What is Anger?

Anger is not always a negative emotion. After all, although when we hear the word ‘anger’ we often associate it with unpleasant feelings i.e. parents shouting at us, fear at someone being really angry with us because of our actions or inactions, it can also be a positive emotion. Expressing anger healthily can be a cathartic process, a good way of externalizing an emotion that could be harmful to our emotional and physical well being if we keep it bottled up.

We can all recognize these patterns of behavior either in ourselves or in other people:

Aggressive anger

Bullying, physical manhandling, intimidating verbally ie shouting and swearing, finger-jabbing, road rage, mocking and insulting, threatening body language, confrontational behaviour, ignoring other peoples’ feelings, blaming and refusing to forgive and forget

Passive anger

Giving the “silent treatment”, sulking, avoiding eye-contact, silent disapproval, emotional blackmail, using illness or tears to get your own way, encouraging others to get angry and then withdrawing, making mischief and ‘stirring’, poison pen letters, malicious gossip and putting others down in a punishing way.

The aim is to achieve “assertive anger”, which is healthy and doesn’t hurt other people or, ultimately, ourselves.

Assertive anger

Saying exactly what is meant, not bringing up ‘old stuff’, expressing what you really feel, taking responsibility for your own actions and feelings, never using emotional blackmail or abusing the other person in any way, listening to other people’s grievances and being able to finish the argument cleanly, showing that the issue is dealt with and you can move on from that point without bringing the argument or issues up as a weapon in the future

Exercise

Write these questions down and then the answers – try to be really honest. You can destroy the paper when you have finished so this should mean that you aren’t afraid to write the absolute truth and for the exercise to be effective, honesty is important.

1. Face the negative within yourself

  • my darkest thoughts about significant people in my life…
  • things I really hate about myself…
  • things I know others hate about me…
  • my three big hang-ups are…
  • three things I’ve done that I’d like to change…
  • other people annoy me when they…
  • the people I’d like to see fail in what they do…
  • the people I’d like to punch in the face…
  • I would want to kill if…
  • three things I’m deeply ashamed of…

2. Write down anything that you have handled with passive or aggressive anger in the last six months:

– i.e.” I’m constantly telling you that I hate it when you leave the washing up piled in the sink for days – why do you always do it, is it just to wind me up? Can’t you get your act together?”

Now write down how you could have handled that with assertive anger:

– i.e. “I really find it irritating to see all the washing up stacked in the sink. I would feel happier if we could do it together or perhaps consider getting a dishwasher as it would help us both out”

3. If you feel like shouting, losing your temper or hitting out, try the old skill of counting to ten. If this doesn’t work for you, briefly leave the situation explaining, if you need to, that you are feeling inappropriately angry and need to go for a walk to think things through. Once people realize that this is a positive strategy rather than avoidance, you can call it ‘take ten’ time, i.e. every time you find yourself in an explosive situation, one of you can ask for ‘take ten’ so that everyone can cool off by walking around, having a coffee and rethinking the situation from a different angle. If the other person or people are just as angry, be assertive and say “I’d like us to take time out and cool down so that we can consider each others’ point of view. Is that OK with you?” This usually works but if not, perhaps you should work out why you need to be in that situation at all.

This strategy is called ‘reframing’ . In a situation that normally makes you feel really angry, rethink the reality of it, i.e.

  • ‘this house is always cluttered and untidy’ – reframe this to ‘this isn’t a show-house, people feel they can relax here’
  • ‘why does my partner always put me down?’ – reframe this to ‘maybe he/she is feeling insecure, perhaps we should talk about it’
  • ‘I always have to cook the dinner when he/she has been doing nothing all day’ reframe this to ‘ I’m feeling that I do too much of the cooking so perhaps we can work out a fairer arrangement and take it in turns’

4. Copy out the Anger Management list below and put it on your fridge where you can see it every day.

ANGER MANAGEMENT

  1. Learn the skill of taking time out to cool down
  2. Take deep breaths and count to ten
  3. Reframe the situation so that you aren’t feeling resentful
  4. Express what you are feeling. Try not to say ‘you make me feel…’ or use blaming statements but say things from your own space ie ‘I’m feeling angry about that…can we talk it through?’ or ‘I’m feeling resentful and I’m not sure why, will you help me explore it?’
  5. Listen to your anger and decide whether it’s a learned thing from your childhood or whether it’s a reaction to the moment
  6. Finally, accept and own your anger and then YOU will be in control of how you handle it