Anger is an essential emotion because it alerts us to some very important information. It tells us that something we value is being violated somehow or that you have a need that is not being addressed. Anger is often seen as “bad” but really, it’s how you respond to it that often causes the “bad” consequences.
People get angry for all sorts of reasons and often think that is uncontrollable because it seems to come out of nowhere. But actually, there is quite a lot going on inside your body and mind before the angry outburst.
For example, someone who has been bought up in a family where anger was the most predominant emotion shown by the parents, has most likely learned that anger is the only emotion we display and all other emotions are shut away because they are bad, or dangerous, or risky.
Other people have learned that their own needs and emotions are not valid, important or welcomed by others, so they learn to suppress these feelings which results in the use of a variety of maladaptive behaviours such as drug and alcohol abuse, emotional eating, food restriction, passive-aggressiveness, and sudden outbursts of anger or rage.
In some cases, people behave in a submissive manner in order to avoid potential conflict or anger from another. For example, a child who has been punished, threatened or on the receiving end of a angry parental outburst may have learned to avoid this by acquiescing to all parental demands, and even anticipating future demands so that there is absolutely no chance the parent will be become angry. These patterns of behaviour continue into adulthood, usually out of the awareness of the individual, and are often known as “people-pleasers”. They automatically put the needs of others before their own and present to counselling because they are feeling depressed or anxious through suppression of their needs, or confused because they have just exploded angrily at a partner for “no reason at all”.
Anger is a secondary emotion which shields you from experiencing the primary emotions such as guilt, shame, humiliation, sadness and resentment. I like to think of anger as a (very good) bodyguard who is protecting you from the vulnerable, unacceptable, uncomfortable feelings underneath. All those feelings that we a) are not aware of or b) don’t want to face. Your anger is a way of saying “don’t come near me, you might discover that I’m vulnerable”.
Once you come to understand this you will have more chance of dealing with challenging situations better.
Some Health Consequences of Unaddressed or Repressed Anger
As well as the obvious negative impact that anger can have on your relationships with others, it can also have consequences for your physical health. Some issues associated with anger are:
- Heart attack
- High blood pressure
- Digestive problems
- Weakened immune system
How to Respond Better in a Challenging Situation Without Resorting to Uncontrolled Anger
When dealing with an angry feeling we need to be respectful of ourselves and others when expressing it.
- Take some time away to calm your body down so that you can think clearly about what has been triggered inside you, and then you can respond to the situation rather than react to it in anger.
- Identify what underlying value is being violated, or what need is not being met.
- Label it (I feel sad…I feel afraid…I feel abandoned…I feel misunderstood..I feel taken for granted…).
- You may need to do some physical and strenuous exercise in order to decrease the physical arousal levels in your body.
- Go back to the person/people and communicate this to them in a respectful manner.
As an example, if you react to a situation in anger it is likely that you will start to verbally attack the other person and actually blame them for your feelings. “you make me so mad….you’re always doing…..I won’t stand for it anymore…..how dare you make me feel like this….you’re useless / pathetic / …”
Instead, once you’ve identified what’s going on for you inside, you are more likely to be able to communicate this to the other person in a way that is respectful to your own feelings. “when you say that to me…I feel misunderstood / invalidated / sad …and it makes me want to lash out OR and I’d like you to speak to me in a different way please OR can we talk about it please…”.
There is no guarantee of course, how the other person will respond or react to this. The most important thing here is that you are calm and have identified how you feel in response to something they have said or done. You don’t lose yourself in this process.
- Get to know how your body feels when it is angry so that you can start to become aware of the changes in muscle tension, breathing, heart rate, general physical arousal and get some healthy coping strategies into place before you get angry.
- Get to know what you body feels like when it is not angry so that you understand the difference in physical sensations between angry and calm.
- Learn some breathing techniques that will give you space to calm down and get your mind to a place that is able to think rationally.
- Decide when it is better to leave the environment completely so that you can calm down, process what is happening for you, and then return to discuss it in a respectful manner.
- Understand they types of situations (that is people, places, events) that tend to upset you and make a plan for this.
- Develop a regular routine of relaxation, exercise, fun and enjoyment into your life so that your body and mind are given the opportunity to experience something other than feeling angry.
How can counselling help me to understand why I’m so angry?
Counselling may be able to help you better understand your anger, and be more likely to identify potentially tricky situations in advance, and putting actions into place to decrease the likelihood of an angry explosion. Also, if you do react angrily, you will be in a much better position to respond differently than you have done in the past. Longer term therapy is useful to identify those underlying emotions that have been triggered and have resulted in an angry outburst.
If you are seeking the services of a psychologist or counsellor in Perth, please contact me on 0406 033 644 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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