How to Manage Anger More Effectively
As we get older, the ways in which we express our angry feelings tends to change. Anger that was impulsively acted out as infants with little restraint or inhibition becomes more tempered. Generally, we learn to regulate our feelings, finding ways to express our anger that fits in to what is deemed acceptable by the dominate culture in which we live. This is shaped by many factors such as our families and peers. For example, in some families there may be an unspoken rule where it is not acceptable to voice angry feelings. In this context, an individual may learn to internalize their anger. This way of experiencing anger may then become a blueprint for life, shaping how one deals with difficult feelings as they grow up. An individual may learn to hold on to their anger and may act these feelings out in other ways such as through hitting or passive aggressive behaviour.
Avoiding the expression of anger in a direct way can have further negative effects. Left unchecked, anger builds and builds and when anger is avoided over a period of time, a relatively small incident may trigger a more explosive outburst. This can affect relationships and the body, creating ill health, tension and an increased heart rate. It can cause resentment, detachment and frustration. These experiences can then lead to ruminating (over thinking or obsessing) over perceived wrongs committed against you and about what you would like to do as a result.
When managed effectively, anger can energise us to express and assert our needs in a healthy balanced way without causing harm to others. It can also provide cathartic relief. On the flip side, if not channeled effectively, it can be destructive to the individual expressing it and those around them.
Here are a few tips to help you manage your anger more effectively:
Accept your anger: Feeling angry is normal, learn to acknowledge and accept when you are angry and think about what has triggered it specifically. Did you feel uncared for, disrespected or let down? This shifts the focus from the other person back to you, placing you in position of control over your experience.
Take time out: Take yourself away from the angry provoking situation and give yourself time to calm down, taking deep breaths. In the heat of the moment anger can distort our thinking so it may be helpful, if possible, to take some time to gain clarity before responding. This will help you to understand how you feel based on what happened and allow you to clearly express your feelings to the person concerned.
Use ‘I’ statements: Avoid using generalizing and absolute phrases such as ‘you always …’ or ‘you never’… or ‘you should’ in relation to the other person(s). These exaggerations only serve to fuel your anger and are usually a distraction from the actual problem. Using ‘I’ statements help us to take responsibility for what we are thinking and feeling. For example, ‘I feel/ felt … when you said…’ As opposed to ‘You make me feel or made me feel’.
Self-awareness: Recognize how you usually respond when angry and the ways in which you express it. Are you prone to avoiding strong emotions in general? If so, how? You could take some time to reflect on why this may be in counselling. What do you imagine will happen if you were able to assert yourself and own how you feel? Perhaps you could take a moment to visualize it in your minds’ eye. What would you say and to whom? How could you communicate a way of getting your needs met in a balanced and assertive way without infringing on another?
Reflect: Understanding the situation that provoked the anger can help dilute the intensity of the feeling. This may be difficulty to do straight after the event, however after some breathing space you could ask yourself questions as to whether you interpreted the situation correctly. ‘Did the other person really say what they said in the way I heard it?’ ‘How could I respond to this situation if it were to happen again in a way that is more assertive and empowering?’.
If you think your anger is out of control and having a negative impact on your relationships with others or effecting your ability to function effectively day to day, you may find it helpful to seek further support in the form of counselling. Anger comes from a place of pain and is a useful indicator of a deeper issue that needs attending to.