As our nation faces demonstrations, both peaceful and non-peaceful, divisive rhetoric, and the Covid-19 pandemic, many emotions are being stirred up in each of us. In my previous blogs, I addressed the emotion of anxiety; in this article, I begin addressing the emotion of ANGER.
Anger Is a “Good” Emotion
For many people, the above statement may not sit well, as they have been taught to view anger as “bad.” In a previous post, I ask the question, “are emotions good or bad?”. In answering that question, I suggest that all emotions are good because they serve a healthy purpose, which is to act as a warning sign that something is off in our emotional world: letting us know that we need to identify the problem and then take steps to resolve it.
So, by that definition, anger is a good emotion, as its purpose is to alert us to the fact that something is “off” in our internal world. However, while the actual emotion is good, how we respond to the emotion can be both good and bad.
The Anger Continuum/Scale
Anger, like all emotions, occurs on a continuum/scale (for a greater explanation see stop playing the “what if” game), which can start with mild frustration/irritation and build to a fulminating (express vehement protest, explode violently or flash like lightening) rage. A healthy response to anger looks to identify the underlying causes for the anger and then take appropriate action. Many times, this can mean taking action with the goal of creating change. A possible example of this would be someone who sees another individual bullying someone, feels angry about it and chooses to step in and intervene to change the situation.
An unhealthy response to anger, on the other hand, occurs when the anger is expressed in ways that are hurtful, harmful, or destructive. An example of this might be someone who has had a really bad day at the office, and on their commute home, is in a fender bender, and in response becomes verbally or even physically aggressive toward the other driver.
Responding To Anger
Why do some people respond in healthy ways to feelings of anger, while others, don’t? There are many possible reasons for this, ranging from biology, genetics, early childhood attachment wounds, trauma, or cultural conditioning.
An example (a fairly stereotypical one) of cultural conditioning might be the differences in how males and females are taught to manage feelings of anger. For females, anger is viewed as a socially unacceptable emotion. Females expressing anger have often faced censorship or, in extreme cases, punishment. However, females feel anger, and when denied an outlet, anger often becomes internalized and self-directed. This can lead to behaviors that:
1). Hurt themselves, like self-criticism, condemnation, and shaming;
2). Hurt others by using passive-aggressive behaviors;
3). By finally losing control of their anger, “blowing up” and wreaking havoc on the things around them.
Males are encouraged to feel anger and to express that emotion externally. This expression often takes the form of aggression. Some socially acceptable forms of aggression could include:
- One Ups-Manship
- Good Natured Teasing
- Organized sports, both physical and mental
Video Games with an element of conflict
- First Person Shooters
Unfortunately, for many young males, the examples they are taught or witness on how to deal with their angry feelings are not healthy ones, but rather can be hurtful or harmful to themselves, other people or objects around them.
For early attachment wounds, anger is frequently used as a defense against deeper underlying emotions. Anger is a defensive, aggressive type response, that helps the individual block or deny the underlying emotions, such as embarrassment, insecurity, shame, hurt, or feeling vulnerable. These emotions may be related to feelings of betrayal, abandonment, or belief that they aren’t good enough.
Ways to Manage Anger
Causes for anger are usually multi-faceted and varied, which is why the issue of “anger” is not a simple one to address.
There are a variety of ways to manage anger, particularly in the early stages (before it reaches the upper levels of the range).
Some of these are:
- When you start getting upset about something, take a moment to think about the situation. Ask yourself:
- Am I overreacting?
- Is it really worth getting upset about?
- What is it I’m really upset about?
- Is it worth my time and energy?
- How might I respond differently?
- Try to keep your stress level down, as it is much harder to manage your emotions, including anger when you’re “maxed” out.
Reach out to a friend or family member you trust and talk about what is bothering you. This can help to keep the emotional intensity from building.
Get adequate rest and nutrition, along with taking time for exercise and play.
Be smart about alcohol and drugs, as they reduce your inhibitions and make it easier to lose control. Also, watch your caffeine intake, as it can make you irritable which makes it harder to control your anger.
If your anger is a part of a fight with another person, don’t hesitate to call a “time out.” Be willing to leave the situation, to walk away from the fight, until you can get control of your emotions. Then go back and try to work the problem out.
Use humor and play to “lighten” the mood
Use some of the tips that I provided for managing anxiety, (click here), as many of them work well for anger too.
Try to identify any situations or scenarios that might trigger your anger. Pay attention to events or activities in your life that trigger your anger:
Do you get upset when you are around certain people?
Do certain subjects trigger your anger, i.e. politics, social justice, religion?
The more aware you are of your triggers the better you can take action to stay away from them or change how you think about them.
Your thoughts can be powerful triggers for anger:
- Being so rigid in your beliefs that any ideas that challenge your beliefs cause you to get angry,
- Assuming something and when it doesn’t happen, getting angry,
- Purposefully looking for things to get angry about and finally
- Always blaming others for things that go wrong or when bad things happen.
In part one of this series I have identified anger as a “good” emotion, have explained the anger scale, briefly looked at how responses to anger vary, and how different factors can influence anger responses and provided suggestions as to how anger can be managed in healthy ways.
In part two, I am going to address how to manage anger when it reaches the higher end of the scale. We will look at how the FIGHT/FLIGHT/FREEZE response is triggered by anger, learn about the Window of Tolerance and how it applies to our anger responses, and how to use the 3 Anger Rules to manage our response to the FIGHT/FLIGHT/FREEZE response in healthy ways.
Please join me as we continue to explore the fascinating world of emotions and their impact on our lives.
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