Anger: what it is and how to manage it

01 Jul

Anyone can become angry—that is easy, but to be angry
with the right person at the right time, and for the right
purpose and in the right way—that is not within
everyone’s power, and that is not easy.
ARISTOTLE

 

The Purpose of Anger

A primary reason for anger is the instinctual form of self-protection. Self-protection against the experience of guilt, for example, as well as against feelings of physical or emotional hurt and fear. Anger is rarely a primary emotion. Beneath an explosion of anger are many hurt feelings such as guilt, feeling untrustworthy, devalued, disregarded, accused, unlovable, powerless, etc. These feelings generate enormous emotional pain, and so we can go to great lengths to try and cover them up.

Paradoxically, the experience of ‘covering up’ our deep feelings of emotional hurt, rejection, powerlessness, with an outburst of anger may temporarily allow one to side-step the emotional hurt but the adrenaline rush soon subsides and the core feelings resume their potent hold.

Anger is thus an adaptive strategy. A strategy to help us avoid overwhelming emotions because we have not yet learned or developed the necessary emotional resources to manage these disempowering feelings.

Real emotions are hidden under the guise of anger

Having described what might be considered simmering feelings of resentment about someone or a situation, there are also occasions where we get angry having been cut off by someone in the traffic, or when someone suddenly threatens you violently in a robbery, for example. Such a trigger will automatically activate the nervous system into ‘fight-or-flight’ mode. We will then proceed to protect ourselves in whatever way make sense at the time. Once the immediate threat has passed, we find ways of self-regulating the nervous system by deep breathing, exercise, or any of a myriad forms of self-soothing.

Strategies for Controlling Anger

Talk to someone

Perhaps the number one tip is: talk to someone about your feelings. Sharing your feelings with a close friend, or a therapist. Communicating with an objective listener will help you gain some perspective on what is triggering the anger. When you feel heard and have a wider understanding of the situation, you will automatically feel more empowered.

Relaxation

There are powerful benefits in learning how to relax. One of the key requirements is consistent practice of these methods. Such methods include deep breathing, mindfulness-meditation, yoga, and exercise. Your nervous system will learn to self-regulate easily if you practice relaxation methods regularly. Another key aspect of regular relaxation methods is the ability to respond to triggers rather than react. And even when you find yourself reacting angrily to a situation, you are able to quickly self-regulate and find your calm place.

Recognize your triggers

In some cases there may be situations such as long queues or feeling tired that activate you. If you know these, you can often plan around these in order to avoid feeling frustrated.

Are you in a toxic relationship? Realizing your relationship is demeaning and that it’s time to leave the relationship is scary. You may find that you are making excuses about why your partner is wrong and hoping that they will eventually see your point of view and all will be well. However, disappointment, frustration and eventually anger recycles as you give way to the reality of this relationship. Anger is your mind-body’s way of telling you ‘all is not well’ and you need to do what is right for you. Talking to a relationship expert will certainly help you navigate this effectively.

If there are people or places that frequently trigger feelings of anger, consider stepping away from an inflammatory discussion. Engaging with individuals who are invested in a point of view that shuts you down in the process, is a lose-lose scenario. Walking away is not a surrender, it’s a tactical move of helping you restore some equilibrium and calmly deciding whether you wish to deal with the topic in a rational way, or that it’s simply not worth discussing after all.

Reframe your thoughts

Anger is a normal emotion and this article is not about suppressing your anger, but rather understanding and managing the emotion more functionally. When you understand what causes your anger you are better able to manage what has probably become an uncontrollable pattern of reaction to particular feelings of hurt and fear.

Often people behave in ways that are incomprehensible to us. Their behaviours may be due to their own past unresolved hurts and are unconsciously projected onto us. When we take their behaviours personally, we engage in a toxic cycle of hurt and anger. Therapy can help us reframe both our and the other’s behaviours, giving us the power of choice. The power to choose how we wish to respond to the perceived negative behaviour.

Humor in Anger

And finally, can you find the humor in your anger? Here’s a little help! Enjoy!