“Rage that has nowhere to go is redirected against the self, in the form of depression, self-hatred, and self-destructive actions.” Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. “The Body Keeps the Score”
If you are human living in 2021 it’s likely you are encouraged to stuff down your emotions or you weren’t allowed to express your emotions as a kid so you have trouble with emotions now.
We are told lies like, “emotions are weakness.” But that’s a limiting belief. Emotions are amazing… well, they can be if we manage them right!
Emotions help guide us to what gives us joy and satisfaction. When we are happy, we acknowledge “yes, I want more of this.” And when we are mad or uncomfortable we think, “something isn’t right here, how can I change this?”
In this article we are going to talk about the most misunderstood and weaponized emotion of all: anger. We’ll discuss what anger is, how it gets a bad rep, and 5 ways you can manage anger productively.
What is Anger?
Anger is when we feel there is a real or perceived slight against us. This can happen if we think we are being treated unfairly or differently than others, if we feel we are giving more in a relationship than others are giving to us, or if we think someone is treating us unfairly.
Typically a secondary emotion, anger is usually secondary to sadness. So if you are feeling angry you could actually be sad. However, since it feels empowering to be angry (and vulnerable to be sad) you may focus on anger instead of sadness.
Typically anger is associated with intense and hostile actions like yelling, slamming, screaming or aggression. But anger does not equate to hostility. People show anger in different ways.
How Anger Gets a Bad Rep
Merriam-Webster defines anger as “the feeling that makes someone want to hurt other people, to shout, etc.” (Ref) And anger is portrayed in movies and TV with a man pounding his fists on a table or slamming a door or punching something.
Many of us likely witnessed someone get aggressive or hostile and blame it on anger. But anger is not what leads to these tantrums and actions. Anger does not make someone shout or hurt another, poor emotional management does.
Emotional Management vs Anger
Anger is an emotion. Emotional management is a response to emotions. Just like with any other emotion, when you are angry you can choose how you respond.
We may not realize we have the choice because we weren’t taught how to manage our emotions. But the fact is, if we want to have a happy life we need to be focus on emotional management.
Previously, if I were angry I would shut down, be a ball of nerves or I would feel guilt and shame for feeling angry. All of this leading to self-destructive thoughts and actions.
But once I started acknowledging anger was a sign that I felt slighted or sad and that feeling angry didn’t need to equate to screaming or hostility, my world changed.
For example, a man I was seeing did something offensive. I was visibly annoyed and while I was collecting my thoughts he said “you seem angry.” I responded “obviously I am angry, if I wasn’t angry it would be a sign of low self-worth.”
Instead of feeling shame for being angry, I embraced the anger and realized I was right to feel it. I then decided our narrative stops here, and I left. There was no screaming or yelling or any hostility. Just an annoyance, acknowledgement of anger and an exit stage left.
Instead of hostility, other ways to respond to anger can be taking deep breaths, playing with puppies, going for a walk, taking a map, drinking some hot tea, writing in a journal, meditation—the options are endless.
Anger and Rage
But it doesn’t stop there. You are also allowed to express anger with rage as long as it will not hurt you or others. In fact, expressing anger with rage can feel amazing!
I come from a dysfunctional family. And I used to get angry when I would think about the way I was treated as a child. But I did not know what to do with the anger—I did not know emotional management.
Sometimes I would be so angry I would freeze. I was overwhelmed and would pace back and forth in my house, scream, cry. I didn’t know what to do with these feelings and it made me upset because I didn’t want to hurt myself or others.
Somehow I stumbled upon boxing and I’m lucky I did. It helped me not only work through anger, it helped me build confidence in my autonomy and agency. I must have hit a boxing bag thousands of times while working through my anger.
Then something incredible happened. The more I acknowledged and worked through the anger, the less anger I felt. Pretty soon I stopped boxing because I was angry and now I box because I genuinely enjoy it.
Now, when I think about my past I am still angry. But I don’t have to manage the anger. It is a fleeting emotion. An emotion that is then pushed aside by my feelings of pride and love for how far I’ve come. But I needed to acknowledge and allow myself to be angry to get to where I am today.
5 Steps to Manage Anger
The first step in managing anger is understanding what it is. As we talked about in the definition above, anger is a perceived or real slight against you. It’s when we feel we are being treated unfairly. And is typically a secondary emotion to sadness.
The second step is acknowledging when you feel angry. Typically anger is associated with feeling flushed or your heart racing. So the next time you feel your heart beating fast, or your blood “boiling” stop for a moment and reflect. Ask yourself, “am I feeling angry?”
Step three is to separate yourself from the emotions. Emotions come and go. You are a Being not an emotion. So instead of saying “I am angry” say “I am acknowledging feelings of anger.”
From there we go to Step 4 which is exploration. This involves understanding where the anger is coming from. You’re a detective at this point. Ask yourself, “why am I feeling angry?”
Sept 5 is the height of emotional management. This is where you decide how you want to respond in order to stay align with your goals. Remember, anger doesn’t equate to yelling and screaming. Anger can lead to meditative breathing, doing a check-in, talking to a friend, taking a timeout or going for a walk.
Example of Using The Steps
My father was angry and aggressive. He had horrible road rage, and I followed suit. So if someone cute me off while I was driving I would get angry and aggressive. I would beep, yell and curse. Mind you, I am not proud of this, but at the time I did not know any better.
Once I started focusing on emotional management, I used the 5 steps above to understand my road rage. Keeping in mind that anger was an emotion stemming from me feeing slighted, I wondered why being cut off bothered me so much. Paying attention to my responses, I focused on when my heart was racing or if I felt hyped up when someone cut me off.
From there I reminded myself I was feeling anger, anger was momentary and I was not anger. After some reflection, I realized that the anger I was acknowledging was stemming from the fact that I wouldn’t cut someone off in traffic.
So it bothered me when others cut me off because I felt others were not being as considerate as I am to them. Then I realized, “wow, I am a super considerate person, good on me.”
I went from being angry to smiling and congratulating myself. After I was cut off I decided I was angry, it was momentary, and I continued driving as I normally would. I forgot I was cutoff by the time I got to my destination. Now people rarely cut me off, or I barely notice it. If I do notice someone cutting me off I assign them positive intent.
Anger is Amazing
Anger gets a bad rap, but it’s actually a great resource that will help us find self-love and direct us towards what we want.
Acknowledging anger can get us out of situations that are negatively impactful to us or where we aren’t being treated fairly. It can get us unstuck, have stronger relationships, build connections with yourself and others.
When we acknowledge anger (any emotion for that case) we lessen its power, identify what is making us feel unsatisfied and we can work to correct it or overcome stress cycles we may be in.
So allow yourself to be angry, acknowledge it does not equate to hostility or aggression and instead focus on why you are feeling angry and how you can act to get closer to your happiness and satisfaction.