Anger is a basic human emotion that everyone experiences. Learning to deal with one’s anger is an important lesson, as repressing it can have harmful effects, while unleashing it in an unhealthy manner can hurt you and those you care for. So how do we deal with our anger? What are some healthy forms of expressing it, and how can we let it go in a way that will relieve us and so we can better understand ourselves?
According to Psychologies.co.uk suppressing our anger can have negative physical effects, including “skin ailments, heart problems, migraines and headaches.” On an emotional level, anger can also be at the base of feelings of depression. When we don’t deal with our anger directly, we run the risk of turning it on ourselves. We may then start to experience an onslaught of self-critical thoughts.
For example, if your partner or spouse tends to nag at you about practical matters, you may initially feel infuriated at being intruded on or criticized. Your heated response may strike you as irrational. Getting mad would only rock the boat, so instead, you disregard your emotional reaction. Soon enough, you may start to turn this frustration on yourself with thoughts like, “You are pretty irresponsible. You just can’t do anything right, can you?” In this case, the answer isn’t to unleash on your spouse, but it also certainly isn’t to start putting yourself down or taking on a self-hating point of view. Instead, you can take the following actions:
- Recognize that you’re angry. Your feelings are just feelings, and they’re acceptable. You can be furious at someone even if you agree with what they are saying. You can not like their timing or their tone or that they embarrassed you or even that they are right. When you are okay with having an angry reaction, you can be irritated at someone, then move on. You can love and hate the same person on a given day or in a given hour. Remember, your feelings don’t have to be logical or make perfect sense, and just having them won’t make you a bad person.
- You can express your feelings to an unbiased third party that you trust, like a close friend or a therapist. Try to seek out people who won’t take sides or support dramatic reactions. It can be helpful to have a sounding board for your more extreme emotional reactions. Stating your anger will give you some relief and help you reach a calmer state and more balanced perspective. Make sure, however, that when you give away your anger, you’re actually giving it away. Don’t hold on to it and fuel the flame or build a case. Saying the things that are unacceptable is an exercise in letting them go, rather than letting them fester inside and becoming cynical. It can also enable you to gain insight into yourself by allowing you to ultimately understand what triggered you in the first place.
- You can calm down before reacting. Try taking a mindful approach to your interactions by giving yourself time to compose yourself before you respond. Try counting back from 10 or taking a few deep breaths. Once you’ve done this, you can think about how you want to communicate or react. This may mean stepping away from the tense scene and cooling off. You can later return to the person or scenario that upset you in a calmer state of mind.
- When you do communicate, you should aim to be rational, direct and honest. Once you get over the more heated momentary emotions, you can say your feelings directly in a healthier, more productive way. It may not be wise to tell off a boss, but talking to your partner or spouse about your real reactions is another story. You can tell them how you feel when they act a certain way. For instance, a conversation could start as follows:
I understand that you get frustrated with me when I forget to help out around the house, but the way you talk to me can sound parental and insulting. I’d much rather you just tell me you’re angry instead of belittling me or talking to me like I’m a kid. That just leaves me feeling defensive and furious. I will make an effort to be more sensitive and responsible, and I’d really appreciate you meeting me half way by having more patience and being less critical.
- You can think about the non-obvious reasons why you may be angry. Often, when something upsets a person to an extreme or their reaction is an overreaction, that’s an indication that they’ve been triggered on a primal level. In other words, something in the present has stirred up deep feelings from their past. For instance, your frustration at a nagging spouse may be justified, but the bubbling fury you experience may indicate something else. Were you intruded on as a child? Did you seek out isolation in order to feel safe? Perhaps your reaction is based more on the memories an interaction stirs up than what’s going on in the moment. Could you be projecting onto your spouse or exaggerating their behavior? How is your perception of the present a recreation of your past?
We can’t control how we feel, but we can control how we act. Accepting our anger doesn’t mean acting it out toward others. We can feel our feelings fully, then decide how we want to behave. We can maintain a curious and compassionate attitude toward our anger, taking an interest in our reactions and seeking to understand what they might indicate about us or our past. Most importantly, we can learn to be comfortable with our anger, accepting it as a natural part of life without allowing it to hurt us or the people we are close to.