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Understanding Anger

By Steve Kramlick, MEd, LPC

Understanding Anger

By Steve Kramlick, MEd, LPC

What is anger?

Anger is defined as “a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.” I think that we can agree that no matter how it is defined, we are all familiar with that feeling. We have all experienced something in our lives that caused us to get angry. Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy, human emotion, but when it gets out of control, it can lead to problems. It becomes important, therefore, to understand what anger is about, what can cause anger, and how to control or manage anger.

Anger is a negative feeling state that is typically associated with hostile thoughts, physiological arousal, and maladaptive behaviors. It usually develops in response to the unwanted actions of another person who is perceived to be disrespectful, demeaning, threatening, or neglectful. Everyone has their own triggers for what makes them angry, but some common ones include situations in which we feel threatened or attacked, frustrated or powerless, or like we are being invalidated or treated unfairly. Anger is not always negative, though, since it can sometimes serve as inspiration for people to “take action” or overcome certain fears.

Anger is a secondary emotion. Typically, one of the primary emotions, like fear or sadness, can be found underneath the anger. Fear includes things like anxiety and worry, and sadness comes from the experience of loss, disappointment, or discouragement. Unlike fear and sadness, anger provides a surge of energy and makes us feel powerful and in charge rather than vulnerable and helpless.

The most common causes of anger are stress, the feeling of not being appreciated or treated fairly, financial challenges, work or relationship issues, car accidents or bad traffic, and violence or abuse. This certainly covers a lot of areas, and this can create ample opportunities for anger to emerge within us. We must recognize that anger is a reaction to when things are (temporarily) out of our control. It becomes important to maintain our control before anger causes recurrent problems for us.

There are certain signs that can let someone know if they are struggling with controlling their anger. Some of these signs are hurting others either verbally or physically, always finding yourself feeling angry, feeling that your anger is out of control, frequently regretting something you have said or done when angry, and noticing that small or petty things make you angry. It is also important to note that uncontrolled anger has long-term physical effects such as increased anxiety, high blood pressure, and headaches. Since anger comes with too many negative aspects, it is essential to learn how to manage your anger effectively.

A man in a suit yelling angrily into his cell phone

Consider these anger management tips:

1) Think before you speak: In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to say something that you may later regret. Take a few moments to collect your thoughts before saying anything.

2) Once you are calm, express your concerns: As soon as you are thinking clearly again, express your frustration in an assertive, non-confrontational manner. State your concerns and needs clearly and directly without hurting others or trying to control them.

3) Get some exercise: Physical activity can help reduce stress, which can cause anger. If you feel your anger escalating, go for a brisk walk, or spend some time doing other enjoyable physical activities.

4) Take a timeout: Timeouts are not just for kids. Give yourself short breaks during times of the day that tend to be stressful. A few moments of quiet time might help you feel better prepared to handle what is ahead without getting irritated or angry.

5) Identify possible solutions: Instead of focusing on what made you angry, work on resolving the issue at hand. Look for ways to negotiate or compromise in finding workable solutions to the problem (i.e. Close the door to your child’s room if the sight of their messy room makes you upset). Also, understand that some things are simply out of your control. Try to be realistic about what you can and cannot change. Remind yourself that anger will not fix anything and might only make it worse.

6) Stick to “I” statements: Criticizing or placing blame might only increase tension. Instead, use “I” statements to describe the problem. Be respectful and specific. For example, say “I am upset that you left the table without offering to help with the dishes,” instead of “You never do any housework.”

7) Do not hold a grudge: If you allow anger and other negative feelings to crowd out positive feelings, you might find yourself swallowed up by your own bitterness or sense of injustice. Forgiveness is a powerful tool. Forgiving someone who angered you might help you both learn from the situation and strengthen your relationship.

8) Use humor to release tension: You can help diffuse tension by “lightening up.” Use humor to help you face what is making you angry and, possibly, any unrealistic expectations that you have for how things should go. Avoid sarcasm though since it can hurt feelings and make things worse.

9) Practice relaxation skills: When your temper flares, put relaxation skills to work. Practice deep-breathing exercises, imagine a relaxing scene, or repeat a calming word or phrase. You might also listen to music, write in a journal, or do some yoga poses.

10) Know when to seek help: Learning to control anger can be a challenge at times. Seek help for anger issues if your anger seems out of control, causes you to do things that you regret, or hurts those around you.