Everyone gets angry sometimes.
Even Mother Teresa got angry. “I only feel angry sometimes when I see waste, when things that we waste are what people need.” The Dalai Lama, spiritual leader and preacher of tolerance, patience and forgiveness, gets angry. “You never stop getting angry about small things. In my case, it’s when my staff do something carelessly, then my voice goes high. But after a few minutes, it passes.”
Anger is a very normal, emotional response to a real or perceived threat, provocation or irritant. It can be in response to an external trigger, like a driver cutting you off on the highway; or an internal trigger, like being irritated due to ongoing personal problems.
Anger can produce both physiological and psychological symptoms, including rapid heart beat, high blood pressure, frustration and anxiety. And the intensity of those symptoms can range from being mildly upset, to out-of-control rage.
Anger can be helpful or hurtful. If there is a way to differentiate when it is one or the other, it might be in how quickly we react to feelings of anger. Often, when we take time to consider our response after anger is triggered, the outcome can be positive. One example is a sports team that uses the anger brought on by their opponent’s ‘trash talk’ to motivate their play. But when we react first, without thinking, like when children do something you just asked them not to do, the result can have very negative results, including physical and psychological abuse.
Managing Your Anger
In a way, if it is true that the result of taking some time before reacting to anger helps to minimize negative results, then that can be one way of managing your anger.
“When angry, count ten before you speak; if very angry, a hundred.” Thomas Jefferson
But “count to ten” is just one tactic in one of the three most common approaches to anger management.
- Catharsis – Express Your Anger – If you can manage to express your anger in an assertive, but not aggressive or harmful way, this can be a healthy strategy. But that can be a big “if”. Unfortunately, our natural way of expressing anger is often aggressive.Like venting the excessive build-up of steam in an engine to reduce internal pressure, the idea of expressing your anger aims to produce a cathartic release of it before it causes damage. Primal screams and punching bags have been popular ways of healthily expressing anger. But, unfortunately, there’s little or no scientific evidence to support the expression of anger as a successful anger management strategy. In fact, the evidence is that venting can make things worse. Studies show that, by connecting anger and the aggression often used to express it, even in ‘healthy’ ways, the aggressive response to anger is reinforced, often resulting in more harmful outcomes for the angry person and the people around them.
- Bury Your Anger – The idea of burying your anger is to suppress anger in your response and convert or redirect the response to a positive behaviour. A common example is the change in society’s attitudes towards corporal punishment of children. While it used to be acceptable to strike a child as a means of discipline, actions often brought on by anger, parents are now expected to suppress their anger and use more beneficial means of discipline. Unfortunately, there is evidence that shows the suppression of anger can increase a person’s risk of health issues, including increased blood pressure, heart disease and depression.
- Eliminate Your Anger – If there is a common downside of the first two strategies, it is that anger remains after the strategy is applied. Eliminating your anger focuses instead on ways to stop feeling angry.This is where the ‘count to ten’ tactic comes in. As we mentioned, like all emotional reactions, anger produces physiological and psychological changes. Getting rid of your anger means trying to address those changes and return your body and mind to their usual states. Counting to ten can give your body time to slow down a rapid heartbeat and reframe the trigger of your anger in a more reasonable light.
Other ways of ‘defusing’ your anger can include better, more thoughtful communication. Instead of saying the first thing that comes to mind when you are angered, try listening. Listen first to yourself and what has triggered your anger. If the anger arose from a heated argument, listen closely to what the other person says and take the time to consider it before you respond.
In taking the time to consider your immediate response when you get angry, you can begin to see how might may be able to restructure your responses. For example, if you take a moment before leaning on the car horn after being cut off, you might realize that the reaction does little or nothing to relieve your anger or resolve the situation.
Think about it: have you ever really felt better after angrily blowing the car horn? Or has it stopped other people from cutting you off?
Anger, its causes and your reaction to it are complex issues. The techniques listed are those you can try on your own. But, if your attempts at anger management don’t seem to work, a mental health professional can offer other techniques to be used in a program of therapy. Call us here at BRCook Psychological Services to schedule an appointment.
I am a certified solution-focused therapist, and I integrate a number of theoretical orientations into my practice including cognitive-behavioural, humanistic, psychodynamic, reality focused therapy. In essence, my experience and style have been dynamically moved into an eclectic approach that best seems to fit the client and their personal needs.