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What is anger?



Simply put, anger is an emotion like all other emotions. Emotions are signposts into our internal structure. It’s simply something we feel.

How do we become angry?

There is a direct and an indirect process of becoming angry. If we are referring to anger as an emotion like sadness, hurt, or joy, anger is simply a direct feeling response. So something happens, and we may react to it with feeling hurt, angry, or some other emotion.

However, anger can also be a secondary emotion. Many people (particularly males) are trained to accept the feeling of anger, but not to accept the feelings that may have preceded it; such as feelings of hurt, fear, or vulnerability. Sometimes when we feel hurt or vulnerable, we immediately jump to anger because that’s more acceptable to us. In this context, it becomes a secondary emotion, it’s the feeling we can tolerate rather than such feelings as hurt or vulnerability.

When does anger become unhealthy? How do I know?

Anger is unhealthy when it gets in the way of your functioning or your relationships; if anger is causing you to loose friends put your job in jeopardy, if people complain to you about your anger, if you hear people talking about you having a bad temper. These are signs that your anger is getting in your way, and therefore it’s unhealthy.

Is there a pattern and process to becoming angry?

When it’s a secondary emotion, there’s the process of moving from whatever the original emotion is to the anger, because it’s too hard to stay with the original feelings.
How does one’s anger affect other people? How does anger affect relationships?

In particular, the violence that women and children face (primarily from men) is a result of anger. Anger can very much affect other people if it’s tied into threat of violence, or into violence itself. It also tends to shut down the people who are around the angry person. Angry people may find their relationship becoming less open because people are afraid to argue back. This can be devastating, and ruin relationships.

What can I do when I’m feeling angry?

You can attempt to process it. Think through right and wrong. Get clear about what your underlying feelings are. Investigate how anger operates on a physical level. Take time to check your breathing, your heartbeat, whether your cheeks are flushed or your jaws tightened. This is what I call the Mind The Gap technique: create a gap between the emotion and its physical manifestation. This gives you a chance to step back and observe rather than get lost in your anger. (Incidentally this works for any intense feeling). 

Remember, anger is a feeling that is here today, gone tomorrow, but the pain and backlash we inflict on others during anger are harder forgotten. If the anger is so intense that processing and time-outs don’t help, the best next options are to release the anger through activity or towards inanimate objects. It’s also best if you do this alone, because even releasing anger on inanimate objects can be threatening to other people. After you get alone, you can do things like using a bat on a couch or pillow. Some other ideas for releasing anger might be playing a sport,  taking a pet for a walk, watching television, or reading a newspaper article. These are all excellent ways to take a time-out or release anger appropriately. Remember, the option that is NEVER available is hitting another person. *You have the right to be angry, but you do not have the right to hit someone.

I’ve been told to keep my cool and don’t get angry, but sometimes I can’t. I’m so frustrated!

The question is, do you have something to be angry about? Sometimes people treat us poorly, and don’t expect us to respond. If you’re in conditions which frequently upset you, then it makes sense to start looking for, or creating other conditions. So often we want to change what other people do that initiates our anger. That’s part of the anger problem; so often people do things differently than we want. Getting angry is not going to change what other people do, and usually does not change or improve the situation much. The key to resolving anger issues is to get in touch with what is going on inside yourself, and to take care of yourself. Being frustrated by your anger plays into being more angry. If you really are having a struggle with being angry, recognize it, and give yourself a chance to work with it, to figure out what’s fuelling it, and how you can let go of it. For a few people, emotions, particularly like anger, can become like a habit; addictive in their pattern. They get a release of endorphins every time they get angry. But most important to remember, is anger is best used if processed, rather than acted on spontaneously. Remember to Mind The Gap.

Sometimes I go back and forth from depressed to angry. Why?

It depends on where your anger is coming from, or where your depression is coming from. If you’re in a terrible situation or have been in a situation that is very hurtful to you, then at times you may feel sad and disillusioned about yourself and the future. And at other times you may be enraged at the situation, another person, or yourself. It’s important to examine what’s going on in your life. If things seem to be fine, yet you go back and forth between depression and anger, chances are that the anger is a cover up for the depression or vice versa. Depression can also occur if we’re in situations where we aren’t allowed to feel/show anger, then depression may be what we replace it with.

How do I let someone know I’m angry? Should I wait until I "cool down"?

Ideally, we stay very much in touch with our feelings and we let people know what those feelings are best while we’re still feeling them. Anger within the context of it being just an emotion,   like all other emotions, can be stated plainly, "I’m angry about xyz." However, because anger can be such a strong emotion, and feel so personal, many times we’re better waiting for some of the "heat of the moment" to cool down before we talk about what’s troubling us.

More often than not however, our "angry" feelings are primarily due to other feelings such as feeling hurt or abandoned. So what we can say to another person is, "I’m feeling hurt, abandoned and angry about what you just did". Unfortunately, what happens to a lot of people is they sit on things, and then it all comes out in an angry outburst. Within this context, it’s important to let a person know you’re angry in a way that’s not deliberately hurtful to them. It’s important to understand anger, and to view it not as a separate and unwanted feeling, but rather one of the many feelings. We need to be willing to let others know how we feel about all feelings, not just anger. Revealing feelings can leave us feeling vulnerable, and therefore, it is a true act of courage.

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