Anger is a natural human emotion and is nature’s way of empowering us to “ward off” our perception of an attack or threat to our well being. The problem is not anger, the problem is the mismanagement of anger. Mismanaged anger and rage is the major cause of conflict in our personal and professional relationships.
The instinctive, natural way to express anger is to respond aggressively. Anger is a natural, adaptive response to threats; it inspires powerful, often aggressive, feelings and behaviors, which allow us to fight and to defend ourselves when we are attacked. A certain amount of anger, therefore, is necessary to our survival.
On the other hand, we can’t physically lash out at every person or object that irritates or annoys us; laws, social norms, and common sense place limits on how far our anger can take us.
People use a variety of both conscious and unconscious processes to deal with their angry feelings. The three main approaches are expressing, suppressing, and calming. Expressing your angry feelings in an assertive—not aggressive—manner is the healthiest way to express anger. To do this, you have to learn how to make clear what your needs are, and how to get them met, without hurting others. Being assertive doesn’t mean being pushy or demanding; it means being respectful of yourself and others.
Anger can be suppressed, and then converted or redirected. This happens when you hold in your anger, stop thinking about it, and focus on something positive. The aim is to inhibit or suppress your anger and convert it into more constructive behavior. The danger in this type of response is that if it isn’t allowed outward expression, your anger can turn inward—on yourself. Anger turned inward may cause hypertension, high blood pressure, or depression.
Unexpressed anger can create other problems. It can lead to pathological expressions of anger, such as passive-aggressive behavior (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on) or a personality that seems perpetually cynical and hostile. People who are constantly putting others down, criticizing everything, and making cynical comments haven’t learned how to constructively express their anger. Not surprisingly, they aren’t likely to have many successful relationships.
Finally, you can calm down inside. This means not just controlling your outward behavior, but also controlling your internal responses, taking steps to lower your heart rate, calm yourself down, and let the feelings subside.
Strategies to Keep Anger at Bay:
- Try using simple relaxation tools such as deep breathing and relaxing imagery to calm down angry feelings.
- Change the way you think. Try replacing angry thoughts with more rational ones.
- When angry, slow down and think carefully about what you want to say.
- At the same time, listen carefully to what the other person is saying and take your time before answering.
- Humor can help defuse rage in a number of ways. For one thing, it can help you get a more balanced perspective.
- Give yourself a break. Make sure you have some “personal time” scheduled for times of the day that you know are particularly stressful.
- You might consider counseling to learn how to handle your anger better. A psychologist or other licensed mental health professional can work with you in developing a range of techniques for changing your thinking and your behavior.