Understanding Anger and Learning How to Deal with it Effectively
By Bernadette Collins, LMFT, CFLE
Anger is what most people would say to be an intense feeling of displeasure or hostility provoked by feeling wronged or threatened. Currently, in the world, we are seeing a rise in anger and animosity toward others. It seems like wherever we turn, someone has taken their anger out on another. The reality is that we all feel anger, whether we like it or not, but it is our ways of dealing with anger that are the real issue. Anger, like any emotion, is not good or bad, however much people like to say it is bad. It is one of our strongest and most powerful emotions, but it is normal and healthy to have it. We can go from being frustrated or irritated to furious or enraged. Anger can be an appropriate response when we feel threated or are aware that our internal or external boundaries are being crossed. To minimize the potential impacts of anger on ourselves, others and our relationships, it is key to figure out how to understand our anger and find a healthy way to express it.
Anger, like all other emotions, serves a purpose. Anger’s purpose is to help us ward off threats and take action to protect ourselves. The question is how do we know when it’s too much? What do we do to accept anger, but not let it control us? How do we make sure to let it out in healthy ways and not just box it up?
Problems will arise most often with how we react to the strong sensations, feelings and thoughts that present in our bodies when we are angry. Some people will try to cope by packing it down until it explodes. Some will try to ignore their anger if they can. Problems also occur when a person’s expression of anger frightens those around them. This may be when they have yelled, cried, broken things or hurt someone as they try to work through those strong sensations, feelings and thoughts. Anger that isn’t handled well leads to problems at work and at home.
There are also hidden anger signs that we often do not connect with anger immediately. People who have anger that is not being managed well frequently complain about sleep problems, nightmares, headaches, over/undereating, GI distress, muscle tension, increased blood pressure, or ringing in the ears. Anger can also manifest as a rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, obsessive thinking, crying easily, inability to concentrate, or anxiety. Finally, anger can manifest in ways we might typically associate with depression such as withdrawal from normal activities, impatience/irritability, procrastination, and lack of motivation for daily tasks. Hidden signs of anger can often seem like other illnesses and may stump the individual experiencing them and their medical professionals.
Some questions to ask yourself to find out how you are currently dealing with anger consist of:
- Do you know when you feel anger? Can you identify how anger shows up in your body/feelings/thoughts?
- Do you quickly get upset? Are you able to calm down?
- How about minor things–do they seem to make you madder than you think they should?
- Do you blame others often for your anger/trouble?
- Does the past still cause intense feelings of anger?
- Do you argue with others a lot?
- Do you get angry if things don’t go your way?
The good news is that there are ways to cope with anger appropriately. The best place to start is to problem solve the anger – who, what, when, why?
- Who do I tend to find myself angry with? Are there any commonalities to who I react angrily toward?
- What situations tend to trigger anger in my daily life?
- When do I notice anger showing up? What are the internal and external factors that are present when I am angry?
- Why? Can I uncover the patterns and beliefs that contribute to my anger and help me better understand why I am responding this way?
Once you have explored these questions and found some answers that point toward what is driving your anger, you can try some of the following strategies:
- try to talk about your problem with a neutral party first before engaging with the person who angered you
- try to think logically about the problem and explore other explanations for what is occurring
- give yourself a pause and space to think before responding
- be by yourself and let out a good yell
- count to 20 – yes this works
- move physically way from the person making you angry/take a break
- take time to do something physical everyday – even if its just for 15 minutes (breathing deep, dancing or singing to your favorite song, yoga, exercise class, gardening, pulling weeds, cleaning)
- take a bath or shower
- use humor to think about what makes you angry
Remember you can learn to control your anger; it does not have to control you.
*Bernadette Collins sees clients out the Yorkville office*