Anger – It’s More Than Just a Bad Emotion

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Anger gets a bad rap because it’s socially unacceptable, but it can offer protection too.

Modern life is full of various pressures, so anger issues are likely to arise out of frustration with yourself. But what is its purpose, and how can anger management stop it from ruining your life?

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What is Anger? ^

Anger is an aggressive emotion known as rage, acrimony, annoyance, resentment, irritation, hatred, frustration, ire, outrage, etc.

If you get angry, you will likely feel like lashing out verbally or physically. You may feel victimised and wish to take revenge on someone. On the other hand, you might direct your aggression towards an object to avoid hurting someone or because you are taking your frustration out on something.

It isn’t just a “bad emotion”. Think of a time you got angry defending someone or something against attack. It can offer protection, and isn’t that a good thing?

Anger as a Healthy Response

As I’ve already said, sometimes there’s a good reason to get angry.

If someone you care about needs protection, you would feel justified in warding off whoever carried that threat through intimidation. For example, you might shout and threaten the aggressor as a warning to stop them from harming, showing aggression yourself.

In such cases as these, the main thing is that once the threat has passed, you would quickly calm down and resume your normal biological rhythms. For instance, your breathing and heart rate would return to normal.

The point about the healthy expression of anger is that it’s fleeting. However, suppose you’re upset most of the time. In that case, something else is occurring, and your relationships and health can suffer.

Anger as a Habit

Repeating the same emotional behaviours has quite an alarming side-effect. You can see how it works in a metaphor. The repeated acting out of emotion is like wearing a path across a lawn. Over time, that becomes the direction you use, and others come to expect or even goad you to act out. You’d know if you had anger issues!

Naturally, this point has a kind of logic that I can illustrate in two ways. On the one hand, neural pathways in your brain grow stronger than others by repeated use, so the behaviour is reinforced. On the other hand, you forget alternative responses and become stuck in a rut.

If the threatening situation is ongoing or there is something you haven’t managed to express healthily, it can drive habitual anger. As an illustration, consider a person who feels they have always been misunderstood – even from childhood. They will most likely believe they have been mistreated and feel justifiably angry.

Destructive Anger

You may even develop the view that life itself is unfair and rage against the massive injustice you see. That can be very self-destructive.

If that’s the case, the emotion needs to be expressed, and it’s best to seek help to reduce it and learn how to do it safely. A course in anger management should help increase awareness of buried feelings, so you get relief from the frustration.

Don't lash out in anger
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Being assertive means tempering how you express your feelings to respect yourself and others. Then, if you can find ways to get your voice heard and your needs met, you won’t cause distress or harm to anyone else.

The trouble is that shouting doesn’t make others listen.

If you think about it, others are more likely to be repelled by that and stop listening. Hence it would help if you found another way to be heard and understood. One problem you might find is that there aren’t many people who know how to listen.

Types of Anger ^

What you do with your emotions produces different types of anger.

Explosive

Explosive anger is a sudden outburst of physical and verbal abuse. You might also appear very lovely most of the time, but others may see you as a Jekyll and Hyde type because you sometimes explode.

Self-Abusive

If you turn your anger in towards yourself, avoiding conflict, you can become anxious and depressed in the long term. Possible reasons for not being able to express your rage include a sense of shame. It may even result in deep rage, and you will know this if you often seem to act against your own interests.

Irritability

Irritability manifests in you focusing too much on the small details. However, you’re avoiding expressing anger about something much bigger!

Passive Aggressive

You can become passive-aggressive if you hide your hurt by appearing calm or deliberately adopting a passive attitude.

Perhaps there is a sarcastic angle to this as if you’re saying, “look how stupid you are”. Of course, not everyone will be able to guess how you feel if you don’t show them. Alternatively, your unspoken words might resemble, “What’s the point. Nobody will ever understand me”.

As you would expect, anything like the above tends to drive others away, causing relationship problems, loneliness and isolation.

Nobody wants that.

Of course, you respond to a situation, past or present. Furthermore, if you think you have anger issues, you’ll know there are certain types of events that lead you to show your feelings whether you want to or not! These are your “triggers”.

The Dynamics of Anger ^

A set of powerful aspects of human functioning seem to conspire against us. However, that’s what makes anger issues so consuming.

Triggers

Each of us is a unique person with a unique history. Therefore, we have a unique set of triggers that lead to expressions of anger.

There are many different triggers. See if any of these touches a nerve for you.

  • Injustice – something’s unfair
  • Disrespect – especially if you don’t agree
  • Violation of personal boundaries
  • Blaming – being judged
  • Lying – nobody likes being deceived
  • Infidelity – breaking trust
  • Frustration – not being able to do something

Did you realise that behind each of those triggers is a need that you are defending? Each of them is worth fighting for because something matters deeply to you.

Unmet Needs

As anger is a defence, a way of self-preservation, you may be trying to fulfil a range of needs. For example:

  • Security and love
  • Relief from past trauma
  • Historical relationships
  • Current danger
  • Safety – avoidance of harm
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Thinking Errors

Errors of perception contribute a lot to your anger issues, especially if they have become ingrained. There are a few examples here:

  • Black-and-white thinking – is linked to thinking patterns in “should”, “ought”, and “shouldn’t.”
  • Catastrophic thinking – “everything is wrong.”
  • Magic thinking – not quite making sense of everything
  • Mind reading – assuming you know what others are thinking – often based on your fears
  • I am the only one suffering – everybody else is happy – a sense of personal failure?
  • I have to do well to be loved – or “I am not good enough.”

Your anger might have a purpose in trying to hide something about yourself if you feel guilt or shame. Of course, raising awareness is the way to overturn thinking errors. Focusing on the “here-and-now” helps show that thinking errors don’t work in the real world.

The “Shoulds”

If you habitually think using this word or its variants, it’s pretty likely you feel angry a lot of the time. After all, do other people ever think in the ways you do? And who’s to say any one person should dictate to everyone else.

You can eventually become calm, though, when you give up trying to impose your values of what is fair on the world. You realise that it was just your idea, and it isn’t working anyway. Nobody is taking enough notice, and it is not worth carrying on with the game. 

The Fight or Flight Response ^

Just as with anxiety, it’s natural for your body to get ready to act.

The salient point is that the body can’t think. Still, in times of threat, the body’s smoke alarm, the amygdala, triggers an automatic response to save lives. Adrenaline and other hormones race through the body, and the circulation to the thinking parts of your brain is reduced, effectively stopping you from thinking. It’s needed in the back-brain, which helps the body get ready.

That is why you might say something and regret it later. Your fight response kicked in and took you over as the amygdala fired. It’s like you leaving a building without going to collect your coat and bags when it was on fire.

Anger Management ^

This is about noticing your triggers, thinking errors and unmet needs. Raising awareness is crucial in all of these and to help you learn to stay calm.

Counselling

Talking about your difficult experiences or traumas can help raise your self-awareness. This sounds like nothing but is very helpful. After all, it’s because your responses have become automatic and subconscious that you’re here.

What self-awareness will do for you is help you notice what’s going on in your emotional environment. Knowing yourself will benefit you in a couple of ways.

  1. You will begin to understand yourself and realise you don’t need to be defensive. This will help your relationships as others will feel more relaxed around you.
  2. In sessions, you should learn more about your true identity. Knowing who you really are stops you from feeling lost and helps you stay calm.

Mindfulness

In mindfulness, sometimes called “mindful awareness”, you would find a similar effect in raising self-awareness.

Be mindful and stay clear of anger
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

I have worked with many people who had anger issues using this method, and it has a calming, grounding effect. It is easy to do but very powerful in helping you get in touch with your deep feelings. In therapy, I would introduce you to this after we had begun to see some improvements in your ability to notice your thoughts and feelings.

It’s a technique involving sitting quietly whilst I talk you through some simple steps. We focus on breathing at first but then on different parts of you.

If you practice when you have little to do, you should find you get better at this and can stay calm even when others around you are losing their cool.

Note that since anger is a natural response, it’s not that you will never feel angry again. Instead, I would hope that you will be able to handle the emotions by staying in control of how much you allow them to affect you.

Does that seem reasonable, realistic and exciting to you?

Ending on a High Note ^

Although a natural response, anger can be destructive if not kept in check. Many different mental and biological processes contribute to the way it works. However, you can stop it from taking you over and ruining your life and relationships with a better understanding.

Counselling, together with mindfulness, works as an effective anger management strategy. Both help raise self-awareness, producing positive changes in how you feel and how you behave.

Header photo by Uriel Soberanes on Unsplash

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