Anger gets a bad rap, but it is a normal human emotion and we can learn to harness its energy for good. We tend to feel angry when we:
- feel out of control
- believe our rights have been violated
- think we are not getting our wants or needs met
Since anger is an emotion it is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. However, some of our behavioral responses to anger, such as aggressive or impulsive actions, passivity, and passive–aggressive behavior can be problematic. Anger can be an intense and powerful feeling and the reaction to it may be either constructive or destructive.
- Anger can muddle our thinking resulting in impulsive behavior and bad decisions
- Responding aggressively to anger escalates it
- Becoming passive or passive-aggressive in response to anger often leads to helplessness and resentment
- Feelings of anger tell us that something needs our attention
- Anger energizes us and builds motivation for action
- Responding assertively to anger empowers us and helps others understand us
What Causes Anger?
We tend to believe that other people, situations or events make us angry when actually it is our own thoughts or beliefs about people, situations or events that result in anger.
Here is an example of a problematic response to anger:
A driver cuts you off in traffic – you think “What a stupid jerk!” – you drive aggressively endangering yourself and others.
Here is an example of an adaptive or constructive response to anger:
A driver cuts you off in traffic – you think “I’ve made that mistake before. He probably didn’t realize I was here” or “What does it really matter? I won’t even remember this in a month from now. Its not worth my energy” – you drive reasonably and arrive at your destination safely.
Effective anger management means becoming more aware of your anger cues and what sets you off, identifying and challenging your angry thoughts before your feelings overwhelm you, and controlling your response to arrive at a better outcome.
Steps to managing your anger.
1. Understand your triggers and cues. Anticipate situations that make you angry and know how your body responds to angry feelings.
2. Identify your angry thoughts. Ask yourself why you are feeling this way and recognize the angry scripts that run through your head.
3. Challenge any problematic or unrealistic thoughts. Ask yourself if you are being reasonable and think of alternative explanations for the situation.
4. Change your response to your feelings of anger. Some options are to leave the situation, take a time out to calm down and think through your response, distract yourself with something positive so you can calm down, talk to someone about it, or ask for a change.
If you or someone you love is struggling with anger issues, it may be helpful to consult with a professional. You can find mental health professionals in your area through online therapist locators such as those hosted by the American Psychological Association, Psychology Today, Network Therapy and GoodTherapy.