Take a moment to remember a time you expressed anger. You might envision a situation in which you physically or verbally lashed out at someone. You may remember standing up for yourself or someone else. You might have in mind a time when your expression of anger caused you regret, or embarrassment, or a sense of triumph. Keep this situation in mind as you read about the purposes, causes, and healthy expressions of anger.

Anger is a wide spectrum of emotion that can be as mild as feeling irritated and as intense as being enraged. Anger occurs in response to threats, whether these threats are real or only in your imagination.1 Some examples of “threats” are a conflict or disagreement, an unfair situation, betrayal, and feeling humiliated.2 Other states that can lead to anger are hunger, frustration, exhaustion, physical pain, and hormonal changes.3 You can be angry at a person or at a situation; fearful things such as worry or trauma can underlie anger as well.

Exploding–or Bottling it Up?

Some people are naturally angrier than others. Factors that contribute to this continuum are genetics and family upbringing.4 Strong expressions of anger may have occurred often in your family and become an ingrained habit of response. On the other hand, many people in our society aren’t taught how to manage their anger. Often people get the unspoken message that anger is not acceptable to express. The problem with that unspoken message is anger gets bottled up and people don’t know what to do with it.5

Understanding Anger is Essential

Anger in itself is a natural and healthy emotion. It gives you courage to fight against threats instead of simply running away from them.6 A purpose of anger is to oppose whatever is causing you threat or pain. Pay attention to your anger, because it signals you that something is wrong. Anger can also stem from compassion towards those being treated unjustly, and it can inspire you to fight for what is right.7 Anger can also be leftover from past experiences.8 It is worth exploring whether there is old anger festering and surfacing when present experiences trigger memories from the past. If you have experienced a traumatic situation in the past, situations in the present that remind you of that trauma may bring old anger to the surface.9 Anger may also surface when you feel that your sense of worth or dignity has been attacked or threatened.10 Talking to a counselor may help you uncover sources of anger that have yet to be resolved in your life.

Sometimes Life is Unfair

Sometimes situations and problems in life are very hard and difficult. Anger is often a healthy and normal response to these painful experiences. Not every problem will have a solution. You may not be able to control situations and problems, but one thing you can control is how you handle yourself during them. 11

The Anger Myth

There is a myth that letting all your anger unleash will “get it off your chest”.12 However, psychologists have discovered that unleashing aggressive anger only increases one’s anger. Losing your temper doesn’t actually help solve situations, although it often seems like a good idea in the heat of the moment. Anger can actually be destructive and unhealthy if it is not handled appropriately.

Don’t Push Anger Down

Though you don’t want to harm others, you want to avoid suppressing your anger, which means pushing your feelings under the surface.13 It is physically harmful for you to deny your anger; some studies show hypertension and high blood pressure may result. It is also psychologically harmful for you to push your angry feelings away without addressing them. When anger is not expressed outwardly, it can be turned inwardly towards yourself. You may think there is something wrong with you instead of with the person or situation that caused your anger. Turning anger inward like this may cause depression.14

Another problem with not expressing your anger is that it may come out in other ways. Have you ever met someone who is continually cynical or antagonistic? Maybe the person hasn’t addressed anger from the past. What about someone who pretends like everything is okay, but then gives you the silent treatment? This could be “passive-aggressive”.15 Such a person hasn’t addressed the angry feelings, but they come out in subtle, “passive” ways. Also watch for anger that is hidden within sarcastic comments or mean jokes.16

Assertive Means Stating What You Want and Need!

The good news is that there are healthy ways to express anger. Being assertive instead of aggressive is one of these ways. Assertiveness is being honest about what you need and about how you want to meet that need.17 You can do this in a way that does not hurt yourself or others. If being assertive does not apply to the current reason you are angry, try re-channeling your anger by directing your energy elsewhere. Exercising can do wonders to release pent-up energy. Journaling, poetry, drawing, painting, woodworking, or other artistic outlets provide ways to release the energy generated by anger.

Take a Deep Breath…

You can also try to calm yourself down physically. Try counting from one to ten to calm the anger response. Give your heart rate a few minutes to calm down. With a little time, the angry feelings will subside18 and you can begin to think more clearly. To help yourself calm down, a simple relaxation technique is breathing deeply from your diaphragm, moving your abdomen in and out (not shallow breaths from your chest), while slowly repeating a word such as “relax” or a calming phrase. You can also use your imagination to conjure up a relaxing picture or scene in your mind.19 Try this technique the next time you are in a frustrating situation.

Avoid Black and White Thinking and Other Errors

Often, when angry or frustrated, people think in black and white categories or over generalize. They have thoughts such as “This always happens!” or “This is a horrible situation!”20 Similarly, anger can be caused by having expectations and demands about the way life should go. When life is unfair, we may be hurt and disappointed, which can lead to anger.

To combat these errors, it will be helpful to tell yourself that this is not the worst situation that could happen and that you can tolerate it. You can tell yourself that being extremely upset is not going to help the matter. It will help for you to become aware of the hurt and disappointment you feel rather than to get angry.21 Talk it out with a trusted friend or colleague. Write down your thoughts; this will help you learn what your blind spots may be.

Want Some Help?

If you have concerns about anger, or any issue, consider personal counseling as a step toward a solution. To make an appointment with a member of the Georgetown College Student Wellness Center’s counseling staff for help on this or any issue, please call 502-863-7074. Counseling staff include:

Lynda Fereday
Russell Hall
Sarah Joyner
Ruth Riding-Malon
Jean Tzou
Audrey Wagner
Dr. Macy Wyatt
Dr. Edward Marshall

By Audrey Wagner


Endnotes:
1 Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia (2007). Anger. Retrieved on February 2, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anger
2 Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
3 Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
4 American Psychological Association (2007). Controlling Anger—Before it Controls You. Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/topics/controlanger.html on February 6, 2007.
5 American Psychological Association
6 Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
7 Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
8 Help and Advice Topics (2007). Managing Anger. The University of Sheffield. Retrieved from http://www.shef.ac.uk/counselling/advice/anger/manage.html. on February 2, 2007.
9 Help and Advice Topics.
10 Help and Advice Topics.
11 American Psychological Association
12 American Psychological Association
13 American Psychological Association
14 American Psychological Association
15 American Psychological Association
16 Help and Advice Topics.
17 American Psychological Association
18 American Psychological Association
19 American Psychological Association
20 American Psychological Association
21 American Psychological Association