Blow your top. Flip your lid. Lose it. See red. Go ballistic. You are angry. But why? And what can you do about it in a healthy way?
Why Do I Get So Angry?
First of all, it is very important to realize that anger is a completely natural emotion, and at times it can be a necessary response! Anger can be justified. It can even save your life. However, the problem comes when you are not able to control your anger. But why do we get angry in the first place? Well, that is a loaded question.
Anger can be caused by a wide array of situations. Here is just a snapshot of some of the common causes of anger:
- Problems caused by a specific person. The closer the relationship, the greater the anger response.
- Extreme worry or rumination about the future
- Memories of frustrating or maddening events
- Physical or psychological pain
- Extremely unpleasant environmental conditions
- Feelings of powerlessness or impending failure
- Personal offense due to perceived unfair treatment, insults, rejection or criticism
- Grief over the loss of someone. The closer the relationship, the greater the anger response.
Anger plays an integral role in our “fight, flight or freeze” response to danger or threat of harm, along with fear. Your body, or more truthfully your mind, may have only nanoseconds to decide the appropriate course of action in a dangerous situation. There is a flood of adrenaline released into the bloodstream, your heart rate increases and your pupils even dilate. Your perceptions and senses become enhanced and information is funneled quickly into the pre-frontal cortex of the brain for analysis. Do you fight? Do you flee? Or do you freeze? This all happens in a fraction of a second and mostly without conscious thought. It is a bit like your body inputs all the data into your subconscious, your subconscious decides the best course of action given the circumstances and your capabilities, and spits out an order to your conscious mind. The entire process is often triggered by a mixture of anger and fear. If appropriately controlled and funneled, anger can be an indispensable emotion and motivator.
So How Is Anger A Problem?
Anger becomes a problem in the way we control it, or harness it. Quite frankly, some people have an easier time with controlling their anger than others. However, even the most seemingly under-control individual can have a slip in their ability to harness anger.
In the 1970s, psychologist Paul Eckman identified 6 “base” emotions which he suggested were universally experienced in all human cultures. They were happiness; sadness; disgust; fear; surprise; and anger. Think of these base emotions as the colors in our emotional rainbow, with all the other emotions being combinations of them in varying amounts. Given the deeply embedded nature of anger in our psyche, it is not terribly surprising that we all struggle with controlling our anger from time to time.
The sudden outburst of anger is the issue. When we “lose it”, it can have wide-ranging repercussions. From hurting the feelings of a friend or loved one, to physically assaulting someone, to causing ourselves to suffer a heart attack or stroke, none of the effects are positive. This is why we ascribe a negative connotation to anger in modern society. But in reality it is the loss of control, the outburst, which we should frown upon and not the emotion as a whole.
Managing Our Anger Response
The first step in managing and controlling our anger response is to recognize when you are starting to get angry. The earlier you recognize a possible outburst event, the more likely you will be to successfully control it. Early signs are:
- Feeling suddenly anxious and/or nervous
- Feelings of sadness, resentfulness, or humiliation
- Tension in the jaw or grinding teeth
- Pacing, inability to stay still
- Loss of sense of humor
- Increased use of sarcasm
- Shouting, screaming or crying
- Increased aggression
Get to know your personal warning signs. Through…….introspection. I know. My loyal readers probably guessed that one. Introspection seems to be a part of the answer to every issue I discuss. That is because it IS! Introspection, looking inside and evaluating one’s own feelings and emotions through a filter of no BS, is the first step in becoming mentally and spiritually healthy. You have to truly know yourself before you can accept yourself.
So now you have determined that an angry outburst is coming. Next, pause! Take a moment to breath before you react. Walk away from the situation and just breath. I have seen advice to “count to 10”. Fine with me, although I would rather be focused on the breathing. It allows me to calm the rush of adrenaline faster than counting. I have even seen people who hum to gain control. Whatever works for you is cool. The important part is to step away and give yourself a moment to regain control.
Next, you need to release the tension in your body. The adrenaline will have caused your jaw to tense up and/or your muscles to tense in preparation to either fight or run. Focus and release the built up tension. I tend to feel it in my arms and hands, so I shake them out, and roll my shoulders back. Release and relax.
Then comes the hard part. Listen. If you are in a heated discussion, take the time to listen (not just hear) the other person before replying. Yes I get it. That is a tough one. A yelling match in a bar or an argument with your spouse can be highly charged situations and the last thing you want to do is appear weak. But, as you will see, you are being the strong one. It is much more difficult to control anger than to give into it. You do not need to agree. You do not need to concede. But a controlled, measured response will have a significantly larger impact on the discussion, and your overall wellbeing, than just blowing your top. Be the voice of reason.
Finally, de-escalate yourself and the situation. Now that you have yourself under control, start to bring the anger level back down. If it is another person you are angry with, also try to bring THEIR anger level down. Get yourself out of the environment causing the problem, if possible. It is much easier to calm down when you change your surroundings. So…walk away. Focus on calming down. Focus on your breathing, deep slow breaths. You will regain your peace and the feelings of anger and any other negativity will ease. Do NOT allow yourself to bathe in negativity once you are alone. That means, no getting in your vehicle and yelling and hitting the steering wheel! No running off to the bathroom and spending 30 minutes muttering how you were right under your breath! Stay focused and in control. You do not need another adrenaline dump. Just relax.
In conclusion, feeling anger is natural and even important in certain situations. Your inner-peace is not dependent on suppressing anger. It is dependent on controlling your anger. Take your time and do the introspective work ahead of time. Gain distance and breathe. Release your tension by relaxing your jaw and muscles. Listen before responding. And finally, begin to de-escalate yourself and the situation.
You are in control of yourself. It is you and only you who is responsible for your reactions. We may all feel the burn, but whether we let it boil over and take our inner-peace and joy is OUR decision.