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Andrea Anderson Polk’s Blog

Clinically Practiced, Biblically Informed

  • Writer's pictureAndrea Anderson Polk

How to Deal with Anger and Set Boundaries

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

Image of beach with the word "limit" written in the sand. How to Deal with Anger and Set Boundaries

If you’ve tried everything and continue to be the perpetual people-pleaser and you’re consistently stressed, the issue could be hidden anger. Yes, anger.

When you avoid anger, you lose yourself and become vulnerable to anxiety, one-sided relationships, and you lack the boundaries needed for self-care.

Anger can be channeled into appropriate actions that help you, not hurt you. Anger is an emotion that occurs automatically in your brain and body, which means it is part of how God created you. It is how you deal with anger that makes a difference.

Today’s post will explore how to practically deal with your anger in healthy ways through setting boundaries, trusting your intuition, expressing your needs, validating your feelings, and practicing self-care.

Let’s start with boundaries.

Deal with Anger / Set Boundaries: Giving Your Anger a Voice

Boundaries are personal guidelines you establish to identify safe and permissible ways for other people to treat you and to define how you will respond when those boundaries are crossed. Giving your anger a voice means telling another person the truth about how you feel, what you think, what you want, and what you need. This includes sharing your opinion, trusting your intuition, and saying no.

The ability to express your anger in a healthy way by setting a boundary allows you to be fully in charge of your life because you know who you are and what you want. Boundaries also put a limit on dysfunctional behavior, so you do not allow people to take advantage you.

For example, stop doing everything for other people and ask for help. Perhaps it is the carpool, grocery shopping, babysitting, bill budgeting, talking to extended family, or household chores.

Boundaries for protecting your peace, time, and energy can look like:

“I only have 10 minutes to talk.”

“Today is not a good day for you to visit.”

“Rather than stopping by unannounced, please ask first if it’s a good time to come over.”

When someone is trying to force their opinion on you or engage in conversation that feels emotionally inappropriate; you can say: “I’m not asking for feedback right now.” “I need time to think on that. I’ll respond when I’m ready.”

“I’m not comfortable discussing this topic any longer.” “I’d rather not explain myself or give reasons for my decision."

In severe cases where it's apparent the other person does not want to honor your boundaries and your interactions become heated and intense; you can say:

"It seems this conversation has turned into a debate, and I am uninterested in building a case against each other."

"We seem to be at a standstill. Let's agree to disagree."

"I’m going to end this call (or walk away) because I feel hurt and need space.”

Trust your gut when it appears they are making false assumptions and committed to misunderstanding your boundaries. For example, they seem to be more interested in being right or winning an argument than they are listening to you and trying to understand how you feel.

In my work with clients, I’ve found the following truths about boundaries helpful when dealing with difficult relationships whether it be with your partner, family members, friends, or colleagues:

  • You are allowed to have a voice.

  • You are not the rescuer in every crisis.

  • You are allowed to disagree.

  • You do not need to defend yourself.

  • You are allowed to walk away.

  • You do not need to give a reason.

  • You do not need to explain every situation.

  • You are allowed to change your mind.

  • You are allowed to have space.

You are not emotionally responsible for other people; you can only be responsible for your actions and reactions. The truth is that you need boundaries to have mutually loving and giving relationships that are not one-sided or draining.

Boundaries for Vacations and Special Occasions

Summer vacation season is here and for many of you, vacations are more stressful than they are restful. The same goes for birthdays and special occasions as well as the holidays which some of you are probably dreading already.

What everyone else does to celebrate or wants to do for vacation and special occasions is not always what is best for you.

For example:

You discuss with your spouse and make the decision that for summer vacation this year you are going to vacation together with your children to enjoy a relaxing change of pace. You want to spend some much-needed fun time just as a family. You want to take a break from the hustle and bustle of dealing with extended family - stressing over meal planning, scheduling activities, arguing over who gets what room, financial contribution disagreements, and engaging in the same draining religious and political conversations year after year.

You finally muster up the courage to tell your extended family you will not be going on vacation with them this year. They respond by trying to guilt-trip you into changing your mind. They are shocked and appalled at your decision.

"How can you break this precious family tradition? After all, you have time off work, a nice vacation home, and space for everyone, and you are right on the beach, making it so much easier on all of us.” Your family goes on and on about how their lives are more stressful than yours and how they really need a break. “Why can’t you go on vacation with just your family another time? Don’t you want to make memories together with us?”

After engaging with them you feel the emotional weight of making yourself responsible for everyone's happiness. So, you tell your spouse, “Let’s just go with everyone one more year.”

Sound familiar?

These decisions seem minuscule at first, but when the pattern continues in your relationships throughout the year (chronic caretaking, one-sided relationships, putting other people’s needs above your own, having no boundaries), you eventually find yourself depleted, secretly resentful, and joyless.

You gradually lose yourself trying to please everyone else.

Boundaries for vacations and special occasions can look like:

“Thanks for the invitation, however, we will be doing our own thing this year.”

“I appreciate you opening your home to us, but we’d prefer to stay in a hotel.”

“We are looking forward to being together, but we can only stay for a couple days.”

“I need help preparing the meal; I’m feeling overwhelmed.”

“I prefer to set my own schedule for the day and do what is restful for me.”

“I’d like to change the subject and avoid political discussions. I find them stressful.”

“I have a limited budget so I’m unable to contribute that $ amount and/or bring that # of dishes for the meal.”

“Please do not give me parenting or relationship advice and do not discipline my children or treat my partner poorly."

Here are some helpful truths specifically for the holiday season: (which will be here before you know it!)

  • It’s OK to not go all out decorating your home this year.

  • It’s OK to skip preparing for the Big Meal and order take out instead.

  • It’s OK to celebrate the holidays with NEITHER side of the family and do your own thing.

  • It’s OK to turn down invitations for that holiday party/dinner/gathering and watch movies instead.

  • It’s OK to take this year off from buying gifts for friends and extended family.

  • It’s OK to take a bath, a nap, or read a book instead of searching for online shopping deals.

I can hear you now, “that’s easier said than done.” I couldn’t agree more. It’s not just setting the boundary that is difficult, it’s how you feel after you set the boundary that is equally difficult.

What Boundaries Feel Like

People will most often be upset and disappointed when you set a boundary because your behavior is no longer serving or benefiting them.

When my clients learn to set boundaries, they tell me how guilty they feel. Setting boundaries can be misconstrued as selfish, mean, or a lack of caring. For this reason, as you begin to set boundaries, anxiety tends to show up. This is because your pattern of people-pleasing or self-neglect is deep-rooted, typically stemming in childhood.

This makes setting boundaries difficult and feel scary, especially if you fear conflict and confrontation, or worse - losing the relationship. Gradually losing yourself and experiencing burnout, anxiety, and resentment is often the alternative.

Regarding family: Even though someone is a family member, it does not mean you’re obligated to have a relationship with them if they continue to hurt or harm you. Perhaps you cannot cut them out of your life, but you can set boundaries, refrain from closeness and deep conversations, or not see them regularly.

Hold your boundaries. Recognize that people who do not want to respect your boundaries do not want to understand them and therefore cannot honor them. Be consistent. Repeat yourself. Be strong. Stand your ground no matter what reaction you receive or how selfish or guilty you might feel.

Overcoming hardwired people- pleasing patterns takes hard work and a commitment to believing the truth that you are not doing something wrong when you make room for yourself in relationships.

Take it as a sign of growth and healing if you feel guilty and selfish when you set a boundary. That’s how you know you’re on the right path!

Anger Must Be Felt

Most of you unconsciously internalize your anger and push it down deep inside. However, buried anger is still anger and it’s alive on the inside of you and can show up as anxiety, depression, shame + self-attack, rageful episodes, chronic illness + pain, or a general sense of being stuck or trapped in certain situations and relationships.

Anger is a gift and serves to protect you when you deal with it effectively. To express your anger in a healthy way is to feel it within yourself first instead keeping it bottled up inside. Where your anger resides, there you will discover buried wounds that need to be healed and unresolved issues that need to be addressed.

You always have feelings; you just learn to hide them from other people.

Ninety percent of this learning is unconscious. It is never your feelings of anger that cause your issues but the ways you choose to avoid anger.

What you do not feel, you cannot heal.

When clients come to see me for therapy, the problem isn’t what they thought it was. The actual problem is often unaddressed anger. Once they get in touch with their anger, they can have difficult conversations and set boundaries which allows them to take their life back and live each day with peace and purpose.

You are responsible for how you kindly, yet firmly communicate your feelings to others in an appropriate manner. This is not easy because of the negative, painful reaction you may receive. In toxic relationships, the other person consistently invalidates or dismisses your feelings.

They might even punish you with criticism, or passive aggressive behavior such as the silent treatment, instead of acknowledging your feelings. Perhaps you feel confused and angry because you are consistently told your feelings are not true or real, or that your feelings hurt them.

For example, when you share how you're feeling, they might respond: "That hurts me that you would say that." "You are criticizing me." "You don't care about me, or you wouldn't feel that way." "You are being selfish." "You are being insensitive." "You are disrespecting me." Essentially, they twist your feelings and make it about them, and they usually get defensive rather than trying to understand. They do not listen.

Maybe you are the toxic communicator because you let your avoided anger build up and then you explode or you do not listen to others, want to be right, get easily offended, or highly defensive. Either way, your feelings, especially anger, are a compass to help guide you to know your boundaries and gain an inner sense of what is right or wrong for you.

The same is true for expressing your needs.

Your Needs Matter

Unmet needs also lead to resentment, rage, burnout, and anxiety. Other people cannot meet your needs until you learn to communicate them. This takes practice and overcoming fear, doubt, and guilt because most of you are used to putting others' needs above your own.

As someone who continues to heal from neglecting my own needs, I hope you find these specific examples helpful. Expressing your needs can look like:

“When I wake up, I need 20 minutes of quiet time every morning to journal, pray, and meditate.”

“I need to go for a walk every day after work to move my body and clear my head.”

“I have an important work project due. I need you to take care of the household chores this week so I can meet my deadline.”

“This weekend, I’m planning on having a day date just for me. I need you to not make plans with friends or family.”

“When I share an issue I’m struggling with, I need you to listen to me vent instead of trying fix it.”

“I need some alone time before bed to zone out and relax after an evening out with friends, would you mind not interrupting me?”

“I need words of affirmation; it would mean so much if you would compliment me more often.”

Most of you go through life disconnected from your true selves and unaware of who you are and what you need. This is largely due to childhood because you witnessed your parents ignore their needs or they neglected your needs. This pattern can repeat itself in your closest relationships and it feels familiar.

Healing comes as you identify what your needs are and how those needs can be met. The more you meet your needs (personally and relationally), the more you will relate authentically to other people. This leads to mutually loving and giving relationships that are not one-sided.

Anger Antidotes: Practicing Self-care + Overcoming People-Pleasing

Whether you’re a people-pleaser, peacemaker, rescuer, fixer, or a performer – it is difficult to express anger in healthy ways by setting boundaries and practicing self-care. It is easy to confuse these roles with love especially when your concept of love is based upon a need to be needed by others. Or you obtain your worth and value from your performance. Or you have been taught false religious doctrine that “self-denial” and neglecting your needs is Christ-like.

Perhaps you tend to lose yourself in a relationship. Maybe you feel other’s feelings at the expense of not feeling your own. Your needs become their needs. Your dreams become their dreams. Your beliefs become their beliefs.

Addressing your people-pleasing tendencies is an essential part of practicing self-care.

Here are common signs of people-pleasing:

  • You do whatever it takes to make people happy.

  • You tend to be taken advantage of and used by others because you lack appropriate boundaries.

  • You withhold your opinions, thoughts, or feelings to keep the peace.

  • You avoid conflict at all costs.

  • You push yourself to be the perfect partner, family member, colleague, or friend possible, and end up burned out and continually stressed.

  • You feel unappreciated and secretly resentful.

  • You find it difficult to ask for help.

  • You often say yes when you really mean no.

  • You take care of everyone else’s needs but your own.

  • You give far too much, exhausting yourself and draining your emotional energy.

  • You have mostly one-sided relationships where you are the one doing the work.

  • You fear losing a relationship.

  • You carry the emotional weight of others’ problems.

To overcome your tendency to people-please and put others' wants and needs above your own, regularly check in with yourself by asking these questions:

What do I feel?

What do I think?

What do I need?

What do I want?

Give yourself the same care, time, and attention you have continually given to others. There has been too much focus on taking care of the other person while you are continually neglecting yourself and secretly suffering with rage, anxiety, stress, and overwhelm.

Becoming aware of your hidden anger gives you the purpose and power necessary to identify your needs which protects the core of who you are.

It is important to keep in mind as you begin to remove yourself from the role of pleaser, fixer, or rescuer, some relationships might become conflictual or even lost as you go through these new changes. For this reason, prioritizing your needs can be scary and uncomfortable. You might occasionally fall back into old patterns of keeping your anger inside and neglecting your needs by being polite, agreeable, accommodating, and not having a voice.

It is important to believe and know deep down that it’s OK to prioritize your needs and well-being. It’s also OK to prioritize some relationships over others. You cannot be close to everyone and not everyone can be in your inner circle. You cannot please everyone and not everyone is going to understand and that’s OK.

Trust Your Intuition and Follow Your Gut

An essential truth I teach my clients is: Trust your intuition and follow your gut. Many times, people think of their gut as some ethereal thing that does not have significance. Yet the reality is - your gut is your second brain. It contains millions of neurons as your brain does. Therefore, your gut is worth paying attention to. Your body holds wisdom.

You can lie to yourself, but your body always tells the truth.

You know that sick, sinking feeling you get in your chest when something doesn’t feel quite right even though everything looks good on paper or makes rational sense? Or when deep down you just know that you know something is right even though it seems crazy to everyone else? This is your gut speaking.

Trust your gut because it’s a gift and serves as a protection from entering unhealthy relationships and situations. Spiritually speaking, many of you were taught as a person of faith that you cannot trust yourself. However, trusting your gut allows room for you to hear God’s still, small voice so you can receive his wisdom about you and your situation.

Do You “Should” All Over Yourself?

Do you “should” all over yourself and say things like:

I should be over this by now.

I should eat better and lose weight and be thinner.

I should have a beautifully decorated home.

I should be involved in church or ministry.

I should be less tired and have more energy.

I should be grateful for what I have and stop desiring what I don’t.

I should be a better wife, mother, daughter, friend, or sister.

Most often what we think we “should” do and what we really want are two different things. “Shoulding” all over yourself is not helpful or productive although you might falsely believe it will lead to better choices. Most often, it leads to shame, blame, and pain.

People-pleasing is also a reason you “should” all over yourself because you are doing what everyone else thinks you should do instead of doing what is right for you.

You’re not a project to fix or a problem to solve. You’re a person worthy of love and compassion. Accepting your limitations and weaknesses and choosing to focus on the way things are in the present motivates you to pursue the desires of your heart instead of focusing on what is wrong with you and what you “should” do.

Practicing self-care is a major first step that allows you to overcome people-pleasing because you start taking your life back. I’ve learned these practices in my life and decided to compile them into a list to help you practice self-care.

Ways to practice self-care:

  • Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”

  • Do things you enjoy and say no to things you dread.

  • Stop trying to be all things to all people. Invest in the people who are in front of you. Look at one person at a time.

  • At the end of the day think about what you did do instead of what you didn’t do.

  • Develop a deep dependence on Jesus. Talk to him daily.

  • Ask for help. Let go of your pride and reach out to someone now.

  • Re-define success for yourself. What makes you successful doesn’t always make you happy.

  • Remove should from your vocabulary.

  • Throughout the day write down the teeny-tiny things you’re grateful for. It’s the little things, not just the big milestones.

  • Preserve your energy: Stop over explaining and defending yourself to people who don’t truly care or have your best interest. You don’t need to convince anyone of anything.

  • Go for a walk in nature and get some fresh air (without your phone).

  • Be kind to you: Life is hard enough without being hard on yourself.

  • Feel your feelings.

  • Slow down. Don’t be driven by your to-do-list.

  • Put blinders on: Chase your dreams and stop comparing yourself to everyone else’s.

  • Pause and celebrate your wins and accomplishments.

  • Go one day at a time. Tomorrow has enough worries of its own.

  • Stop taking yourself so seriously: Make time to play and have fun.

It’s OK to break your own rules if they no longer serve you well and to deviate from your routine every now and then. Allow yourself to be human. Sometimes I skip my daily run and sit on the patio with my husband. Or I listen to rock music instead of a podcast. Or eat a brownie instead of a green smoothie. Or I read a fiction book instead of the Bible.

A closing thought: Do not make self-care stressful by assigning moral, "right or wrong" labels to practicing self-care. It’s not intended to be a burden or another item on your to-do-list. Don’t jeopardize self-care because you’re listening more to the “should” instead of paying attention to your moment-to-moment needs.

It’s OK to Say “No” More Than “Yes”

Anger is a useful emotion to inform you when you are saying “yes” when you really mean “no.” I’ve learned in my own life, that when I say “yes” when I really mean “no,” it is a signal that I am people-pleasing or have a fear of being rejected or losing a relationship. Saying “no” can also mean I believe the lie that I am being selfish or mean.

Each time you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else. The something else is often YOU. Your time, energy, and capacity. While others are getting the best of you and most of your time, there is no room left to take care of you and to nurture your dreams and desires. Others can be: Your clients, your colleagues, your family, your ministry, your spouse, and your friends.

Even the most intelligent, compassionate, and spiritual people have difficulty knowing the difference between when to say yes and when to say no.

Keep your “yeses” for you best. For the work that provides you fulfillment. For the things and people who bring you joy. For mutual relationships. As I said earlier, boundaries are not bad, selfish, sinful, or wrong. Saying no is a boundary and a protection.

My personal mantra is: If it’s not a HECK yes, it’s a no.

You cannot help others or show up authentically and be present in your purpose when you are running on empty, when you are neglecting your needs, and when you are always stressed.

You cannot love your neighbor if you do not love yourself.

One of the most important ways to love yourself is to be a healthy person.

If you get stuck in people-pleasing patterns and consistently lack boundaries no matter how hard you try, there could be deeper-rooted issues, often unconscious, that are contributing to your difficulty - such as hidden anger.

I’ve witnessed hundreds of clients in my private psychotherapy practice who learn to listen to their anger motivating them to set boundaries, experience fulfilling relationships, restored physical health, genuine happiness, and professional success.

Having a therapist partner with you is the way healing and breakthrough happen. Therapy addresses your stuck points and helps you see things you cannot see within yourself. You do not need to be in a crisis, you can just be human and need some outside help.

In therapy you’re allowed to be MAD and maybe for the first time in years. And feel truly validated. You can unleash your feelings and just be yourself without fear of judgement or repercussions rather than a people-pleasing robot who’s afraid of upsetting anyone.

In the next post, I will share Julie’s story of how anger brought her clarity and healing.


The examples in this post are fictional composites based on the author's clinical experience with hundreds of clients through the years. All names are invented, and any resemblance between fictional characters and actual persons is coincidental.

The content for this blog post has been taken from chapter 11 (A Protection Against Cuckoos, The Gift of Anger) of Andrea’s book, The Cuckoo Syndrome: The Secret to Breaking Free from Unhealthy Relationships, Toxic Thinking, and Self-Sabotaging Behavior

The photo accompanying this article was sourced from istock and is in the public domain.

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Andrea Anderson Polk is a licensed professional counselor, nationally certified, registered clinical supervisor, and certified professional coach. She has a private practice in Northern Virginia with nearly 20 years of clinical experience helping hundreds of clients on their healing journey.

She is driven by a deep calling to help ambitious women of faith experience healing and breakthrough so they can live each day with peace and purpose. 

Andrea believes healing happens through relationship. The wounds that occur in a relationship must be healed in a relationship. Andrea invites you into a life-altering relationship.

Work with Andrea one-one- by contacting her here.


Andrea has spent her career studying the human experience and has developed a fascinating analogy that compares cuckoo birds, nature’s master manipulator and imposter, to situations and relationships that leave us feeling drained, confused, lost, and empty. Her new book, The Cuckoo Syndrome, helps us fend off the cuckoos, the unhealthy relationships, toxic thinking, and self-sabotaging behaviors in our life that never truly satisfy the deep longings of our souls and the desires of our hearts. 

Andrea’s clinically proven, innovative method helps us recover the lost pieces of ourselves, discover meaning in suffering, and transform our pain into purpose by teaching us to uncover the truth of who we are and who God is so we can be healed and live free. 

Purchase the book Andrea’s clients call “a life-changing breakthrough” for yourself and the people you care about today.

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If you….

Feel internal pressure to do all things well. 

Tend to neglect your needs to please others and search for validation.

Continually attract toxic or one-sided relationships leaving you drained. 

Want to build a life that is unashamedly true to who you are and what you want.


Then…this is the time to reclaim your JOY, ENERGY, AND TIME so you can live each day with peace and purpose!


Curious to know how?

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