ANGER: The Good, The Bad, And How To Deal With It

Written by Neisha Potter on August 28, 2019

Managing anger is an indispensable aspect of curtailing conflict in your life. Managing anger
does not mean that you do not experience anger; anger itself is a normal emotion that everyone experiences, but managing anger simply refers to recognizing early warning signs that minimize anger outbursts and controlling your response.

It is necessary to recognize that there is a positive design to experiencing anger that naturally differs from the negative consequences of anger. From a positive perspective, anger tells you that something is wrong, perhaps you should not be involved with a person who continues to escalate your anger or a warning sign that you have been violated in some way. Anger in and of itself is not an issue, but the way in which you express your anger can be damaging to your relationships as well as your personal health. Looking unhinged due to anger outbursts also causes you to lose credibility.

Anger is often referred to as a secondary emotion because people express anger to mask a
primary emotion that cause them to feel more vulnerable. Expressing anger is a protective
factor disguising our primary emotions of feeling guilty, accused, violated, ashamed,
embarrassed, misunderstood, lonely, hurt, fear, or sadness. Anger is triggered through the
autonomic nervous system that regulates your bodily functions and the control system for the sympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for one’s fight or flight response. This response notifies the body that it is in danger and action is required. The more you take action and fight, the faster your body will respond to negative stimulus and the more often you will experience negative conflict. Neurons that fire together wire together, meaning, pathways are formed in the brain that reinforce your behavior, according to Neuropsychologist, Donald Hebb.

In order to calm the body, the parasympathetic nervous system must be activated, this is the part of the brain responsible for conserving energy and calming the body.

Becoming familiar with your unique anger triggers is essential to learning to manage your anger response. Is there a person that triggers your anger, or perhaps a place, a memory or thought, or a particular activity? If so, either avoid these people, places, or things, because engaging is unhealthy for you or learn to identify your warning signals so you can redirect and manage your anger. Early warning signs of anger may include, but is not limited to, a rapid heart rate, perspiration, muscle tension, being argumentative, shaky, sweaty, changes in breathing, scowling, headaches, being sick to your stomach, pacing, yelling, negative thoughts, or changes in your emotions such as feeling jealous or disrespected.

During conflicts, avoiding particular behaviors is a first step to learning how to manage your anger outbursts. John Gottman, Ph.D. and marital expert, teaches the four horseman, things to avoid during conflicts, which he identifies as criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness. His approach recommends avoiding name-calling, sarcasm, cynicism, eye-rolling, mockery, and blame. Instead, take turns, rephrase what you believe the person is trying to convey for clarity, and compromise on issues by being willing to give and take through negotiating. If the negotiations fail once put into practice, renegotiate.

It is essential to recognize the type of anger you experience whether you experience anger
internally, by holding it in either making yourself sick, with stomach aches, headaches,
migraines, and nausea, or holding it in trying to control it until it turns to explosive anger
towards others or yourself. External outward expressions of anger, also referred to as
aggression, include hitting, yelling, throwing things, behaving in a hostile manner, or internalizing feelings which eventually cause you to turn your anger toward yourself. The goals for anger control is to avoid both of these approaches to anger by learning to discuss anger in a way that is calm and solution-focused.

Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D. developed four components to nonviolent communication to connect and communicate with others without blaming or criticizing. It requires a person to observe what they see, hear, and recall. It utilizes the “I” statement approach to express one’s position about an issue, such as, “When I see this it causes me to feel a certain way.” Expressing feelings is another approach to communication that removes blame by talking about yourself, how you feel, not what the other person did or did not do. Expressing your needs is essential for any relationship, such as, “What I need is this because my values are.” We are focusing on what you are and what you need, not what others do or what they should be doing. Finally, requesting,

“What I’d like to request this, Would you be willing to, Would you like?” Learning how to
appropriately communicate with others, whether friends, spouse, partner, or a stranger, is your key to success to properly address conflict.

Implementing solutions to anger triggers to reduce symptomology of a potential anger outburst can encompass deep breathing; a good rule of thumb is to breathe in for four seconds, holding your breath for four seconds, and breathing out for eight seconds, no matter what count you choose to use, what’s most important is that the exhale is longer than the inhale. If you would like something to guide your breathing, utilize a balloon, blowing up a balloon can be helpful to take a deep breath, pause, and exhale into the balloon. There are also breathing applications that you can download to your phone to guide deep breathing exercises. Progressive muscle relaxation is another way to calm the body, tensing and releasing muscle groups from your head to your feet. Journaling is a good way to dump your thoughts, but be sure to handwrite them.

Handwriting requires different cognitive processing than typing which provides an opportunity to process the information, integrate thoughts, improve critical thinking, and organize information for emotional management. Research shows that writing by hand about your feelings, mindful coloring, painting, exercise, music, meditation, and/or having a conversation about your feelings of anger with a counselor or social support, can help you process feelings of anger. Remember talking is different than venting, and if you are going to vent, limit your venting to fifteen minutes or less, otherwise, you risk activating your sympathetic nervous system triggering your fight or flight mechanism and cause a negative arousal all over again.

Remember, anger is a normal and natural emotion, it is how we express and work through our anger that causes our anger to become unhealthy.

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned.”  — Buddha

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Neisha Potter
Neisha Potter is a happily married mother of four children with extraordinary compassion. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Florida, with well-rounded professional experience including the areas of physical and mental disabilities, substance abuse recovery, long term care, mental health and now operates her own private practice, Fern Ridge Counseling, LLC.