Anger is a normal, healthy emotion. As is true for many other emotions, it can be accompanied by physical changes such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and adrenaline. These physiological changes can sometimes heighten our subjective experience of the emotion, leaving us feeling even angrier.Because anger is often portrayed in the media as being equivalent to violence, many people don't know how to deal with anger in a healthy way. When it is dealt with constructively it can actually lead to enhanced relationships and increased interpersonal connections. When it is dealt with destructively it can lead to a variety of problems in relationships, at work/school, and in everyday mental and emotional health. In this article, I will talk a little bit about what causes anger, some different ways that it can be expressed, and some constructive ways to manage it.
Some of the things that can cause anger are external events (certain behaviors of other people, general life circumstances, an overload of stress, etc. ) or internal events (remembering something that made you angry, thinking about how things "should" be, worrying or brooding about personal problems, etc. ). Collectively these external and internal events that lead to anger are called triggers.
When people experience one of these triggers they can express their anger in one of three general ways. First, anger can be expressed aggressively. This is the form of anger expression that is often portrayed in the media and includes things like overt displays of physical, emotional, or psychological violence (i.e. hitting, kicking, harassing, threatening, throwing things, punching a wall, or putting-down). When people express their anger aggressively they generally fail to deal with their own behaviors but rather act out and blame others. They might feel a temporary sense of relief, but this kind of acting out does not generally produce long-term reduction of anger or any understanding of the situation that triggered it. Aggressive and violent expression of anger frequently leads to repeated trouble with the law, severe relationship problems, and difficulties at school/work.
A second way that anger can be expressed is passive-aggressively.People who express anger passive-aggressively are masters at internalizing and denying their feelings. Instead of overtly blaming or hurting others as the aggressively angry people do, they will frequently deny that they are angry altogether or blame themselves. At the same time, they might give others the cold shoulder or the silent treatment, spread rumors, and/or become depressed. While these folks deny that anything is wrong, their behavior generally makes it clear to others that they're angry. This form of anger expression does not allow for effective coping because the angry person is denying the feeling altogether while at the same time punishing others and pushing them away.
A third way to express anger is assertively. This is often referred to as "healthy" anger and involves expressing your feelings directly and in a non-threatening way that does not hurt others, yourself, or any property.Expressing your anger directly includes being clear about what your needs are and how they might be met without hurting other people. Assertive expression of anger can also mean coping with it on your own without talking to others. This might be done by channeling your angry energy into something else like exercise or a creative project.Being able to do this may also require that you work on your general self-soothing skills such as relaxation exercises, taking time-outs as necessary, and healthy physical activity.
If you're someone who typically has trouble expressing your anger assertively, it might be helpful to try out some of the strategies listed below.
1) Recognize anger. This may sound simple but some people (especially those who tend to express things passive-aggressively) aren't necessarily conscious of their anger. You can recognize anger by asking yourself things like, how does my body feel right now? What were things that might have triggered anger? Where is the anger coming from?
2) Learn to relax yourself.Relaxation skills like deep breathing and using mental imagery can really help.Visualize yourself doing something relaxing (i.e. on vacation, lying on the beach, in a hammock, etc. ). Take a few deep, abdominal breaths (this means breathing from your belly rather than your chest). Additionally, you can try mentally repeating a calming word or phrase to yourself like a mantra ("Take it easy", "You're okay", etc. ).
3) Restructure your thoughts. This is a fancy way of saying: change the way you think. When you're angry you might notice that things become exaggerated and feel more important than they probably do when you think about them later. You can often replace these exaggerated thoughts with more rational ones both in your own mind (with positive self-statements and/or humor) and in the way you talk to other people. Using what's called "I statements" can be helpful in this regard. This means that you start all of your sentences with "I feel. . . " or "I think. . . . " instead of things like "You never. . . " or "You should. . . "By doing this you begin to take responsibility for your own feelings, stop blaming others for your anger, and help other people feel less defensive and more able to listen to you.
A big part of changing your thoughts can be paying close attention to your use of words like "should", "always", and "never". These kinds of absolutes are often not only inaccurate but blaming. They can lead to further anger and defensiveness. Ask yourself, "Just because I want something to happen, does that mean it "should"? Is it true that my partner "always" disappoints me? Is it true that my mother "never" listens?
4)Communicate more clearly. Using "I statements" is one technique for doing this. The idea is that you want to slow yourself down so that you have time to think about what you want to say rather than just blurting out the first angry thought that comes to your mind. Taking time to think of how you want to respond also gives you time to really listen to what the other person is saying. When you really hear what they're saying, this might change what you want to say in response.
5)Change your environment. If there are particular situations or people that regularly frustrate you, maybe you need a change of environment. It's okay to take a break from people you are often angry at--even (or especially) if you're in the middle of an argument and think you might say or do something you'll regret.Sometimes simple environmental changes like taking more alone time, getting enough sleep, or walking away from a heated argument can help reduce your anger.
6) Evaluate yourself and your responses. After a conflict, ask yourself: What happened there? What did I do well? What could I do better next time? Did I handle my anger assertively or did I act out in one of the other, less healthy ways?
When you learn how to manage anger in a healthy way, it stops being a scary emotion and becomes just another feeling that comes and passes like any other.Knowing that anger will pass can help you take it less seriously and not get bogged down in it.