For this we have to look deeper within ourselves and more often than not we find that our outward feelings of anger mask internal feelings of pain, hurt or embarrassment.
Where and why?
Of course, the ability to process and manage anger varies greatly from person to person. We’ve all met people who can become incandescent at the slightest provocation and others who rarely seem to get ruffled no matter the incident. Most of us probably seem to lie somewhere in between these two extremes, but why do some people seem to get moved to anger so easily?
Well there are a number of reasons that could contribute to whether we either maintain a cool head or we blow a fuse. Genetics certainly plays a part and research suggests our anger responses may be partially governed by our DNA, but this isn’t the whole story. Our own family and social context plays an important role too.
As children, our anger responses may not have been moderated well by our parents, leading us to develop poor management skills. Added to which, if one or both of our parents also had a short fuse then because children naturally emulate, it may be that a quick temper is partly down to learned behaviour.
Anger is a universal human emotion that we associate with negativity, but of course it can motivate us to stand up for ourselves or others in the face of injustice, rise to the challenge of a threat and even drive our ambition because we feel others don’t believe in our abilities.
However, when anger becomes a first response rather than a last resort, when it is frequently misdirected and causes hurt or fear in others or when it becomes so intense that it tips over into aggression, then it becomes counterproductive.
Breaking it down
Over the many years I’ve been helping people I’ve realized two very important notions about anger. The first is that it’s not uncommon to struggle with controlling it and the second is that you can learn to manage it effectively when you understand and recognize your own particular triggers and you have the techniques to hand to be able to deal with it such a way that it doesn’t cause hurt to others.
So how do you know whether you have a problem with anger? In my experience people with anger issues generally fall into two distinct groups. Those for whom anger has been difficult for them from childhood and those who have become angry either because of a specific event or because they are masking other underlying feelings of pain, anxiety, grief or depression.
Regardless of its source, you will know you have an issue if your anger frequently flares up in a disproportionate way, so you get far angrier than the situation demands. It might be that you turn on those closest to you with very little provocation and you may stay angry for increasing periods of time before the feeling dissipates and you can regain some perspective.
It may be that when the “red mist” rises, you feel powerless to physically or verbally control yourself and this causes difficulties in relationships at work and or at home. The reality is that when anger ends up causing you problems in your everyday life, ignoring it doesn’t mean it will go away. Developing an anger plan does mean that you have a structured process to follow when those volcanic feelings start to bubble up.
Anger plan: Tips to keep calm and move on
Being objectively conscious of the physical signs your body gives you when anger is rising is the first step to learning how to regain and maintain control. Your heart rate will increase and your body language will change; shoulders becoming tense, fists becoming clenched and the core of your body feeling more rigid.
When you start to notice these signs, the most effective thing you can do is to immediately walk away from the situation if you can. Slow down your breathing too. Taking long slow deep breaths will not only help to calm you down, but it will also give you a new focus as you concentrate on what you are doing, diverting your attention away from the anger source.
Practising this beforehand in a no pressure situation is a really good idea. Once you’ve had the opportunity to try out your plan a few times and you are starting to get the hang of it, then you can begin to look more closely at why your anger is getting the better of you.
You may choose to seek professional guidance to help you with this, but you can also do a lot to help yourself.
For example, it might be that you have habit of seeing things from a negative perspective or that you see yourself as a victim in situations that regularly frustrate you. Reframing this by mentally removing the ‘I’ factor so that if someone annoys or upsets you, you try to see things from their perspective.
You imagine they might have had a bad day, or they have just had some bad news, and this can begin to mitigate their behaviour, diffusing tension and making you more understanding. It’s a technique that requires practice, but it can help to re-educate your mind into seeing more positives than negatives.
Finally, learning how to express your anger clearly and assertively, but without causing undue hurt or offence can also help with managing it. To do this, always stick to specifics. Phrase what you’re saying in such a way as to be clear what behaviour has upset you and how that behaviour made you feel.
If you focus on the behaviour as opposed to the person, it allows you to avoid hurling hurtful accusations. And also, one of the most important parts of this is to allow the other person to speak and really listen to what they have to say. Taking a break from this discussion after a set amount of time, will allow you to gather your thoughts and your energy to continue to resolve the problem and it also helps you avoid repeating yourself.
Working through issues like this in a structured way as opposed to suppressing the anger you feel, will help you circumvent those major explosions when resentment builds up.
So, yes get angry, (you’re only human after all), but deal with it differently, because the consequence of anger is often far more serious than the cause of it.