Have you ever been told, ‘don’t get angry’ or ‘don’t let anger get the better of you’? We all know how destructive anger can be. However anger, is an important emotion that needs to be paid attention to so it doesn’t get the better of you.
Often, we hear of emotions being either positive or negative, with anger being on the top of the list of emotions to avoid. It’s more helpful though, to have a neutral stance and notice what’s going on within your emotional state. All emotions are there for a purpose as they’re constantly providing information about what’s going on inside.
Anger gives us three messages:
- I’m not getting what I want.
- I’m not getting what I need.
- I don’t like the way I’m being treated.
These messages come hard and fast. In fact all emotions do. They only last in the brain for ninety seconds. As such, emotions prompt us to act and respond in certain ways. When we are angry we usually experience the following:
- A red face
- Shaking body or hands
- Feeling hot
- Heavy or fast breathing
- Mind going blank
- Sick feeling in the stomach
- Scowling facial expression
- Clenching of fists
- Pacing around the room
- Start swearing
- Go quiet and shut down
- Constantly thinking about a problem
When anger is destructive we can:
- Insult someone
- Become aggressive
- Stare at someone aggressively
- Throwing things
- Raise our voice, scream or yell
- Punch walls
No one wants to feel this way, right? As a result, anger can become problematic when experienced at extreme ends.
Anger can become repressed by shutting off or not acknowledging the extent of what the experience is. This is a form of denial that can shut someone down, making it very hard to see a situation clearly. At the other end, there can be an attitude of being entitled to behave in a destructive and/or abusive behaviour justified merely by experiencing anger. It won’t be a surprise then to say that women or more likely to hold their anger inside and bury it, while men are more likely to be more explosive. That doesn’t mean though that both men and women are incapable of experience either extremes.
Anger is important
Freud believed that depression is anger turned inwards. That is, anger is or becomes unacceptable to express or experience and as such, it becomes repressed. When I’m working with clients who are depressed, repressed anger will usually show up. Along with that repressed anger would be a history of some kind of abuse. Part of the way I work with clients is to them recognise that they are feeling angry and what to do with it.
What to do with anger
The best starting point is to go back to angers message. Am I getting what I want or need? Is someone behaving in an unacceptable way towards me? This can apply to something that has occurred in the past, or in the present moment.
As previously said, because of the speed of emotions, it can be hard to think this through logically in the heat of the moment. So it’s important to slow it down and give yourself space to deal with your own reaction. Then when you’re calm, decide how to act.
Healthy ways of getting anger out of your system can be to exercise, punch or yell into a pillow, write out what you’re angry about or use breathing exercises to help calm down and soothe yourself. You might have other ways that you find helpful that you might want to share.
What anger can achieve
Without anger, we wouldn’t have political movements or social activism. We wouldn’t have many professions that have grown out of the need to address social justice issues like poverty, starvation, and equal rights. We wouldn’t have some of the most beautiful art, music or literature from around the world if anger was not expressed or made legitimate.
So the next time you feel angry ask yourself what’s going on inside. Are you having a temper tantrum simply because things aren’t going your way? Or, are you missing an opportunity to help yourself find a way out of a difficult situation? Either way, there will be an answer, and the answer is in you.