tends to surface in different ways during treatment. The physical side effects of chemotherapy and radiation can bring up a lot of anger. Those of us who are diagnosed with a recurrence can experience a ton of anger. It can be tough to let these feelings out when you are trying to be a cooperative patient. We try to rationalize it away; it’s not the fault of the medical community, after all, they are trying to help us. So where do all of those feelings go?

Anger Room for Cancer Survivors

Wouldn’t it be amazing if our cancer treatment centers provided a room where people, both patients and caregivers (they have their own set of frustrations and anger) could go and safely break a pile of plates or hit something until it shatters? What a wonderful way to express some of our anger and frustration without turning it in on ourselves or being difficult with our family and loved ones and then feeling guilty about it afterward. Right now, that is not an option so we have to create it for ourselves. An anger room, either one we can go to or one we create in a safe way, can be a really healthy way to let go of our anger and frustration. By the way, I have a client who swears that tubes of toothpaste work really well and another one loves the arcade game Whack a Mole. She says it feels great to hit the little motion activated moles with a big, soft hammer!

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