Anger...is it OK?
Anger lies within all of us despite some of us insisting “I do not get angry, I am not an angry person”. To be perceived or labelled as an angry person denotes being out of control, nasty, unsociable or scary to name but a few.
Healthy anger is there for a reason. It quite often acts as a defence when we feel threatened, as the anger produces adrenalin and we experience the 'fight or flight' response in difficult situations. Anger can help with allowing those in your life to know how you are feeling, which can encourage honesty in relationships. Anger can even motivate and challenge you to make changes in your life. This is what I call Healthy Anger, but it does not take away from the fact that it is still anger. We know that this emotion can cause fear in the person feeling it and those on the receiving end of it.
So where did we learn about anger? In our childhood, experiencing anger in a healthy and constructive way is vital; to see that our parents/caregivers expressed anger, which then lead to better communication and change. We use that healthy experience to see and learn how to recognise anger within ourselves and others, so that we do not fear it. We then learn to use it as a tool to understand how we interact with others socially.
If our experience of anger has been destructive/violent or suppressed (never openly shown and seen as something wrong), we may become confused as to how we handle anger when we inevitably feel it for the first time. We will either learn to push it away as something that is 'unacceptable', pushing it deep down within us, possibly resulting in a passive aggressive personality; alternatively, some will become quick to snap at a moments notice, with the anger always close to the surface even during the smallest event.
There is healthy anger and there is destructive anger; sometimes it is difficult to know the difference. If you are in a relationship where you experience healthy anger but your partner suppresses anger at all costs, you could end up feeling that there is something wrong with you. You are too aggressive; too quick to shout or express your feelings. Both sides will be bringing their own individual experience of what anger means into this relationship, and it is important that you gain an understanding of how you both deal with this differently.
Healthy anger does not include violent behaviour (verbal, mental or physical) and it has a voice, usually coming from other emotions such as frustration, fear, anxiety or sadness - emotions that a person may not feel comfortable showing. For example, some men may feel they cannot be sad or tearful; they will suppress those emotions and feel more comfortable showing anger at a situation.
It is important to recognise what is healthy and what is not. It is also important to understand that your experience of anger is different from the next person. We all feel and react to it differently.
If you are in a place where either you (as an individual) or you and your partner feel that the anger in your relationship has crossed over into an unhealthy, unmanageable state, it is crucial that you seek some support. If you are not able to express your anger appropriately, it can lead to various emotional and physical problems such as:
- Depression, anxiety and stress
- Self harm/suicidal thoughts/self harm
- Harming others
- Sleep and eating disorders
- High blood pressure
- Digestion problems such as IBS.
For those that experience outbursts of anger there can be a feeling of shame and of being misunderstood. It is difficult to face who you are and what you are doing in those moments. It can feel like you 'are going mad' or that you should not be around other people.
When you start facing and working on your unhealthy anger it is crucial to recognise the triggers or hooks - looking out for warning signs. You will have strong physical responses and it is important to learn techniques to help yourself to 'step in' at that moment.
Talking therapies can help and it can be a relief to talk to someone who will not judge you or your actions. You will be able to explore where your anger comes from, what it wants from you, how to deal with it and gain some tools to move forward in life. It is possible to make changes so that your anger is HEALTHY and you learn to be ASSERTIVE rather than aggressive, enabling you to be heard and listened to.
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About Jayne Phillips
Jayne is a fully qualified, professional Therapeutic Counsellor. A registered member of the BACP, working in private practice, in the city of Bath.