You’ve probably heard that anger is bad, that you should always be in control, and that emotion should never be shown.There seems to be a global conspiracy against anger: we should all ‘keep cool’, ‘stay in control’, and somehow ignore the bad driver who nearly caused a fatal crash or that terrible argument with your partner.
And that’s very wrong.
It all starts from misunderstanding the natural role of anger. Let’s make things a bit more clear…
Anger is Part of Us
Have you ever shown an angry picture of yourself to the population of a remote island? Probably not — it sounds like a very weird way to spend your holiday! Dr Paul Elkman spent most of his life researching basic human emotions all around the world.
It’s not surprising to discover that we all get angry. Research has proven that anger is one of the universally recognizable emotions. Anywhere in the world, if you show a photo of an angry person, everyone will recognize the emotion that is being displayed.
When you get angry, your facial expressions and body posture communicate that damage is being done and that you are prepared to do something about it.
Now, you might think that you could just say something like: “You are damaging me, stop it” Instead of getting all worked up. Unfortunately, verbal messages are processed by an evolutionarily younger part of the brain. Emotions convey your message in a way that words cannot.
Anger is Healthy
What happens if you decide not to feel angry and manage to restrain yourself? Unexpressed anger can lead to self harm. You could develop an ulcer or other physical illnesses. Psychological problems such as alienation might appear. Anger might also help assert yourself: expressing your own needs and making sure they are met.
What you say and do when angry might be unhealthy
A client of mine used to routinely have fights with bad drivers who made a mistake that could have caused an accident. He would get very angry, follow the car, stop it, and try to start a fight. His reasoning was: he’s wrong, I’m angry, I’ll hurt him. He later managed to change his ways, accepting that he had every right to be angry and no right to punch the object of his anger in the face!
Anger is no excuse to verbally and physically abuse others.
How to Control Anger
1. Now is the time to feel angry – Anger naturally evolved to help us deal with the present. If you find yourself constantly angry, your anger might be masking other emotions like fear and sadness. The next time you feel angry, try asking yourself: ‘Am I angry-afraid, angry-sad or angry-angry?’
2. Remember that you can feel and think at the same time – There is a popular myth that feeling and thought can’t go together. The reality is that no one shuts down your brain when you get angry: you still have the capacity to think, even if it might be harder than normal.
3. Choose – We have the capacity to choose how to express our feelings. In the workplace, expression of anger might need to be limited, while at home it’s important to find a constructive way to express your feelings.
4. Use Action/Feeling statements – A good way to communicate your anger is to say “When you do (action) I feel (feeling).” If the situation allows it, shouting an Action/Feeling statement is another interesting option! Remember that when speaking of an action it’s important to characterize it in strictly descriptive terms: only what the person did, not why you think he did it.
5. Express your anger, then go away – If channeling your anger in non abusive ways becomes too difficult, you still have the option to briefly express it in an acceptable way and then leave immediately.
For those with anger issues, the ability to control anger and emotions can be developed through an anger management program.
As a Counselor, Marco helps people living a happier life from the comfort of their own home. To read more great posts from Marco, check out Even Happier.