Do you often worry or feel bad about your anger? Have other people expressed concern about it? Has your anger resulted in conflict in your personal or professional life?
If you’ve answered yes to any or all of these questions, then it indicates you need to better manage your anger.
We all know what’s it’s like to experience anger. Anger is a normal human emotion. It is a natural response to perceived threats, frustration, or injustice. When attacked, anger can inspire us to defend ourselves. It can motivate us to deal with injustice or difficult situations.
However, it’s equally true that we can’t lash out every time someone upsets or irritates us. We all have to learn to manage and regulate our anger in a healthy way to avoid negative consequences, both for ourselves and for others.
Managing anger starts with a greater awareness of how you express your anger. Some people do so verbally – for example, by shouting, swearing, name-calling or making threats.
Some people may become violent, hitting or pushing others or breaking things.
Others may display anger in more passive ways, such as by ignoring others or sulking.
Others may hide their anger or turn their anger inwards, beating up on themselves.
Anger and aggression are two different things. Anger is an emotion that we feel. In contrast, aggression is the behaviour that sometimes stems from angry thoughts and feelings. You can be angry but choose not to behave aggressively.
One’s anger may be driven by any number of factors. Anger is frequently seen in people with a low tolerance for frustration. Some people are easily able to brush off minor daily frustrations – heavy traffic, unfriendly service, a poor internet connection, and so on – but others have trouble moving on and may still be angry hours later. This low frustration tolerance is often driven by “shoulding” – the sense that XYZ “should not” be happening.
Angry thoughts frequently centre on perceived insults and wrongs. There may be a strong sense of injustice (“I’m being treated badly”, “They’re not showing me any respect”, “It’s all left to me”, “It’s not fair”). Often, there is a sense that others have fallen short of our standards or expectations (“I can't trust anyone”, “this isn't good enough”).
Anger often coexists with multiple other feelings such as sadness, shame, hurt, guilt, or fear. A helpful therapeutic metaphor here is to think of anger as an iceberg: just as most of an iceberg is hidden below the surface of the water, all kinds of other emotions besides anger may be hidden below the surface. Sadness, shame, fear – these kinds of feelings may leave you feeling vulnerable. Perhaps you never learned or were not encouraged to express these feelings in a healthy manner. If you do struggle to manage or express these emotions, they may come out as anger.
CONSEQUENCES OF ANGER
Anyone with an anger management problem is much more likely to tackle the issue if they are fully aware of how it is negatively impacting their life.
Ask yourself: is anger hurting your relationships, whether in your personal or professional life? "You’re always doing this”, "No one ever listens to me” – will these types of extreme, black-and-white statements really help people see where you are coming from? Or will they only upset and alienate the listener, causing them to retreat from you?
Ask yourself: do you often feel bad about yourself in the aftermath of an angry outburst? Does it lead to feelings of guilt and shame?
Ask yourself: does anger help you to see more clearly, or does it cloud your judgment and distort thinking patterns? Does your anger help you to resolve problems, or does it exaggerate them? Anger can provide a temporary boost to self-esteem by justifying your feelings, but it’s not good to see the world around you through a negative filter.
Know too that anger has been linked to physical health problems like high blood pressure and heart disease. People with anger issues may also be prone to alcohol abuse, leading to further health problems.
Understanding anger is key to getting a handle on it. In my next column, I’ll explore some tips on how to how to do just that.
(First published in Southern Star on 2/3/2023)