“Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” – Aristotle
How many of us grew up that we were not allowed to be angry. We got conditioned by our parents that anger is a very wrong emotion. We should feel ashamed when we express it because we are not mature, not cultured. An educated person controls himself. “Relax”, “get it over with”, “control yourself”, “just forget it” because you are overreacting! You are oversensitive! You are dangerous! Violent! Uneducated!
As a result we supress it or even repress it, unconsciously shut down and we don’t even allow to feel it. We adapt to the disrespectful situation, to those that abuse us or violate our boundaries. We don’t learn to stand up for our opinion or to feel our self-worth. We are afraid that expressing that energy will turn into escalation: more abuse, rejection or humiliation. However that accumulated energy will not disappear. It will leak out at another moment or we might direct it to other people who has nothing to do with the original reason of our anger. Studies show that long supressed anger can lead to diseases such as cancer, heart and long diseases.
Lets acknowledge it once and for all that anger is a valid, and appropriate feeling to have when we are mistreated, abused, disrespected or our boundaries violated. Moreover anger has a healing power. It brings life energy and teaches us self-respect. Feeling angry increases our optimism, creativity and performance. It helps us break free from unhealthy dynamics and to acknowledge our self-worth. It gives us the motivation and strength to protect ourselves. Also it allows us to feel joy, because freeing this feeling will free also our positive feelings.
The first step is to learn to acknowledge the feeling, without any guilt. Feel the energy and try to make sense of it. In a next step we can decide if it helps to express it to the person who was responsible for the abuse or disrespect. Especially when we still struggle with abuse and hurt from the past. We need to realise that we are not in danger anymore, we are safe now. We have our right for any feelings that surface. We must learn to experience anger in its validity in order that we can learn to cope with it. If we don’t give anger the acknowledgement and respect it deserves – we are doing ourselves and society a great deal of harm.
Anger is a valid, and appropriate feeling to have when we are mistreated, abused, disrespected or our boundaries violated. Moreover, anger has a healing power.
But why is anger so overpowering? The emotion center of the brain, the amygdale, responsible for alarming us to possible threats gets us reacting before the prefrontal cortex, responsible for rational thinking, is able to check if our reaction is reasonable. The released hormons help us feel the underlying painful emotions (like fear, loss, guilt, shame, frustration). Expressing our anger in an impulsive way however may push people to react and can lead to more anger. Impulsivity or aggression leaves others to become defensive or distant. We shouldn’t have the misconception that if we vent out our anger through an impulsive burst or aggression, we released it and that is enough.
Screaming, shouting, breaking glasses or hitting walls might make us feel better for a moment but it will not solve the root of our problem. Expressing our authentic anger is important but with certain people in certain situations. We must first learn how to manage it.
First of all, don’t tell yourself that you are being over-sensitive or over-reactive. Don’t tell yourself that you are bad for feeling angry and don’t feel guilt or shame. You are now allowed to feel!
If you experience anger in front of others, let them know that you are experiencing very intense emotions and that it is now difficult to communicate it clearly. Apologize in advance, not for your emotions but for the lack of clear communication in order to help them ease and open to listen to you.
Take your time and pause for a moment, also when the other is waiting for your response. Let him know that you are slowing down the situation. The goal is not to feel less angry but to understand your emotions and give yourself a wider range of options to choose from in your reaction. Anger is a great opportunity to learn about your underlying emotions, old triggers, but also your conflict patterns.
Did you get angry because your basic needs (tired, hungry, hot/cold, or sick) or emotional needs (overwhelmed, not heard, feeling a loss or lonely, not feeling loved) were not met? Were your expectations unfulfilled? Did something happen out of your control? Or were you treated unjustly, threatened, or your boundaries violated? Perhaps some old emotions got triggered?
Remember that you were a child when your role models told you that you shouldn’t be angry and that you are overreacting. They conditioned it into you, but they didn’t teach you the right thing. Anger must be experienced so that you can make sense of it and decide what to do about it. It teaches you so much about your needs, your boundaries, your feelings.
With respect to anger coming from old abuse, get in touch with it and direct it at the person who was responsible. You don’t have to act it out, just process it on your own or by talking to your safe loved ones. You may even write a letter to your abuser without sending it to him.
In case anger comes from a situation in the here and now realize that most people act the way they act for a variety of complicated personal reasons that is frequently not conscious to them. However every healthy adult will be able to listen to your emotions, needs and boundaries. They will understand it, and even apologize or change their behavior if you manage to express it after you calmed down. When expressing it, follow the assertive communication and keep to explaining what you feel and what happened that made you feel like that.
Summary of steps in anger management
- Recognize the physical symptoms of your anger
- Let the other know that you are experiencing intense emotions
- Apologize in advance for the delayed communication
- Take a pause to slow down
- Allow yourself to feel without judgement
- Learn your emotions
- Are you triggered by an old emotion? Process it by directing it at the responsible person
- Are you triggered in the here and now? Trust that people are not conscious of their behavior
- Express what you didn’t like and how you feel about it.
- Give them a chance to apologize and agree on what next