5 tips to help manage your anger
Nobody likes to feel angry. But one thing that is worse than feeling angry is being angry. We don’t want to be seen as the angry person or to behave in an angry way. When working with anger in the counselling room, I have noticed that clients can fall into two categories; volcanoes and icebergs.
Those who externalise their anger. They will consider themselves to have a ‘short fuse’ or a ‘bad temper’ and often feel ashamed or afraid of their behaviour, particularly after expressing it.
These clients come to counselling because they don’t want to feel angry anymore. They may even admire those who are cool in a crisis and don’t appear to let their emotions get on top of them.
When anger gets out of control, it can affect our relationships, work and self-esteem. It is common to feel both afraid and ashamed of anger, particularly when you can see the impact that the behaviour has on others. This regret can lead the volcano types to believe that they are unworthy of love and respect. They may even become withdrawn, believing themselves to be a risk to others.
You will hear these types saying, "I am not an angry person." They will come to counselling because they feel stressed or because they are suffering from low mood. These are the clients who will go out of their way to stay calm in a storm and may feel a great sense of achievement in doing so. They will rarely externalise their anger, choosing instead to push it down or pretend it doesn’t exist at all. Often, they may envy those who can, seemingly, release their anger and then go about their day as if nothing has happened.
It is possible to go for long periods, even years, suppressing anger in this way. However, when it is regularly ignored, it doesn’t just disappear in a puff of smoke because someone wants it to. In fact, those who find it difficult to express their anger outwardly will often internalise it and this can manifest itself into high blood pressure, anxiety or depression. Those who turn their anger inwards are more at risk of self-harming behaviours, self-neglect, or even addiction.
The villain of the piece
Anger has been labelled as the villainous emotion; stereotyped as aggressive, dangerous, immoral, immature, or petty. This is why those who can’t hide it, are ashamed of it and those who can pretend it isn’t there.
Why do we express anger so differently?
Often, our relationship with anger is linked to how we first experienced it. Those of us who lived in volatile or aggressive households may have learned that this is the only way to be heard and repeat similar behaviours. Clients who exhibit rage may well have suffered as a child and had no power to express their anger outwardly.
Alternatively, some people learn to retreat and hide from conflict and do anything to avoid feeling it within themselves. Either way, anger becomes unwanted and shameful.
Some people grow up in a space where they learn that the expression of any negative emotions is unacceptable or is punished, or maybe there wasn’t a space to be heard at all. Anger was not welcome or recognised so they never learn to notice it, acknowledge it or accept it in themselves. When people learn that anger is the enemy, they will do all they can to ostracise it or banish it.
Anger is your friend
In truth, every one of us is an angry person and so we should be! There is a lot in life to be angry about.
Anger is an essential, healthy emotion and is just as crucial as all our other emotions. However, over time, it has been given a bad reputation. If we allow ourselves to understand it a little better, anger can be very useful to us.
Anger has been looking out for you since you were born. It is a protective emotion, purpose-built to alert you to danger and put space between situations or people that threaten you. It keeps you safe; it’s not a good thing to ignore it.
Like a loyal friend, it isn’t going anywhere. It is there to protect you and will continue to do so, whether you like it or not. Wherever you go, your anger will follow you but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
How can you manage your anger better?
Here are some top tips for managing your anger and learning to use it to help you rather than harm you.
1. Be comfortable with feeling angry
There is a difference between angry feelings and angry behaviours. When you learn to differentiate between the two, you will be better at choosing how you respond to it. If you fear your angry responses and believe yourself to be a slave to them, you will continue to push them down until they either build up and explode or start to make you feel ill or isolated.
2. Listen to your anger and find out what it is telling you
Anger is a secondary, cover emotion. Imagine it as an effective weapon that is there to protect you from experiencing the deeper emotions that trigger it. The key is to be brave enough to investigate these other emotions. These could be pain, fear, shame, or grief, for example. None of them is pleasant but, when worked with gently, healing can happen.
3. Understand your triggers
My clients are often concerned that they become angry or irritated about small things. I can assure you that the massive argument you had about the hairdryer had very little to do with the hairdryer itself. But, the situation that caused it may have activated an emotional wound that has never had the chance to be heard, understood, or healed.
So, in the absence of compassion, here comes your angry behaviour in all its misdirected glory. Here to save you, regardless of the consequences.
4. Find a safe way to express your anger
There are many ways to alleviate the build-up of stress before it reaches a critical point. Whether that be rest, exercise, journalling, spending time in nature, or creative pursuits. Choose something that fits your personality and make it a regular habit. Prevention is better than cure.
5. Talk to someone
Counselling provides a supportive space to explore these painful feelings, without fear of judgement or rejection. When you work through the pain and release it, you will be less likely to need anger to protect you.
If you’d like to find out more about how I can help you get to grips with your angry feelings, please get in touch.