Throughout this blog, we have been learning about some of the characteristics shared by those who abuse others. We learned that, sometimes, abuse occurs in the form of an unhealthy, deconstructive expression of anger. In this lesson, we will learn the difference between healthy and unhealthy expressions of anger, how to recognize anger, and how to communicate anger in constructive, effective ways.
Expressions of Anger
Anger is a perfectly natural and quite common emotion that occurs when we feel threatened. Used effectively, anger can be used to escape danger or set boundaries. However, at times, our anger can be quite explosive, and easily become destructive. Sometimes, anger may seem to blow up inside of you, disrupting concentration or causing physical pain such as headaches, and/or stomachaches. Anger may build up when you feel denied or ignored, only to come out in confusing ways, such as overreacting to something insignificant. Unhealthy expressions of anger can be harmful both to yourself, and your relationships with others.
Here are some examples of unhealthy expressions of anger:
- Instigating arguments
- Allowing your mood to negatively affect others
- Attempting to make others feel guilty
- Holding grudges
- Rolling eyes or sighing heavily
- Giving the silent treatment to others
- Physical violence, either toward yourself or others
- Frequent disregard of the feelings of others
- Acting in passive-aggressive ways
- Feeling justified in anger, even when you really are not
- Speaking in a condescending manner to others
- Manipulation of a given situation
- Suppressing anger and/or other difficult emotions
- Giving an ultimatum in a given situation; “it’s my way or no way at all.”
- Blaming someone or something else for how you feel
When we talk about expressing anger in healthy ways, we’re referring to learning to act, versus react. Any given situation must be analyzed objectively, striving to keep in mind the following: the other person’s feelings and experiences; your own feelings, thoughts, intentions, and expectations; and your own physical vulnerabilities. Physical vulnerabilities can be a poor night’s sleep, lack of adequate nutrition, dehydration, hunger, stress, any illness, a change in hormones (for both men and women), and/or a lack of physical activity.
Any of these factors can contribute to how you might feel and act. Think about, for example, when you don’t get a good night’s sleep. The next day, you’re likely to not only feel excessive tiredness, but also generally irritable and perhaps may be short with others, as a result.
Healthy expressions of anger do not seek to place blame on another person or thing. Instead, you attempt to take ownership of your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This may mean using “I” phrases, such as, “I feel angry when…”
Instead of instinctively reacting to an unwanted situation, you take the time and make the effort to respond, or act. Learning how to express your anger (and other difficult emotions) can be quite challenging inner work, particularly if you were raised in an environment in which unhealthy expressions of feelings were all you ever witnessed. This inner work requires the ability, or at least the desire, to pause: to increase your self-awareness, and to try to see alternate perspectives.
A big part of anger management is self-awareness. Put simply, this refers to having a greater understanding of what is occurring both in your mind and in your body. Anger management isn’t about getting rid of anger, nor is it about suppressing anger. As we mentioned above, anger is a perfectly natural and common emotion. Anger management is about using anger as a warning system, meant to sound the alarm and let you know when something is out of balance, when a personal boundary has been crossed, or when we are hurt. The next step is to heed the warning: use this knowledge to determine an appropriate action.
Recognizing Bodily Cues
When we are behaving mindlessly, either consciously or not, acting with little awareness of our needs, feelings, or thoughts, we tend to react to situations, and express anger in unhealthy ways. Sometimes, anger can feel like it comes out of nowhere, with no warning. When sometimes comes up so quickly, out of the blue, you may feel like you have no control over it. You’ve gone from 0-100 in the blink of an eye. Increasing your self-awareness and understanding how anger expresses itself physically can be a great starting point, simply because physical cues sometimes present themselves before mental cues.
Here are a few examples of how anger shows up physically in our bodies:
- A flushed face
- A knot in your stomach
- Shallow breathing
- An increased heart rate
- Trembling hands
- A buzzing energy throughout your arms and legs
- Clenched fists
- Clenched jaw
We all have different things that upset us. Being aware of what triggers your anger can help you plan how you’re going to handle it when those situations arise again, and they will. This can help you act, instead of react, which we have reiterated throughout the lesson as being of vital importance in anger management. There are different kinds of triggers, including emotional, physical, mental, or environmental.
- Emotional Triggers: Emotional triggers are the emotions or feelings that anger sometimes masks. In other words, sometimes, anger can be expressed in place of the true emotion that we’re feeling. This is frequently the case when we aren’t sure how to express how we truly feel, which, for most people, is common. Some common emotions that trigger anger are fear, boredom, frustration, hurt, irritation, embarrassment, shame, guilt, worthlessness, and/or confusion.
- Physical Triggers: Physical triggers can include illness, injury, or any kind of physical discomfort. As we mentioned above, it could be that you’re exhausted from a lack of sleep, and feeling more irritable, as a result.
- Mental Triggers: Mental triggers are those that sound the alarm when our thoughts or beliefs are challenged, either directly or through another person’s words or actions. These triggers can include verbal conflicts, simple misunderstandings, or even questioning our own beliefs.
- Environmental Triggers: Environmental triggers are those that exist within our surroundings, whether a stressful workplace, traffic delays, or extreme weather. As you may already know, for example, hot and especially humid weather is often linked to an increase in anger, and subsequent aggression and/or violence. Extreme weather can result in restriction of our daily activities, which can be quite stressful.
As we have discussed in previous lessons in this course, one common trait shared by many domestic abusers is the lack of appropriate and effective communication skills. During any sort of conflict, it can be even more difficult to communicate with others. You may be more inclined to react with unhealthy expressions of anger, such as aggression, passive-aggression, or complete pacificity. Such reactions are likely to compound your troubles.
One of the most important skills to master within anger management is assertive communication. Assertive communication is the clear, firm, and most of all, respectful, voicing of your feelings and perspectives. Assertive communication enables you to communicate in a way that others are able to actually hear, and thus can lead to coming up with a peaceful resolution that works for all parties involved. Assertive communication, no doubt, takes practice. But the benefits will far outweigh any initial difficulties. The following are some quick tips for assertive communication:
- When dealing with conflicts, focus on statements that begin with “I,” addressing your own thoughts and feelings instead of placing blame or guilt on another person. For example, instead of saying “You did this wrong”, try saying “I think this could have been done differently.”
- When dealing with conflicts that arise as the result of another person’s actions, comment objectively on the person’s actions, and not their character. Stick with the facts of the situation at hand, and avoid unfair, personal insults.
- Be concise with your responses, and use an appropriate tone of voice.
- When someone offers feedback, try not take it as unjust criticism. Use this feedback for self-improvement, recognizing they may simply be trying to offer an alternative perspective about something you have done or said.
If you would like to learn more about controlling your anger, consider enrolling in our online anger management class. Anger management aims for healthy objectives so that individuals can express feelings without the risk of explosive behavior.