Anger is an emotion almost everyone will have experienced and in many ways it has had a bad press. Certainly the feeling is not a comfortable one and sadly some people behave in inappropriate or hurtful ways when they feel angry but it also serves a valuable purpose.
The way this emotion is experienced differs from person to person, or at least the way people express this emotion differs. Some will shout, slam doors or become aggressive, others may be quieter in their expression but will ‘seethe’ inwardly.
What we have learned about emotions is that if we don’t find a way of expressing them, hopefully in a way that is safe and doesn’t hurt others, then the suppressed emotions WILL end up causing damage to us. All manner of physical and mental or emotional problems are thought to be caused by suppressed emotions, which is hardly surprising – it’s a bit like trying to push a lid down on a boiling pan – eventually the rising pressure will force the lid off – far better to learn how to let some steam escape safely and avoid an ‘explosion’.
But before we think about safe ways to express anger let’s think about what anger does for us – it’s purpose.
Why do we get angry?
The root cause of the anger is often one that can be justified. Usually there has been an injustice or (real or perceived), things seem or are unfair.
Well there is certainly nothing wrong with that feeling. It is right to stand up to injustice and if we never felt angry about such things then we would be walked over or live our lives as victims. So the feeling is in many ways a good one. It can protect us from being used or taken for granted. Feeling anger is a way of us saying to ourselves – ‘I deserve’ better’ or ‘I am worth more than ’. So actually anger can be of value to us, it is good to experience it because usually it means we can see that something isn’t right. Some people seem to anger quickly over what others would see as minor frustrations, and while it is true that everyone has their own threshold, if you examine frustrations often they are to do with, if not an injustice as such, things not working out the way we wanted. Being held up in a queue for example when we are on our way to an important event. But the anger we might experience over these more minor situations is often related to other instances of anger, which we haven’t dealt with and they may well have been linked to issues of more importance.
How to deal with anger
- Accept & value the feeling and yourself.
As we have seen anger serves a purpose so pretending it doesn’t exist is not really helpful at all. We will all have to contend with unfairness in life and many of us will definitely experience what we perceive as injustice. ‘Stuff’ happens that we can’t control but what we are always in control of, though it may not feel like we are in control at the time, is how we respond to that ‘stuff’.
It is important to accept the feeling denying it will make it hard to manage the emotion effectively, but also if we don’t accept the feeling we can often be in danger of really beating ourselves up over it. Our internal voice will be telling us that we are terrible for feeling angry, that somehow it is our fault, or that this is what we deserve. Acknowledging what you feel is the first step in dealing with those feelings in a safe and effective way.
2. Distinguish between feelings and actions.
You can ‘feel’ whatever you happen to ‘feel’. Feelings are not good or bad they just are. They may not be pleasant but they exist. It is how we choose to act because of those feelings that can make a difference to both others and ourselves. Feeling angry doesn’t make you hit someone, or be unkind to someone or even tell yourself you are no good. There are elements of choice in that. We have a feeling but that in itself is not a behaviour – we have elements of choice in that, it may not always seem that we do because sometimes the feelings are very powerful and we end up acting on impulse, which is a bit like a reflex – we don’t choose to blink when something comes near our eyes that is a reflex, beyond our conscious control. Impulse reactions happen when we respond to things with the non-rational part of our brain but we can learn how to manage anger in such a way that we allow ourselves time to consider our response.
- Put some space between the action and your re-action
We have all probably had moments when we have reacted angrily to a situation and later regretted what we did or said. Particularly where anger is concerned it is wise to put some space between the event and our reaction. I know it isn’t always possible but even taking a minute or two to consider you response can be useful. Walking away from the situation just for a few minutes, or taking a few deep breaths can help and of course sometimes we have a longer time to consider our response.
- Express the feelings safely
Some situations require a response, explaining that you felt hurt by something, that something was unfair or standing up for yourself in another way. But the response isn’t the same as letting out the feelings. At some point you have to let out the feelings. It can help to tell someone about the situation or to be upset, allow yourself to cry for example. When it comes to anger some people find physical exercise a good way of expressing their angst.
Anger is a valuable emotion and learning to handle it in a way that doesn’t bottle up the feelings, or hurt ourselves or others is vital for own health and wellbeing and we all need to value the emotion AND learn to manage it effectively.