When we think of anger, we think that it is bad and harmful. But what if we think of anger as actually being good and helpful? According to Hoy & Griffin (2012), “anger is like a warning signal alerting you that something is wrong. It can provide the energy to resist emotional or physical threats. Anger can help you mobilize your resources and set appropriate limits and boundaries. Your anger can give you strength to resist threatening demands or a violation of your values.”
Of course, if you do not express your anger it can cause physical and emotional harm. If you do not talk about your anger, you are pretending that everything is fine. Holding these feelings in for too long can cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, ulcers and can damage your relationships.
It is beneficial to express your anger assertively. In other words, confront a situation by expressing in a healthy way what you think and feel.
When you become angry and you express that anger in an unhelpful harmful way, what exactly are you trying to get out of it? Will it make the situation better? Will it make it worse? What are the pros and cons of reacting in an angry and aggressive way? What about if you control your anger? What will you get out of it? Here are some tips that I use with clients to help them with anger issues.
Ten Suggestions to Try
1. Cognitive perception: I like how people usually say “he/she got me angry and that is why I yelled” or “he got me extremely mad and that is why I hit him.”
Do other people have the power to control your actions and your thoughts or do you have the personal power to control the way you feel and act? In other words, who controls you? You have the power to choose to be angry, sad, happy, frustrated, etc.
When I try to explain this concept to clients, I like explaining how two situations can get two separate reactions from two different people. For example, if someone fails a test, one person may think angry thoughts at the teacher, start cursing or blaming the teacher for giving him a failing grade.
Another person, however, who fails the same test may look at the grade and think to himself that he needs to study harder for the next test and that he received a failing grade because he did not study as much as he should have.
Why did one person have an angry reaction and the other didn’t? In reality, you make the decision to get angry, the situation does not make you angry. It is your perception of an event that gets you angry. If you change the way you perceive things, then perhaps it will not cause such a negative reaction.
2. Be aware of how your anger feels in your body: Your body gives physical warning signs when you get angry. Become aware of them and take steps to manage the anger. Try leaving the situation or doing some relaxation techniques.
Some signs may be breathing faster, getting red, having a pounding heart or clenching your jaw.
3. Be aware of the triggers: Fatigue, alcohol, pain, substance use, and stress are factors that can impact anger. Also, family life can have an impact. If a person comes from an aggressive family with low levels of positive interaction, there might be a higher chance that the individual will learn to also be aggressive and to deal with conflict by getting angry and aggressive.
4. Take a time-out: If things get out of control, remove yourself from the situation so you can cool down. Take a walk, go to the gym, call a friend or listen to music. Take that time-out to calm down and then you can approach the situation when you are calm.
5. Learn relaxation techniques: Practice breathing deeply from the abdomen, do some progressive relaxation techniques, meditate, do yoga, go to the gym or go for a walk. Try taking advantage of your senses by visualizing your favorite place, playing your favorite music, smelling your favorite scent, tasting your favorite meal or trying a different cuisine.
6. Problem-solve: When in a confrontation, establish a plan by writing options and solutions that can help resolve the conflict. Try the options to see which one works. If one does not work, try using another option.
7. Listening: Learning to listen can build communication. Try paraphrasing what you heard. This practice will help clarify any misunderstandings that can lead to anger. For example, “In other words…” or “What I hear you saying is…”
8. Learn to Assert Yourself: According to Hoy & Griffin (2012) “Assertiveness gives you the opportunity to air your grievances and frustrations in a healthy way instead of burying them or eventually blowing up.”
Read self-help books or get guidance from a professional to help you learn skills to become assertive. Use “I-statements” to describe a problem instead of using “you” such as “you did this…” By using “I-statements” you avoid blame and you are asserting how you feel.
9. Think of things to say to yourself: It can be helpful to say positive things to yourself before or during a conflict. For example, “Is it worth getting into an argument?” “Will it make a difference in a week?” “What will happen if….?” “What are the consequences if I react in this way?”
10. Forgive: This action is powerful and is often very difficult to do. Forgiveness is not forgetting or denying what happened. It does not excuse the offender. It is not the same as reconciliation (Hoy & Griffin, 2012). “Forgiveness brings our lives back into a state of harmony and peace.” (2012) It helps you to free yourself from the anger and pain and to let go of the control that the other person has on the way you are feeling.
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