Dealing with Anger
What is Your Relationship with Anger?
Generally, a good way to start exploring your relationship with a particular emotion is to take a brief familial history. With anger, it is no different. Consider these questions:
- how was anger received when you were a young child?
- how was anger expressed in your family?
- When we speak about anger, what is the first thing that comes to your mind?
Is anger something that needs to be controlled? Personally, I truly believe the word ‘control’ has no place in our journey to well-being. With time, I have learned that the illusion of control plays a part in us developing maladaptive ways to cope with anger and anxiety. I will leave exploring the concept of ‘control’ for another time, but I will say this: we can learn to work with our anger instead of trying to control it. It is a process, and it will greatly improve our quality of life and our relationships. So let’s see what we can learn from this.
Anger is healthy and normal
People usually get very uncomfortable around anger, especially in British culture. They don’t know how to
handle it, in themselves and others, which generally makes them suppress it. Indeed, being at the receiving end of anger, as well as being overwhelmed by it, feels scary and uncomfortable.
However, anger is a normal part of our lives, it has an important role to play in the development of our minds and it will be part of our experience throughout our lives. Everyone feels it, and believe it or not, it has a social function in regulating people’s relationships and promoting positive change in our community when it is communicated in a healthy way.
Anger, like any other emotion, has a function regulating our contact with others and the world. It can help us:
- Identify what is hurting us or what may be a threat to us
- Give us the energy to protect ourselves and our communities (as part of our fight or flight system)
- Motivate us to create change when it’s needed.
It is important to know how to listen to our anger, as it may be a natural response to feeling attacked, frustrated, deceived, or being unfairly treated. Likewise, feeling unheard or having our experience invalidated normally causes anger and a drive to defend our perspective and be valued.
When anger becomes a problem
Anger becomes a problem when is it expressed in ways that ultimately harm ourselves or our relationships. If we are expressing anger with:
- Outward aggression or violence
- Inward aggression, self-harm or neglecting our needs
- Passive-aggressive behaviour
We may need help in learning to identify and manage our own anger. If we learn to listen to it we can notice what needs to be met in order for us to feel safe again and we can learn to communicate these needs without the risk of harming oneself or others.
Anger also can be a problem is we feel stuck in it. Maladaptive anger may be an emotion that is present often, even when the situation does no warrant an angry reaction. If you are a person that is very quick to anger and this is proving to be a problem, it might be a sign that anger is your go-to, your ‘umbrella’ emotion.
Anger as an umbrella emotion is there to act as a defense against other emotions such as hurt, pain, sadness or fear, which would be very difficult for us to experience. This type of maladaptive anger usually comes with a set of beliefs (for example ‘if I feel hurt it means I am vulnerable and weak’) that unconsciously influence our reactions.
Expressing the umbrella emotion instead of the authentic one will ultimately leave us unsatisfied and will not solve the real issue that caused us to react in the first place. This will create relationship issues in the long run.
Accepting anger as part of life with self-compassion
In order to liberate us from this and be able to communicate our authentic emotions, self-compassion in exploring what may be underneath our anger is needed. Communicating these authentic emotions will strengthen our relationships instead of damaging them. This exploration can bring up difficult feelings which is why it is recommended to do it with the help of a Mental Health professional, such as a Counsellor, Psychotherapist, or Psychologist.
When anger is the authentic emotion, the natural reaction to feeling the need to defend ourselves and our boundaries, it may be helpful to learn how to compassionately accept our anger instead of trying to shut it down. Accepting it and learning to express it in ways that are non-destructive will improve our overall wellbeing, including our physical health as pent-up anger is detrimental to our bodies.
Accepting and communicating our anger in healthy ways will give us a sense of agency and empowerment, and it will help us develop stronger relationships.
As a counsellor, I am here to help you deal with this difficult emotion. Contact me for more information.
For more resources on anger management, Mind has put together helpful information here.