Stress and irritation are common in our day-to-day lives. Our time becomes more and more precious with each passing moment, our workloads can be overwhelming and we can feel pulled in several different directions at once. Our world is fast-paced and full of stimulation. Our environments and relationships change at the bat of an eye. No wonder anger is so prevalent.
Unhealthy Expressions of Anger
At times, anger may explode outside of your control and an expression of anger can turn destructive. Other times anger may seem to blow up internally inside of you, disrupting concentration, showing up as negative self-talk, or causing physical pains such as headaches or stomachaches. Anger may also fester inside you when ignored or buried. Often we bury anger as a way to deny the feeling or control it, only to have it come out in confusing ways, such as overreacting to little things. Sometimes, these unhealthy expressions are a recurring issue, and relationships to yourself and others can disintegrate.
Destructive anger may be a reaction to conflict, disrespect, or emotional pain.
Consider the following:
Tasha and Greg have shared an apartment for a few months now. Tasha generally cooks at home and is sure to clean while she works. Greg almost always chooses to bring prepared meals home to eat, but still uses kitchen utensils for various things. He never cleans the dishes. Tasha does not say anything to Greg at first, preferring to avoid any confrontation. After a stressful day at work, Tasha comes home to a sink full of Greg’s dishes. Tasha begins cleaning the dishes herself, but slams drawers and plates while cleaning. A plate breaks, and Tasha blames Greg.
In this example, Tasha has stifled her initial anger with Greg, avoiding the conflict as a way of handling it. Tasha thought she had her anger under control, but when she was overwhelmed by stress, her lack of control roared to the surface. Her anger became destructive.
Sometimes, it may not be obvious that you are avoiding a situation. Not all unhealthy displays of anger look like the behavior of those with short, explosive tempers.
In the previous exercise from section 1, we listed a few unhealthy expressions of anger. Provided below is a more extensive list, although it is by no means all-inclusive. Each person responds differently with anger, but we made sure to include some of the more subtle methods that may not send up flags immediately.
- Excessive interruption of conversation
- Sulking when a situation does not meet expectations
- Instigating arguments
- Allowing mood to affect others
- Attempting to make others feel guilty
- Holding grudges
- Needing to be correct
- Rolling eyes or sighing heavily
- Silent treatment
- Abuse, both physical and emotional
- Frequent disregard to others’ feelings
- Passive aggressiveness
- Frequent lying
- Feeling justified in anger
- Avoiding conflict
- Punitive or condescending behavior
- Manipulation of a situation
- Suppressed anger
- Frequent black and white or all or nothing situations
- Little regard for forgiveness
- Blaming others/things for how we feel
Healthy Expressions of Anger
Healthy expression of anger means learning to act versus react to an emotion, thought, situation, or behavior. A healthy expression of anger is a skill. The situation and/or experience must be analyzed objectively, keeping in mind the following: other people’s feelings and experiences, examining your own feelings, thoughts, intentions, and expectations, and assessing your physical vulnerabilities. Physical vulnerabilities may include poor sleep, poor nutrition, hunger, stress, illness, change in hormones (both for men and women), and a lack of physical activity.
A healthy expression of anger does not place blame on another; instead, you are able to take ownership of your own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. This may mean using “I” phrases, such as, “I feel angry when…” Instead of reacting instinctively to an unwanted situation, you take the time and effort to respond, or act.
Consider the following:
In the example given above, Tasha reacts to a sink full of dishes. An alternative to slamming and breaking objects could be that Tasha takes time to talk to Greg as soon as she feels uneasy about cleaning up after him.
She may begin the conversation by saying, “I feel upset when there are dishes left in the sink.”
If Tasha decides to voice her discontent in a calm and collected manner before succumbing to the stress of either the event itself or an outside stressor, then she is allowing open communication and expressing anger in a healthy way. Tasha would need to exhibit insight to both her feelings, thoughts, expectations, intentions, and needs, as well as Greg’s feelings surrounding the situation. Tasha would also need to be respectful to Greg, not using blaming, hurtful, or disrespectful statements or words.
Learning to use healthy expressions of anger can be work. It requires the ability to take a pause, create distance between yourself and your thoughts and emotions, increase self-awareness, and the ability to see alternative perspectives. Let’s say Tasha put the time and effort into approaching and resolving the conflict with Greg,
she would be sure to reap the benefits, as she and Greg could better understand each other’s intentions. Tasha’s self-esteem may improve for having the confidence to approach the situation and proactively work to meet her needs. The resolution would build trust and strengthen the relationship.
For most of this course you will do a lot of work in reducing the frequency and intensity of your experience of anger, increasing your awareness of your experience of anger anger and its triggers. It is good to remind yourself that the goal is not to eliminate anger—the goal is to manage it.
Even when heavily practiced and mastered, effective communication and acceptance do not get rid of anger. The two together will certainly reduce how often you feel angry but you will still feel angry at times. That is totally normal.
You’ve heard this a hundred times by now but what makes a difference is the way you react to feeling angry. Anger itself does not necessarily mean a scarred relationship, broken possessions, or burned bridges.
More Examples of Healthy Anger
Anger can work as motivation for change. Think back to any civil rights movement. What feeling helped fuel that movement? You can bet it was not contentment or complacency.
When things stack up against you unfairly, it is okay to feel angry. Once again, anger itself is not unhealthy. Instead of turning to unhealthy or destructive expressions of anger however, turn that anger into fuel for finding a solution or for finding change.
Consider the following:
Helen has a great paying job that is relatively close to where she lives. She has been employed there for years. This past year her boss, Edward, has been treating her pretty unfairly. He continuously gives her work to do, expecting to work overtime but without the increased pay rate of overtime. She’s expected to do tasks at home, at night, and on the weekends. He even calls late at night, assigning her more duties.
She is capable of doing these things but she soon begins feeling overwhelmed. Instead of going out with her friends or travelling for holiday, she feels stuck at work. She tried on multiple occasions to bring this issue to Edward, being mindful and assertive while communicating. It doesn’t help.
When she asks for time off to visit her mother, who is very sick, and Edward denies the request, Helen feels angry. This is the last straw. She decides she deserves a job that respects her time and effort. She realizes that just because she is paid well, it doesn’t mean she is content. She gives Edward her two weeks notice and quickly finds a job that isn’t as monetarily profitable but isn’t as taxing on her well-being.
Anger also serves as a great warning system. It informs us that something is out of balance. It may be something within our bodies, such as hunger or illness for example. It may be informing us that a personal boundary has been violated, sometimes making us take ownership of crossing our own boundaries.
Looking back to the previous exercise you did in section 1, write out possible solutions to the conflicts you witnessed. Imagine beginning a conversation with one of the parties, placing emphasis on your feelings instead of their actions.
Additionally, write down a previous experience where you have reacted to conflict with destructive anger. What were the short-term consequences of your reaction, both positive and negative? For instance, did it feel relieving? Did you feel strong? Scared?Confused? What about the long-term consequences? Did that relief later turn into regret? How did this impact your relationship? How would you resolve the conflict now in a healthier manner? Imagine what the short and long-term consequences could have been if you resolved the conflict healthily.
Continue to keep track of conflicts that arise within you and around you. Begin to write down the time of day when you feel angry, and why you think the anger arose.