‘Holding anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.’
Anger has had a bad press. It’s generally thought to be a bad thing and, sure, it can be harmful when unjustified and badly handled. It raises our stress levels, and if it continues causes no end of physical and mental health problems..
However there’s another side to it:
Properly controlled and directed anger can be constructive if it generates creative energy
Anger is a normal, healthy emotion when managed well. Anger has driven countless individuals to struggle against slavery, poverty, apartheid and other injustices. A disgusted ‘I’ve had enough!’ can turn your life around if it spurs you to action.
Anger can also motivate others, for instance, the sports coach who gets the best out of his team because they are scared of his reaction if they play badly.
If you never responded with justified anger, you could storing up trouble. If you don’t let people know when you are upset with their behaviour, they’re likely to go on doing it. Then the feelings grow, gnawing away at your self respect.
But going to the other extreme is just as bad. If you are continually angry or every trivial event triggers angry feelings, there’s little chance of you being taken seriously and every chance you’ll make yourself ill. This is what the Buddha meant when he said, ‘You will not be punished for your anger, but by your anger.’ In other words, you are the one who has to live with it.
The trick is to know when and how to be angry. You always have the choice to respond with anger or not; no-one can force you to be angry unless you want to. This is not what most of us have been taught to believe – but it’s true.
What causes anger?
Anger has one source only: some expectation is not being met. Something in the environment is not to your liking.
There are two sorts of anger:
- One is the quick outburst, which may be intense but is soon over and swiftly forgotten. This is usually harmless, and is an effective way of releasing pent-up emotions. Just make sure you get your feelings across without breaking anything, injuring another person or (if it’s important to you) damage your long-term relationship.
- The other is the slow burning type, which is not so easy to get over. The pressure builds up until one day it erupts, triggered by some trivial incident which isn’t itself the reason for the blow up – the real cause is the suppressed emotion. Try not to let this happen: it’s always better to express your feelings immediately, not wait until resentment has hardened.
How about you? How do you deal with anger. Do you try not to show it? Or let fly? Do you believe it’s better to express your anger or keep quiet? How did your family deal with anger when you were a child? Is there something in your background that makes you react the way you do?
Seven tips for coping with anger
I’ve gone through angry phases in my life and had to learn to deal with it. Here are seven steps that I’ve found helpful:
Take a deep breath and count to ten
If you feel anger coming on, before lashing out, stop, take a deep breath, count to ten and exhale slowly. It really does work.
- Is my anger justified?
- Have I got my facts straight?
- Did the other person mean any harm?
- Am I reacting like this because I’m over-tired, stressed or just fed up?
- Am I taking it out on an innocent person?
- Am I likely to do something I’ll later regret?
- Will it get the outcomes I want?
Examine your motives
Behind a great deal of anger is an attempt to make someone feel guilty, or manipulate them into doing what you want. Ask yourself if you are being reasonable. Would it be OK for others to demand that you always comply with their expectations? So why should you they fall in line with yours? Isn’t it better to become more tolerant and accepting?
Become more assertive
Find a way to release your anger by becoming more assertive. Say how you feel appropriately and immediately, not some time later when memories have faded and resentment has built up. If you feel things are getting too heated, walk away. Go for a stroll to cool down.
If you anticipate an angry confrontation, think it through and mentally rehearse. Decide what you want to achieve and write down the points you want to make.
Once you’ve had your say, forget it. Don’t stew over what you could have said. There’s no point.
Own your anger – and let others own theirs
Finally, if someone is angry with you, remember, it’s not your anger – it’s theirs, and you don’t have to match it if you don’t want to.
©David Lawrence Preston 19.9.2018
Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @David_L_Preston
How To Books, 2004