You’re going to get angry. If you have a pulse, red blood pumping through your veins, and air in your lungs, then as surely as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, you’re going to get angry. You’re human. And anger is one of the eight or so emotions God gave humans the capacity to experience.Anger, in and of itself, isn’t an issue. There’s nothing abnormal or even wrong about experiencing anger. When it comes to the topic of anger, the real issue is whether or not it is advantageous in its present context, whether its expression is harmful and/or destructive to you or others, and if you’re unnecessarily holding onto it.
In this article, I will:
1. Discuss the importance of having a realistic outlook on anger (along with how to do that)
2. Help you understand your anger (for instance, warning signs or patterns), and
3. Offer ways for you to take responsibility for your anger
Anger as a Normal Emotion
The best way to start out in your quest to understand and/or manage anger is to look at it simply as an object. In other words, don’t look at it as the enemy! Don’t judge it. Whenever we put a negative spin on anger or approach it with a critical spirit, we’ve immediately tampered with our ability to learn about it. We create an atmosphere of inhibition which, in turn, alters our degree of acceptance. Acceptance needs to happen before we’re able to understand or work on the anger.
How much easier and more effective is it to learn about or understand something when we approach it with both eyes open as opposed to one eye shut because our judgment deems it as bad? When we take judgment out of the equation, we take away the risk of maintaining a blind eye.
In the case of anger, when we’re no longer ascribing a certain level of rank or worth to it—which is what judgment has the potential to do—we’re no longer inclined to slink back from addressing it. With all that being said, if taking an honest look at your anger is difficult for you, I invite you to begin the process of examination by just looking at it as an object. Chuck any stigma you may have put on this God-given emotion by removing any value-laden labels.
If I Don’t Judge It, What Do I Do With It?
So how might we approach anger if we’re not going to deem it as a ‘bad’ emotion or perhaps even more so, an ungodly emotion? A better way to approaching our felt anger is to ask ourselves the following question: “Is it advantageous for me to be angry right now?” Because the truth is, anger can be just as advantageous as it can be disadvantageous.
The circumstances of your anger and the promptings that evoked it will determine which one is true for the incident at hand. I realize that for some people who are reading this, the idea of looking at anger as anything other than a bad, unproductive emotion may be challenging at first. Seeing it as possibly advantageous, as opposed to something to frown upon, might strike some as ridiculous. And I get that. There are plenty of legitimate reasons for having arrived at that perspective.
Our outlooks are generally shaped by our experiences and some of you may have had multiple experiences having to do with anger that counter what I’m saying. I will do my best to introduce you to the idea that in some cases there really are advantages to the emotion of anger. Following my introduction of advantages, I’ll move on to a review of some of the disadvantages that can stem from anger.
Anger can be advantageous in that it can:
- Be an indicator that something may be wrong.
- Assist you in a threatening situation.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where there is potential for danger, whether it stems from people, places, or things. Anger may be the internal mechanism that helps us get through the threatening situation. For instance, if you need to fight off a perpetrator or scale a wall to help someone in trouble, anger may give you the adrenaline to do so.
- Motivate you.
Let’s face it—our emotions motivate us. Love motivates us to be giving to others. Sadness toward another person’s pain can motivate us to provide comfort. And anger is no different in that it can be an excellent motivator. For instance, if someone keeps racing their car down your residential street, your anger at the risk of neighborhood children being hit by that car may motivate you to insist that the city put speedbumps on your street. In actuality, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) was started by a mother who was angry that her daughter was killed by a drunk driver.
Disadvantages of Anger
Alternatively, anger, if not used constructively or held onto for too long, can have disadvantages, too. Some of those are:
- Physical health problems.
Because the anger arousal state causes changes to take place in your body, some of those changes could eventually result in physical problems.
- Becoming too defensive to engage in real problem-solving.
Being too hot-headed interferes with our thinking processes. Our perspective gets skewed and our wise, reasonable mind gets dampened.
- Alienating others.
Anger can turn people off and cause them to retreat. We can lose relationships as a result of anger or, at minimum, cause distance to occur in the relationship.
- Preventing you from getting in touch with the underlying feeling.
Anger can mask the real issue that is going on. What appears to be just an issue of anger may have started out as a different emotion. For instance, a person who is hurt by someone’s behavior may unknowingly cover that hurt with anger.
Understanding Your AngerOne of the most important things you can do towards management of anger is learn about your anger. As with most things, the more we know about something, the more we can take control over it. We are less likely to have it take control over us.
Developing an understanding of your warning signs is key to gaining control. Warning signs are those things that alert you that you are starting to experience anger. The sooner we become aware that we’re getting angry, the sooner we can nip it in the bud if it is not serving a worthy purpose. It’s much easier to take steps to control your anger if it is at a low level as opposed to when it has escalated and has taken on a life of its own. Warning signs will be different for each person.
Examples of warning signs are:
- changes in your breathing
- your heart starting to beat a little faster
- clenching your jaw
- muscles getting tense
- biting your lip
- an urge for a substance (cigarette, alcohol, etc.)
- talking in a louder volume
- reduced patience level
- wanting to withdraw
- feel like lashing out
- get sarcastic
The above list is not exhaustive. As stated earlier, the warning signs can be different for each person, so you may experience something that hasn’t been listed.
The second important element to understand about your anger is whether there are any patterns to you experiencing it. Again, the more we know about our anger, the better position we are in to manage it and avoid setting ourselves up to experiencing it unnecessarily.
Patterns can be discovered by charting your angry episodes. The more episodes you chart, the more you are able to discern if there is a theme going on to your anger. Themes that start to reveal themselves can be anything from realizing that you are more likely to get your own way after having an angry episode, that conversations you aren’t wanting to have get shut down, all the way to anger getting evoked in a certain setting (which causes you to realize it’s associated with an unresolved issue).
Interestingly enough, I once had a client who’d sought help for anger issues discover that his anger was at least partially related to hunger. He realized this after charting his angry episodes. The multiple recordings revealed that his anger often emerged when he had skipped a meal and ignored his hunger. This was a great revelation for him as it provided an easy solution. Granted, there were more components to his anger than that. However, by learning that piece of information about himself, he was in a much better position to avoid unnecessary anger.
Here are the steps to charting your anger episodes:
- Record all that occurred prior to the angry episode. We want as much information as possible. All of the following would be great information: feeling lonely, arthritis was bothering me, I was thinking to myself, “I haven’t done anything fun in a while,” etc.
- Record the actual anger episode. What did it look like? How did it get expressed? All of the following would be appropriate material: face got flushed, raised my voice and said to my roommate, “You never include me in your plans!”, began eating potato chips, felt an adrenaline rush.
- Record what happened after the anger episode. For instance: my roommate invited me to go to the movies with her and her co-worker that night, I no longer felt lonely, I started thinking about what snack I might eat at the movies.
Once you understand your anger, you are halfway there! Having awareness into yourself and the situation is half the battle to overcoming any anger that isn’t working for you. Let’s talk now, though, about the other half—the half that will require you to do things differently.
First, it’s important that you have the right mindset. Realize that you can take control. Having this kind of attitude— the attitude that you can take control— helps shift us from “helpless anger” over to a sense of empowerment. Don’t let past experience dictate your future. Shift your mind and you start to shift your life.
Develop coping statements. These are statements that you can have ready to tell yourself when you start to experience your warning signs. Just like warning signs can vary from individual to individual, what makes for an effective coping statement will vary for each person depending on their history, what prompts their anger, etc.
Some examples of coping statements are:
- I can handle this. I can stay in control.
- This is not worth getting upset about. In the grand scheme of things, this is small.
- Don’t take the bait!
- Slow down, take a deep breath, relax.
A third thing that you can do is learn to confront others effectively. Sometimes the way that we communicate and interact with others contributes to the development of a conflict and, subsequently, the experience of an angry episode.
Using “I” statements can make a positive difference, practicing active listening when the other person is speaking, and repeating things back to the person communicating to make sure you understood them correctly. There are a number of other ways too that we can improve our communication, thereby safeguarding against a development of anger. The tactics listed are the short list.
Christian Counseling for Anger Management
One of the most significant steps you can take for working on issues of anger is to see a licensed mental health therapist. A therapist is trained in working with emotions and an expert in helping clients uncover the roots to their issues. Anger is no exception. If you are finding that anger has been impairing your day-to-day life, calling a therapist to schedule an appointment may be your next best move.
“Peace, man!”, Courtesy of Nathan Fertig, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Take a Step Back and Breathe”, Courtesy of Max van den Oetelaar, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Catch me”, Courtesy of Noah Buscher, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Mad’s Rebellion”, Courtesy of Andre Hunter, Unsplash.com, CC0 License