Human beings get angry. That’s simply a fact of life. If your heart is pumping and your lungs are breathing there are going to be times when you get angry. Anger is one of the emotions that God has given humans the ability to experience.
That God gave humans the ability to feel angry tells us that the emotion of anger isn’t a problem in itself. It’s not abnormal and it’s not wrong to experience anger. However, anger can become problematic or disadvantageous. It can cause harm or take on destructive qualities when it starts to control you or is brought about for the wrong reasons. Holding onto anger can also contribute to health conditions.
This article has three main aims:
- To discuss why it’s important for you to have a realistic view of anger.
- To help you to better understand anger, especially the warning signs.
- To give you tools that will help with healthy attitudes towards anger, including taking responsibility.
Anger as a Normal Emotion
The best starting point for understanding and managing anger is to look at it differently. Many people who struggle with anger tend to see it as their enemy. That’s an unhelpful position to start from because when we look at something with predetermined negativity our ability to learn about it is significantly reduced.
A negative viewpoint means we’re not likely to accept it, and the combination of these things mean we’re not able to work on handling or managing anger.
It’s much easier and more effective to understand anger (or anything else for that matter) when we view it with more of an open mind rather than making an automatic judgment. A judgment of anger as being ‘bad’ can make us tend to avoid addressing its causes and solutions. Take away the preconceptions and view it as an object, and you’re better able to see it as something that can be dealt with.
Dealing with Anger: What to Do
It can be hard to imagine viewing anger as anything other than ‘bad’ or ‘ungodly’. One helpful way of assessing anger is to ask ourselves whether it’s beneficial for us to be angry in our current situation. What we often forget is that anger can be advantageous as well as disadvantageous.
Different circumstances can prompt us to become angry for different reasons. Although we might have been conditioned to see anger as uniformly bad, there are still situations when it’s actually a good thing.
Many people will struggle to see it that way, however. Most of us have been conditioned by our experiences to have the impression that anger is inescapably a bad thing. Let’s take a look, then, at some examples of ways in which anger can be advantageous, as well as the more well-known disadvantages of anger.
Anger can be advantageous in the sense that it can:
Indicate that something might be wrong
Because we live in a fallen world, things are going to go wrong and there are going to be issues that anger can actually alert us to. For example, if someone seems to be manipulating you to do something that wouldn’t actually be good for you, anger can emerge to warn you about the problem.
Help you in a threatening situation
There are dangerous situations that we can find ourselves in, and the threats we face can come from other humans, locations or things. Anger is helpful in the sense that it can help you to survive a dangerous situation. For example, anger can help you if you need to fight off someone who’s attacking you or to climb a wall to escape. Anger produces adrenaline that can be beneficial in these types of situations.
Give you motivation
There’s no denying the fact that we’re often motivated by our emotions. Love, for example, tends to motive us to give to others. Sadness, when we see someone else in pain, motivates us to give comfort. Like these other emotions, anger can be excellent at motivating us.
One example of this might be anger towards people who speed down residential streets that then motivates us to campaign for speed bumps on our street. This has worked in practice for Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD). The campaign was started as a result of a mother’s anger after her daughter was hit and killed by a drunk driver.
Disadvantages of Anger
You’ll be more familiar with the disadvantages of anger, but let’s have a look at some examples:
Physical health problems
When you hold on to anger or frequently experience prolonged anger, the physical changes caused by anger-arousal may lead to physical health issues.
Being too defensive to solve problems
People with an explosive temper often find that their thinking processes are impaired. This results in skewed perspectives and a reduced ability to use logic and rational thinking to resolve issues.
Anger can have an alienating effect on other people to varying degrees. Many people have lost relationships because of issues with anger. At the very least, persistent angry outbursts cause strained relationships.
Preventing the identification of underlying feelings
One important thing you need to remember about anger is that it’s an emotion that often masks underlying issues. For long-standing anger issues, it’s likely that the original emotion wasn’t anger. This is often the case when people have been hurt by others. The original hurt and pain become masked by anger.
Understanding Your Anger
For successful anger management, you need to learn about it. The truth is, the more we know about our anger, the better equipped we are to gain control over it – rather than it controlling us.
Understanding your warning signs is an important step in getting control of your anger. These warning signs are alerts that tell you that you’re beginning to experience anger – and the sooner you become aware of the emotion, the sooner you can put a stop to it if it’s unhelpful in the situation you’re in. It’s easier to rein things in when anger is at a low level compared to when it’s escalated and is out of hand. It’s important to remember, though, that warning signs will be different for every person.
Some examples of warning signs are:
- Breathing changes
- Heart rate increasing
- Jaw clenching
- Tense muscles
- Biting your lip
- Craving a substance such as nicotine or alcohol
- Talking louder
- Reduced levels of patience
- Urge to withdraw
- Feeling like you want to lash out
This isn’t a comprehensive list. It’s important that you learn to recognize your own warning signs.
Recognizing Anger Patterns
As well as understanding your warning signs, another key to getting in control of your anger is understanding patterns that emerge regarding your experience of anger. The more we understand these things, the better able we are to be proactive in managing them. Recognizing patterns means that we can take steps to avoid situations (where possible) that can cause unhelpful anger.
The best way to discover patterns is to chart the episodes of anger as they happen. Of course, this process will take time, but the more you chart your episodes the easier it is to recognize the patterns. Examples of patterns might be a tendency to get angry in a certain place, with specific people, or when a certain topic is raised that you don’t want to discuss. Often these patterns are indicators that there are unresolved issues that are prompting the unhealthy anger.
One counselor had a client who really struggled with anger issues until she realized that one major contributing factor to her anger was hunger. As the client charted her episodes of anger, she saw that she frequently got angry when she’d skipped a meal.
It was a huge revelation that something so easily resolved was at the root of her issues with anger. Hunger wasn’t the only issue causing her anger but recognizing the need to eat regularly enabled her to manage her anger much more effectively and leave her free to deal with other unresolved issues contributing to her anger problems.
Here’s a step-by-step method for charting your episodes of anger:
- Write down everything that happened before the episode. It’s important to record even the smallest details in order to effectively identify patterns. For example feelings of loneliness, being in pain, negative thoughts.
- Write down all the details about the episode of anger. In what way did you express the anger? What did it look like? Here’s an example: my face was red, I was shouting, and I yelled at my partner, “You’re always making plans without me!” I stormed into the kitchen and grabbed a tub of ice cream from the freezer and ate the lot.
- Write down what happened afterwards. For example: After I stormed upstairs to our bedroom, my partner left me for a while and then came upstairs and apologized for upsetting me. I was still annoyed with him, so I ignored him.
It’s really important to capture all the details of each episode you experience. Things like your tone of voice, how you felt, what thoughts were running through your mind, and how you behaved are all details that will help you to better understand your anger. It’s these details that enable you to recognize your warning signs, anger patterns and figure out what underlying issues are causing your anger to get out of hand.
Dealing with Anger: Taking Responsibility
Understanding your anger puts you at a great advantage! Gaining insights into your behaviour and the triggers for it is a huge part of the battle to stop anger controlling your life. The other major part of the battle is, however, the part that people often struggle with the most. It requires you to make changes in the way you do things.
In this part of taking back control of your anger, you need to have the right kind of mindset. It’s important for you to believe that you can take control. This is vital because it stops you from feeling like a helpless bystander as anger runs roughshod over your life. You need to gain a sense of empowerment and stop focusing on all the times when your anger controlled you. When you can shift the way you think about your anger, you can start to shift things in your life, too.
A crucial aspect of this stage is to create coping statements. These are the things that you can draw on and remind yourself of whenever you recognize the warning signs of anger. In the same way that warning signs are different for everyone, the coping statements that work for you are going to be individual to you. Effective coping statements will depend on your background and the kinds of things that prompt your anger.
Whilst it’s not possible to give you a list of coping statements that will work for you, here are some examples that may help you to formulate your own:
- I can cope with this. I can remain in control.
- It’s not worth getting upset about this. It’s a small matter in the grand scheme of life.
- They’re baiting me, but I don’t have to take the bait!
- Stop! Slow it down, remember to breathe. Relax.
One other important tool for handling anger is developing skills in confronting others effectively. The way that we communicate and interact with other people can have an impact on the situation we’re in. Ineffective communication often leads to tension and conflict, and these are also often precursors to anger.
Effective communication is a skill that can be learned and practiced in order to reduce anger episodes. Some techniques for communication include using “I” statements, active listening to others, and repeating back to the other person to clarify that you’re understanding them right.
So many episodes of anger are the result of misunderstanding what others are saying. It can be helpful to look at other strategies for effective communication – there are a lot of them.
Christian Counseling for Anger Management
Whilst it’s possible for you to learn to control your anger using these techniques, controlling anger doesn’t deal with the underlying issues that cause it. It can, therefore, be helpful to visit a therapist licensed in mental health.
They are trained to help people deal with underlying issues by uncovering the roots of these issues. Christian counsellors can give you the support that you need to deal with your underlying issues and walk free from enslavement to anger.
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