Two ways people react when they feel angry
There are two basic ways that people automatically tend to react when they feel angry. The first is to let out all the angry feelings so everyone around them gets to know. The second is to hold the anger inside them, hiding it from direct expression. Both these reactions can be problematic.
Letting out the anger can be very frightening for anyone around, and also for the person themselves, as it can feel like the anger is out of control. But swallowing down all the anger can be counter-productive too, as others don’t realise there is a problem. The angry person may also feel like they have no control over the situation or over their own life.
Why do our responses differ?
Why do we have these two different responses to angry feelings? It can be explained by looking at how someone learned to deal with anger in childhood, as children learn how to behave from adults around them.
Some families are uninhibited about expressing anger. They see it as helpful for someone to act angry when they don’t like a situation. After all, anger often gets results! Other families find anger totally unacceptable. It’s as if it just doesn’t exist in their family. So when a person finds a situation intolerable, they may not say anything, just fume inwardly or sulk or perhaps have physical symptoms.
Is there a better way of responding?
Is there actually a more helpful way to deal with angry feelings, which is less scary and more controlled than letting rip, but more effective and assertive than swallowing them down? Yes. The key to this approach is to understand that anger is a secondary emotion. This means that anger is always covering a more basic, deeper emotion underneath.
For example, say someone forgets your birthday, you may get very angry with them, when actually underneath you are feeling hurt. Or if another driver steals your parking space, you may react angrily but underneath you feel a sense of strong injustice. Learning to identify the underlying primary feelings can take some practice and can feel strange at first, but it’s worth persevering.
The next step is to try to express those feelings rather than expressing anger, e.g. “I feel pretty hurt because you didn’t remember my birthday”. The other person is getting a true message about what the problem is, rather than just experiencing an outburst of rage. They may even be more likely to apologise. This way of identifying and explaining feelings is a great way to increase understanding and intimacy in a relationship. It is also a more assertive way to deal with problems in the workplace.
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