ANGER HAS A BAD RAP
What comes to mind when you hear the word “anger”? Most people think it’s a bad thing – it’s often associated with aggression and violence. It has such a negative reputation because of the behaviors that can come with it, but anger itself isn’t bad. We have to separate the emotion from the behaviors. Everyone gets angry and you don’t have to shy away from it. Our emotions, even anger, are always valid. We can’t change the fact that we feel emotions, but we are always responsible for our behaviors and can control how we express our emotions.
Anger and aggression are NOT the same. I often hear people say, “I don’t get angry,” but everyone gets angry. They equate behaviors (shouting, violence, etc.) with the emotion of anger. Anger can be expressed in many different ways. For example, being assertive is NOT the same as being aggressive. If something makes you angry, you can be assertive by confronting the issue in a respectful way to make positive changes in your life.
WHY IS ANGER GOOD?
The emotions we experience are never the problem – it’s how we express them that can cause problems or that can motivate us to create positive change. Anger can be productive and good can come from it. Why do you get angry and how can it be used productively? Give yourself permission to feel it and don’t judge it. If you think you can’t feel a certain way, it sets you up for failure. No matter how hard you try, you will still experience emotions, whether you like it or not. As stated earlier, we can’t control the fact we experience emotions, but we have the ability to control how we respond to our emotions and the way we interpret situations. Change your relationship with anger to use it productively instead of stuffing it down and feeling guilty for feeling the way you do. If you try to suppress anger, it will only strengthen and cause you further discomfort. Because we judge anger so harshly, we are often frightened by it and further shy away from it to avoid conflict. This pattern of avoidance interferes with us being able to manage anger effectively. It often results in us lashing out or engaging in other destructive behaviors because we don’t know how else to deal with it and, perhaps, we might be expected to respond in this way if this is a familiar approach, although unproductive.
So, how is anger a good thing? Feeling and expressing anger are the good parts, but first, we need to change the way we perceive anger. Aggression isn’t the only behavior that stems from anger. There are behaviors we can choose to act on that are inherently good. Anger, if used productively, can motivate us to take initiative and make changes in our lives. If we didn’t have intense, strong emotions, we would less likely make change and would be at risk of remaining stagnant in our lives. If used effectively and responsibility, anger can benefit you and others. When identifying the benefits of anger and the potential drive it can create, ask yourself: What don’t you like in your world or situation? What change would you like to see as a result of this dissatisfaction or injustice? Do you find yourself feeling angry in response to certain disappointments or situations? If something negative or toxic is happening around you or in your life, assertively stand up for yourself, your rights, and others. In this context, anger is informative and helps you determine what might be the cause of your discomfort, as well as direct you towards an appropriate solution or change. If you didn’t feel anger, you’d be at risk of feeling apathetic or complacent.
Anger and anxiety share something in common – they are both associated with high energy. They both need a release in order to be channelled out, so both typically have a bad reputation because of the debilitating or destructive behaviors often associated with them and the potential for a perceived lack of control. If we learn to accept our anger by changing the way we define it and changing the way we interpret our situations, we can effectively control our behaviors that come with it and sustain a healthy outlet. Set boundaries for yourself, be mindful, and communicate what you’re feeling as conflicts arise rather than stuffing in your emotions and letting things slide. Accept the emotional discomfort without judgment and take action that improves your situation.
ANGER MANAGEMENT: AN UNDERLYING APPROACH
Anger is unique from other emotions. We often focus our anger and its energy externally instead of looking within ourselves for change. We blame or get mad at other people, external situations, or things we can’t control. By focusing our anger outwards, it gives us a false sense of power and self-protection. But what’s really underlying our anger are a collection of unresolved emotions – hurt, shame, anxiety, guilt, fear, sadness, disappointment, frustration, discouragement, etc. When those emotions are left unresolved, they can build up over time and eventually transform into anger, often resulting in destructive behaviors towards ourselves or others.
In order to effectively manage anger, you need to realize that this involves more than simply coping with anger on the spot through healthy outlets (e.g., music, talking, dancing, exercising, running, journaling, breathing, meditation). It’s important to get through to the real issue and pinpoint the underlying emotion(s). This comes with practice by being mindful, not judging yourself, setting healthy boundaries, and improving communication. When you feel other emotions that lead to anger – sadness, fear, shame, discouragement – address those on the spot. Be mindful that you’re experiencing those emotions, communicate those feelings with loved ones, and don’t judge yourself for feeling them. Work on problem solving instead of ignoring them or pushing them down. It’s easy to want to escape those feelings, but to prevent them from progressing into explosive anger, the goal is to tackle them head on. If you let them fester, they’ll lead to frustration, resentment, and eventually anger. When those emotions turn into anger, it’s hard to tell what the source is or where it’s coming from. When that happens, we tend to lash out and blame others without taking accountability for ourselves or why we are hurting emotionally in the first place.
Notice where communication may be lacking in your life. Are you pushing down your emotions in particular environments or settings? Situations? Relationships? When you aren’t angry, take a moment to think back to the last time you were angry. Where were you? Who were you talking to? What happened right before you became angry? Work at the foundation of figuring out what part of your life causes the most frustration or resentment, then work your way up to understanding those underlying emotions. Anger management starts at the beginning, not backwards. The more you address those underlying emotions, the less your anger will become destructive and the more likely you can manage your anger. Remember, anger and aggression are NOT the same. You have every right to feel angry as this is a valid emotion, but we still need to maintain control of our behaviors, and coping with the underlying issues and emotions will help us do that.
I recognize it’s difficult for many of us to reframe how we think about anger and redefine our relationship with it. Be mindful of how you’re feeling in the moment and don’t judge yourself. You have the power to change your behaviors and the way you choose to interpret situations. These changes won’t come overnight. It takes mindfulness and dedicated practice, but it’s correctable and doable. If you need additional support, I offer specialized therapy for anger management. Contact me today to gain control of your life and make positive, healthy changes.