“Anger Dwells Only in the Bosom of Fools” (Albert Einstein)

If Einstein is correct, there must be a lot of fools out there! Anger is a normal emotion that we all feel from time to time; it is an appropriate response to abuse or some form of injustice. Anger is a warning sign that something is wrong.  Anger can also motivate us to create or change something.  But, if holding onto anger is foolish, as Einstein argues, then why is anger such a prevailing problem?  What are the benefits/payoffs of anger?  McKay and Rogers, in their work, “The Anger Control Workbook” name a number of benefits:

Anger reduces stress: Stress creates physical tension which can feel overwhelming at times.  Some have learned to cope with this by being angry, and often describe a physical release after a “blow-up”.  However, this release, or lack of tension is only temporary.

Anger gets you attention: Sometimes it can feel like we do not have a voice in relationships.  If you grew up in a home of yellers you will know what I mean.  Certain family dynamics teach us that the loudest is the one who is heard.  The loudest causes alarm and placation in others, but again, the payoff is very short.  Over time, people tend to distance from those who are chronically angry or loud.

Anger may be used for punishment or revenge: Anger can be a learned response to those who emotionally hurt you.  When hurt, you may use anger as a way of making them feel some of the pain you are feeling.  But, the more you get wrapped up in a pattern of an eye for an eye, the more you will find yourself alienating those you care about most, and may find yourself alone.

Anger helps you get what you want: An angry person can be an intimidating person, and can generate fear in the other.  Some intentionally use anger to intimidate, control, and get others to do things they want.  Think of the husband who berates his spouse for the house not being clean enough.  In order to avoid the anger, the spouse may appease the husband by diligently cleaning.

Anger hides emotional pain: Anger is often the way we have learned to express painful emotions such as fear, hurt, and sadness.  Some feel these emotions demonstrate weakness or vulnerability, so they cover this by being angry.  When you do not allow yourself to feel and process these core emotions, they will have power over you, and you may never know what it is like to feel safe and secure with another.

The payoffs of anger are short lived, the consequences are far reaching.  Those that are chronically angry often feel isolated, and have no close friends or relationships.  Angry people keep others at arms length, and often have a cynical view of the world and unreasonable expectations of others.  There is not just an interpersonal cost to anger, chronically angry people actually live shorter lives.  Anger can have a direct link to hypertension and cardiovascular disease; this is true for people who suppress or express their anger.  Since the costs are so high, what can we do about anger?  Here are some practical tips for helping you manage your anger effectively:

1 )Identify your triggers: We all have our trigger points, or soft spots if you like.  For some, it is feeling made fun of, or feeling taken advantage of, or not feeling listened to, or things not going one’s way.  It is imperative that we name our triggers and bring them into awareness.

2) Identify your body warning signs:  Most people feel that getting angry occurs as quickly as snapping two fingers or switching a light on.  This may be one’s experience but it is a myth to suggest that anger occurs so fast that you have no control over yourself.  Our bodies give us a clear warning sign for when we are about to get angry.  For example: your heart may start racing; feel sweaty; tightness in your chest; a rising feeling in your torso; heat in the back of your neck; ears become hot, or you may see red.  Once you have identified your body’s warning signs, you now have a choice whether to act on the anger, or implement some calming techniques.

3) Change your thinking: Anger derives from how you interpret your experience.  Your feelings are determined by your interpretation of an event rather than the event itself.  It is common to hear “You made me angry”, but this is not entirely accurate.  Your reaction to a situation can be what creates painful emotions.

4) Relax, take a deep breath: Tension is held in the body, and anger is no different.  Practice taking deep breathes from your diaphragm.  Once you recognize your body’s warning signs, stop and take a deep breath.

5) Ask yourself: What am I really feeling: Anger is often the way we express our primary emotions, i.e. we express hurt, sadness, or fear by getting angry.

6) Try expressing your core feelings: When you feel angry, ask yourself what your deeper feelings are and express those, for example, “I felt hurt when you made that sarcastic comment about my cooking.”

7) Practice self-care: Anger is choice; we can continue old coping strategies by getting angry, or we can do something different to care for ourselves.  For example, start exercising, eat well, minimize alcohol and caffeine, and start expressing your emotional needs.

Anger is a warning sign that something is not right.  It tells us that our emotional needs are not being met, or that our rights are being violated.  Anger is a normal emotion that everyone experiences, but when left unchecked, it can overwhelm us and destroy our lives and relationships.  Learn to manage your anger before it manages you.  Help is close at hand, care for yourself by reaching out to a professional.

Ellis Nicolson+associates have expertise in marital, couple, family and indiviudal counselling.  To book an appointment call 416-358-0290 or email ellis [at] ellisnicolson.com