learning to control anger

Are you angry? What is the true meaning of anger?

Anger is a human emotion that can manifest in many ways. For most, anger is a feeling of displeasure, annoyance, irritation, hostility, or antagonism.

What are the characteristics of anger?

Anger can manifest in various ways. For some, anger can look like higher blood pressure, hormonal increases, tense muscles, increased heartbeat, sweating, trembling, or a clenched jaw.

What are the three types of anger?

There are various types of anger. The most common is passive anger, where a person avoids their feelings; there is also aggressive anger, where a person behaves in negative ways because of their feelings; and assertive anger, expressing anger directly and non-threateningly to the person involved without causing distress or destruction.

Anger is a secondary emotion, meaning something is usually behind it.

Typically, we first experience a primary emotion like fear, loss, or sadness. Because these emotions create feelings of vulnerability and loss of control, they make us uncomfortable. One way to deal with these feelings is by subconsciously shifting into anger.

Unlike fear and sadness, anger provides energy and makes us feel powerful and in charge rather than vulnerable and helpless. We have all seen this happen. Think about a hungry infant. The infant’s first cry is a cry of distress because the child legitimately needs to eat and cannot fulfill this need unless someone helps. If this need is not addressed, the infant’s cry switches from a cry of distress to an angry cry. When hunger, vulnerability, and powerlessness become too distressing, the child becomes angry to distance themselves from these feelings and signal there is a problem.  The anger will remain until the underlying issues of hunger and vulnerability are addressed.

It is easy to identify the function of anger when it plays out with infants, but we often struggle to identify its function in our lives. When I begin to feel anger toward my spouse, it is much easier to go with my anger and say things like, “You always sit there watching TV and avoid doing any of the housework,” than to figure out what is under the anger and address the underlying issue.  It’s also easier for parents to yell about how irresponsible their teenage son is when he arrives home after his curfew.

The next time you feel anger—whether mild or strong—instead of “taking the aspirin” of stuffing or simply acting upon it, consider deciphering anger. Suspend your desire to act upon your anger.  No matter how intense your experience of anger, acting upon this emotion without identifying why it is present may feel good for a moment or two, but it often causes us to behave in ways we regret later. It seldom helps to address the underlying issue fueling the anger.

Managing your anger

Take a time-out

Pause whatever you are doing and check to see if you can identify the primary emotion driving the anger. It is important to STOP and deliberately think this through, as it is usually tough to initially identify anything other than anger.

Check what’s underneath your anger

Ask yourself, “If anger was like the congealed fat on the top of the roast in my refrigerator, and I could skim it off, what would be underneath?” This gives you a way to begin exploring the thoughts that are fueling anger.  The shift from the primary emotions of fear, sadness, or loss happens rapidly, so it takes deliberate thought to identify what lies beneath the anger.

Think about how you can address what’s underneath

Once you have identified the underlying primary emotion, ask yourself, “What would help me address this emotion effectively?” Suppose I am angry with my spouse for sitting on the couch while I clean. In that case, the underlying emotion might be fear…fear the relationship will always be off-balance in this way…fear my partner does not value me and sees me as a servant…fear my need for downtime won’t be met. By identifying the fear, I can decide how to talk about this with my partner rather than simply blowing up about not having help cleaning.

Give yourself space to calm down

The emotion of anger releases a flood of chemicals within the body, preparing you to flee, fight, or freeze so you won’t be hurt. These chemicals take a bit to dissipate, and you can’t think clearly!