Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else… you are the one who gets burned… Buddha
When was the last time that you felt yourself getting angry with someone? A colleague? Your partner? Your son or daughter? Yourself? How did it feel at the time? As you think about the events that played out, would you like to find different ways to manage through the situation for a more satisfying and productive outcome? In this article, I would like to explore what are your choices in reacting to anger once it is triggered. By understanding what is going on inside us and around us, we have more choices on how we can manage or express our anger.
Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment (see note below)
What is Anger?
Anger is a normal and usually healthy, human emotion. It comes from a perceived threat to ourselves, someone we care about, our self-image, or our identity. It is useful as it protects us and it...
...can mobilize us to action. However, if it gets out of control, it can become destructive, leading to problems in our work and in our personal relationships. At that point, it can start to affect the overall quality of our life. It can make us feel out of control and that our actions are dictated by this powerful emotion. While there is something that triggers the anger, we actually create the anger within ourselves. We create the anger through our physiological response, our feelings and thoughts, and through our behaviors.
Why do something about anger?
Working through anger can significantly affect the outcomes in our work and personal lives. While we may not always be able to avoid a situation that triggers it, how we react to that trigger is where we have choices, choices on what we can do when the situation arises. If we let our anger take over, it can cause us to exaggerate the bad qualities of the person who has “done something to us” by focusing only on those aspects that irritate us, and ignore all their good qualities. If it gets out of control, we may start to act on those beliefs, even if the event itself may not have warranted such a response. We may also start losing objectivity and losing awareness of our own actions.
Ways of dealing with anger
The key is to find way to express our anger in a useful and effective manner. Expression is a way of conveying your anger that can be in the form of a reasonable rational discussion to an eruption of verbal or physical violence. Ideally, we can strive for the ability to express ourselves in an assertive, and not aggressive, manner by stating our concerns and needs clearly and directly, without hurting others or trying to control them.
Suppression of anger can lead to further problems in behavior and can significantly affect one’s health according to the American Psychological Association (APA). The APA mentions that it may be harmful to suppress the anger as it may manifest itself in other ways. If not allowed an outward expression, anger can turn inward on ourselves, which may cause various health problems (i.e. hypertension, or depression) or can lead to pathological expressions such as passive aggressive behavior (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on) or a personality that seems perpetually cynical and hostile.
Where to start?
Where a coach can help is by working with you through some simple steps to increase your awareness, serve as a mirror to reflect what is playing back to you, and help you to discover new choices and strategies that you can apply for a better outcome (and perhaps a lot less stress). As mentioned previously, there are three main components to anger: the physiological response, our thoughts/feelings, and our behaviors. It is helpful to understand what is going on for you in each of these in order to be able to bring about positive change in your interactions.
Awareness: First, we feel it. There is a physiological response that comes with anger. When we get angry, usually the first response is an increase in breathing rate. It is then followed by an increase in heart rate, arterial tension, muscle tension, and levels of hormones and chemicals in the brain and body. So becoming aware of what is happening to you as the anger arises is an important step so that you can recognize it so you can do something before it goes too far.
Observation – External: Start to observe what has actually happened that triggered the anger. Think about the things you saw, heard, read – leave out all the reasons why you “know” or think these things occurred. Just look at it like a movie. By stating what actually transpired as an observation, you may start to see things differently when you turn off what you believe are the motivations and causes behind the actions.
Observation – Internal: Now that you have seen the movie (External Observation), now let’s take a look inside at your thoughts, beliefs and assumptions. What was going through your mind as things happened? What were your assumptions about the motivations of the person “doing something to you?” What past events may be adding more meaning and fuel to the fire of today’s events that may never have been intended by the other person? What are your beliefs about the other person? After naming the all of the unflattering thoughts about that person, you might ask yourself if this is really true and if this person is really this bad? Sometimes when we tell someone else what we were thinking as the event played out, it can help us recognize how much we have added to the actual events occurring in front of us. You may also ask yourself, if another person did the exact same thing “to me” would I have reacted the same way? What is it about this person or this circumstance that has made me react this way?
If the trigger was something you did yourself, you might ask what is it that I am thinking or feeling inside that makes my reaction to something I did or didn’t do anger me so much? Is there some consequence, something affecting me or how I am perceived by others (identity). Why does this bother me so much?
Explore Different Perspectives: Sitting in their shoes (not your own) – What are the potential things going on for the other person that you thought was “doing something to you?” Could they have intended something other than what you believed? Could there be another reason for what they have done? If you were another person, let’s say a colleague, watching the events play out – what would their view of the situation be? Would the events that actually transpired warrant such a response from me? If not, what’s going on here?
Decide what you want to do about it: Now given what you may have discovered through this exploration, you might start to work with your coach on the various choices you have to manage the physiological, cognitive/emotional, and behavioral aspects of your anger. The key is to ensure you address all the three aspects of anger. Together you can work to generate new options that work for you in order to
A coach can help you work through these steps to gain better awareness, generate options, and choose the strategies and behaviors that you want to adopt or drop to better manage through your anger. Remember, learning to adopt new behaviors or drop unwanted behaviors takes time. But as you practice and monitor these new skills, you may feel a better sense of satisfaction in your work or personal relationships and you may also see a difference in how other people respond to you in return.
Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you find that anger is a common emotion for you, and keeping it under control is a challenge then perhaps you can explore whether it would help you to seek professional support or counseling. Some examples of these behaviors include: If your anger regularly causes you to do things you regret, hurts those around you, or is taking a toll on your personal relationships or if people are afraid of your reactions, you physically harm someone (or think of doing harm), you try to intimidate someone with your anger or you get into trouble with the law
American Psychological Association
The Science Daily
PBS: This Emotional Life on Anger
The Mayo Clinic