Ultimate Anger Management Guide: Control It Before It Controls You
When to express it, when to suppress it, and when to let it go.
Did you know anger isn’t all that bad?
Every person experiences the emotion of anger several times per day. Yes, even the calmest among us. Sometimes, it assumes the form of a tiny cloud hanging over our soul, sometimes it transforms into a cyclonic storm that blinds our heart and our judgment entirely.
And even though anger is not socially popular, it’s important for a person to recognize, accept, and express the whole range of emotions, not only the positive ones.
Because the role of an emotion is to send a signal that some of our needs are not being met or that they are downright threatened. Thus, it’s our job to act on it — in a controlled manner — not suppress it.
In general, emotions are bodily reactions to our thoughts.
In simple terms, something happens (a neutral event), which leads to particular thoughts in my mind (a neutral, positive, or negative judgment), and these thoughts manifest in my body as emotions (pleasant or unpleasant).
What can we take out of this definition then?
First, there is no such thing as a negative emotion. Emotions are merely subjectively unpleasant. When we call some emotions “negative” or “unhealthy”, we may fail to read their language and end up being miserable without channeling them into action or change.
Second, the very moment we learn to control our thoughts, we are able to control our emotions as well.
So what is anger exactly?
Anger is an emotional response to some kind of threat or danger.
Our mind most often evaluates that our self-esteem, our basic needs, our beliefs, or our fundamental values are in serious jeopardy.
The working mechanism is exactly the same as the one mentioned above. Let’s look at the common example of our social interactions: a person tells me or does something that makes me angry.
Their words or acts lead to certain thoughts and judgments in my mind (for example: “What an insult!”).
These thoughts manifest in my body as anger.
What does happen in our body when we are really angry?
Our sympathetic nervous system, whose primary purpose is to stimulate the ‘fight or flight‘ response, becomes hyperactive.
Together with the parasympathetic nervous system (‘rest and digest’), they constitute the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for involuntary functions of the human body.
In a nutshell, when we are angry, our body involuntarily (= without our conscious control) starts preparing for averting a perceived threat.
Our pupils dilate. Our heart beats faster. Our blood pressure rises. Our breathing is faster. The blood flow is diverted from our digestive into our muscular system. The immune system slows down. We start sweating to regulate the heat generated within our body.
When you visualize such physiological response, you can clearly see why failing to understand what is happening in you while you’re angry can lead to letting the emotion take completely over. Moreover, imagine what it can do to your body when it happens again and again.
In that case, isn’t it better to eliminate anger altogether from our lives?
We need emotions such as fear or anger. They tell us that something is wrong. However, we must learn how to either materialize them into a constructive action, or let them go.
Suppressing anger is never a good answer. When I suppress an emotion, I refuse or fail to understand its message, which is then only pushed deeper into my subconsciousness. There it patiently waits and tries to find other ways to resurface and deliver itself in a more efficient manner. In the first instance, it can lead to further intense emotions, which means that our chances of controlling them are even lower. Yet, even if we succeed, repeatedly, the temporary bodily changes will gradually metamorphose into more permanent ones, most commonly in the form of chronic diseases (e.g., stomach ulcers, hypertension, arrhythmia, and so on and so forth).
Many people don’t even realize that they are angry. They have trained themselves really well to act as sophisticated individuals. But since anger signalizes that something that is important to us is endangered, they might eventually lose touch with their own needs.
Anger gives us energy to act, to protect ourselves, to initiate change. While it is making its way in, you should embrace it, acknowledge its message (e.g., “I feel angry, because this seems to be an attack on my self-worth.”), instead of suppressing it right away, and reshape it into a positive constructive force. After that, do your best to let it go. Let those initial judgments and thoughts pass without giving them the attention they could feed off of. Because when you don’t listen, they subside as quickly as they appear.
But what to do when the emotional pain is just too much to let it go?
When we internalize someone else’s behavior — that is to say: take it personally — we assume that what people do or say is about us, while they are simply following what is best for them in a given moment. The stronger our emotional response (anger, shame, embarrassment…), the more we actually agree with them, somewhere deep inside our soul, or have considerable doubts, to say the least.
Therefore, the next step would be to do some introspection work in order to identify what we believe about ourselves and what triggers us. Do we get angry about things that in reality reflect our own weak points?
Let’s say it always makes you furious when your employee doesn’t follow your instructions to the letter. Your reason evaluates their behavior as unacceptable or outright disrespectful. You can’t help yourself but see red.
Now, what is your body trying to tell you? To fire that person? Well, you could do that anyway while keeping perfectly calm. That you are severely unsure about your personal authority? Possibly much closer.
Still, what if anger gets out of control?
Anger habitually turns into aggression, even if only verbal, which is the reason it is deemed unwelcome in most circumstances. Even so, aggression can be useful too. Loud swearing, for example, helps us get over the pain when we accidentally hurt ourselves. A fierce sports match with a friend will often make us feel way better mentally than any meditation or therapy.
Aggression is a force that can be found behind any critical change, movement, or progress in the universe.
Just like anger, suppressing, rather than venting, aggression is not desirable since it would ultimately lead into turning that aggression against ourselves. And aggression turned against myself equals depression, when despite a strong urge to make a radical change in my life, I consider myself incompetent to make it happen.
How can we release aggression in a cultivated and/or productive way?
- Competing (e.g. in business environment)
- Fulfilling tasks
- Developing new strategies
- Taking risks
- Facing challenges
- Playing games
… and many others. Simply use your imagination and identify a suitable activity that will enable you to channel anger (feeling) and aggression (behavior) into something beneficial.
Is aggression always easy to detect?
Lastly, let’s not forget passive aggression — a sort of (unconscious) defense mechanism that originates in a person’s attempt to avoid confrontation, rejection, or conflict. A passive-aggressive person can appear friendly and kind, while in reality they think and act rather manipulatively. Their broken self-esteem prevents them from expressing their needs adequately and at the same time they blame others for mistreating them, while not communicating such feelings directly.
A passive-aggressive individual often provokes open aggression of someone else so that they can label themselves as victims. Besides, since they cannot meet their own needs, they find a certain level of satisfaction in the misery of others.
The common manifestations of passive aggression include: ignoring other people and avoiding communication as a means of punishing them, playing the role of a victim, putting off (work/study) tasks, excuses, or sloppiness, being late in order to demonstrate superiority, forgetting promises so as to show lack of respect, saying “yes” while meaning “no”, lack of consideration for the wishes of others, forceful calmness and detachment to elicit anger in others, perpetual complaining and blaming (other people, fate…), withholding important information, offering compliments that turn out offensive (e.g., “Given your background, you’re doing quite well money-wise.”).
Healthy relationships need to be based on open communication even if what we need to convey is not always pleasant. Learn to say out loud what you want, need, and expect. And in case you must deal with a passive-aggressive person, don’t let them engage you in a blaming game. There’s no way to win for neither of you. Simply decide — and again, communicate — what you will or won’t tolerate.