“Don’t be angry”
Chances are that we’ve all been told this line at least once in our lives, just like “don’t be sad” or “don’t be upset”.
Anger has a bad reputation and is a very misunderstood emotion. We believe that it causes us to say things we don’t mean and do things that could hurt others and/or ourselves. The truth is that anger is a perfectly natural (often inevitable and sometimes healthy) emotion that we all experience — and it’s okay to feel angry. It’s what we do with the anger that matters.
Myths and truths about anger
Myth: Disregarding your anger makes it go away
Truth: Suppressing or denying certain strong emotions can lead to it coming out in other unhealthy or harmful ways.
Myth: Displaying anger makes you seem powerful and less gullible
Truth: While anger can scare people into doing what you want them to, it can also drive them away and cause lasting negative effects (especially with children and partners).
Myth: “it’s not me — they make me angry”
Truth: It’s how we perceive situations and how we let people and their words affect us that causes us to get angry. The same situation or words may not get to someone else the way it got to you.
Myth: Always letting out your anger is a healthy way to deal with it
Truth: While this might help immediately, it might make ‘blowing up’ a habitual reaction — causing it harder for you to stay calm.
Why Do We Feel Angry?
We feel angry when we feel threatened, irritated, helpless, ashamed, disrespected, vulnerable, under-appreciated or inadequate. Obviously, external events can trigger these emotions but our thoughts, feelings, personal history and general mental and emotional state has a big part to play too. For example, the same situation that made you angry today might not have the same outcome tomorrow.
What’s your Anger Style
Our childhood and experiences during our developmental years feeds our reactions to anger. If you weren’t taught how to appropriately express your anger — it can cause you to bottle it up or to have an outburst. Some of us cry, some yell, some need to talk it out and some just hideaway. Overall, there are five basic anger ‘styles’:
- Aggressive: Those who externalise their anger and may use sarcasm, put-downs, humiliation, threats, complaints, and even abuse to get their way
- Passive: Those who avoid conflict by locking things up
- Passive-Aggressive: Might appear alright but show their anger through indirect actions like gossip, withdrawal, sabotaging, etc.
- Projective-Aggressive: Those who project their anger on others or cause others to react
- Assertive: They are direct, honest and open about their emotions and expectations while also considering the other person’s feelings. This is the most constructive style of anger
Though most of us might have specific anger styles, some of us adopt different styles depending on the situation and setting. For example, the way we respond to our anger is different at home and at work.
Tips to Effectively Manage Anger
To manage your anger doesn’t mean to never get angry. Instead, it helps you identify, handle and express your anger in productive and healthy ways. There are three main steps to do this:
1. Recognise the signs
2. Process the triggers
3. Apply techniques to control or release the anger
To recognise the early signs of anger are easy. Since it causes a chemical reaction, sending the body into ‘fight or flight’ mode, you’ll start to notice a faster heartbeat, restlessness, the body tensing up, quicker breathing, sweating and the clenching of the jaw.
When this happens, take a step back or a time out. You can do this by:
- Counting to 10 or counting backwards
- Going for a short walk
- Talk to someone (preferably not connected with the situation)
This will help you respond, rather than react to the emotion and situation. Now, pick a technique to manage the anger or defusing it before it becomes extreme. You can have a go-to technique or can use a different one for different situations. Some helpful techniques are:
- Deep breathing
- Practising Mindfulness
- Repeat a mantra that works (Example: “You’ll be okay”, “try to relax”)
- Distancing (distraction techniques like dancing, having a shower, writing, etc.)
The acceptance of anger and our ability to tolerate any angry feelings will bring this strong emotion under our control.
There are skills that can help us master our anger and allow us to experience anger-provoking feelings in a more receptive manner. This will help us look at the situation with a different kind of clarity. Again, each person and each situation might require a different kind of skill and these are skills that need to be practised in everyday life to build emotional resilience.
These are some of the skills that can increase our resilience to anger:
- Communication: Includes basic listening, teamwork and problem-solving skills
- Humour: Will help you see the silly side of things can help you endure annoying situations with a smile
- Healthy Habits: Taking care of yourself — eating well, sleeping and exercising will support emotional resilience and make it easier for you to handle tough situations and discussions
- Being flexible: Willing to try something new or be flexible with your ideas and actions
- Confrontation (when appropriate): Learning to be assertive, for example — instead of accepting an idea you don’t like, being able to say “Can we try and come up with a better way to accomplish this?”
- Letting go (when appropriate): Knowing when to step back and accept another’s point of view
- Avoiding (when appropriate)
- Being realistic: Instead of seeing what we want to see, start to see things for what they really are
- Being able to see the bigger picture
- Focusing on the areas where you have control
- Empathy: If you assume a more empathetic approach to life, it’ll cause you to be more conscious of how you react and treat people
When to seek professional help
Not all of us can deal with our anger by ourselves. Some of us might need some form of anger management therapy, talk therapy or counselling to work through our anger issues. Here are some signs that professional help might be required:
- Anger has repeatedly caused you to be verbally or physically abusive to others
- Your anger causes you to self-harm
- It causes (or has caused) you to behave violently and out of control, like throwing or breaking things
- It has caused problems with relationships (in your personal life as well as work)
- You avoid certain people, situations or events because you’re afraid you won’t be able to control your temper
- If you know you have anger issues but are unclear whether your anger is healthy or not.
Anger is a very real emotion and has its benefits. It can motivate us and make us protect what matters to us. Recognizing and releasing the anger can relieve stress and also improve our interpersonal relationships. This will happen when we learn to understand our anger and deal with it the right way. If not, it can damage our health and wreck our relationships.