Feeling angry is a natural emotion. If we didn’t feel anger, we wouldn’t be able to defend ourselves from a physical threat, or to run away from danger. It’s part of our body’s fight or flight mechanism to keep us safe by giving us a burst of energy.
It’s also natural for us to feel angry when we feel hurt or deceived. However, anger that regularly leads to aggressive behaviour towards others is unhealthy. Anger is also unhealthy when it is turned inwards resulting in self-loathing, self-harm and self-denial. In these instances, anger needs be managed in a safe and appropriate way.
Blaming people and circumstances
While it’s okay to feel angry at certain circumstances, such as being unfairly treated at work, being deceived by a partner, a child being bullied or by the senseless injury or death of a loved one, regular and unwarranted outbursts of anger are unhealthy and potentially damaging.
For instance, if we feel someone is to blame for hurting us, we may shout and swear at them; throw things; become physically threatening and violent; withdraw our love; become martyrs; harm ourselves physically and emotionally; among a host of other negative actions. The truth is that it is not up to other people to behave the way we want them to – rather, it is our responsibility to control our feelings and actions so that we don’t harm them or ourselves. Expressing anger, whether through inward or outward aggression, can cause immense harm to us, to our loved ones, and to our relationships.
Learned patterns of behaviour
Unfortunately, many of us have learned negative behaviours from childhood. If we have witnessed our parents, or people close to us resort to aggressive behaviour to resolve disagreements, the likelihood is that aggression may have been ‘normalised’, so harmful patterns of behaviour are repeated into adulthood. But, anger coupled with aggression is not a healthy way of venting feelings or dealing with disputes.
Also, as children, we may not have been taught how to understand and to express our emotions appropriately. Anger and aggression may have been explained away as ‘just part of growing up’ and seen as acceptable. Our parents’ anger and rage may have frightened us to the point where we fear our own anger and so have learned to supres it. We may also have learned to bottle up our feelings after being told anger was ‘bad.' Not expressing our feelings in an appropriate and healthy way can damage our emotional and psychological well-being. Suppressed feelings of anger can surface later in life and cause immense misery.
Self-help in dealing with anger
If we don’t learn how to control our anger, it is easy to become consumed by it. Using alcohol and drugs or any self-harming behaviour to deal with anger can make matters worse. Therefore, learning to manage anger positively will improve relations with others and ultimately with ourselves.
Relaxation techniques – when you begin to experience signs of anger, such as your heart beating harder, muscles tensing, fists or jaws clenching, these techniques can help you to re-focus your mind on your breathing and help you to remain calm.
Count to ten – when you recognise you’re feeling angry, go for a walk to remove yourself from the situation; take a ‘time out’ and give yourself time to think and calm down.
Physical activity – expending energy by going for a brisk walk or run, punching pillows, etc., helps you to release tension and relax.
Being assertive – learn to recognise and respond to the anger of others in a positive, assertive manner. Being assertive also helps you to communicate your feelings calmly and confidently. Improving your communication skills can help you to have healthier discussions around disagreements and can help prevent anger from escalating to rage.
There are also many self-help programmes and professional services available to help guide and support you through anger management techniques.
Getting the right professional help
Anger, if allowed to continue uncontrolled, can have devastating consequences on your health and well-being and those around you. If you experience regular anger episodes and are unable to manage your feelings, professional help may be the solution. Working with a Psychologist can be extremely useful in helping you to explore the reasons behind the anger, its triggers, and look at healthy ways of coping with it.
If you are violent towards others, or they are violent towards you and you are afraid of what might happen next, it is important to seek immediate professional help. Similarly, if you are directing your anger inwards to the extent you are self-harming and have become a danger to yourself, then getting professional help is essential.