Blog Short #44: How to Manage Your Anger
Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday, I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you. My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!
Of all the emotions we deal with, anger seems to be the one that causes the most distress and gets us in the most trouble. In raw form, it pumps up our energy while muting our objectivity and rationality. That’s a dangerous combination and can lead us to behave in destructive ways.
Alternatively, anger can inform us and be used constructively. In most cases, anger is a cover for underlying emotions, and if you can discern what those emotions and issues are, the way becomes clear as to how to address them.
Here are six of the most common underlying causes of anger.
This one is high on the list and often not recognized. Helplessness arises when you feel:
- Lack of control
You feel trapped or stuck and unable to see your way out of a situation. For example, you might be stuck in an abusive relationship or a job you don’t like. You could have financial problems that you see no way to resolve. Or it could be something more simple like having problems getting your cell phone provider to help with an error on your bill.
SOLUTION: Recognize that the anger is coming from a sense of helplessness or powerlessness, and use your thinking capacity to change your approach to solve the problem. That could mean getting help from someone who has more knowledge about the issue, getting some counseling, or going directly to the person in charge. In short, channel your emotions into focused action and don’t go it alone.
An angry reaction to being hurt occurs mainly from:
- Personal attacks or a negative characterization
- Being forgotten, ignored, or dismissed
If you feel attacked, a counterattack is a natural reaction. It’s protective. Instead of feeling vulnerable, you can shield yourself with an angry response.
SOLUTION: Allow the anger to come up, but don’t act on it. Let it sit awhile until it diffuses some and the underlying hurt arises. Ask yourself how and why you feel hurt, and decide if there’s any action you need to take to right it. You may need to make your feelings known to someone. You may need to recognize that the issue belongs to the other person and not to you. You may need to set a boundary. Decide, take action if warranted, and then let it go.
We often react to a loss with grief, but sometimes anger precedes that or comes later in the process. Situations where this occurs are:
- Loss by death
- Loss of a relationship
- Loss of job, home, status
Anger is one of the five stages of grief we go through when we lose someone, according to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. It serves a purpose in the process of resolving the loss and letting go of our sadness. The key is to feel the anger without acting out and recognize it for what it is.
Loss of a job, home, or status creates underlying feelings of powerlessness, which can surface as anger. Your anger might be specific to the situation. For example, you might feel you were mistreated, taken advantage of, or unfairly evaluated.
SOLUTION: In all cases of anger relative to loss, it’s best to let the anger come up, simmer a bit, but hold off on taking action. Identify underlying feelings such as helplessness, shame, or sadness. It’s helpful to talk it out with someone. If it’s a serious loss, therapy can help to work through the grief as it may take some time. Having someone with expertise in this area is quite helpful.
Stress comes in many forms. These three categories cover most of them:
- Physical distress such as illness, lack of sleep, exhaustion
Physical distress can make you irritable and short-tempered. You can address it by simply changing habits of sleep, eating, and exercise. Illness, however, may need a comprehensive approach, including a combination of therapy and medical treatment, depending on its severity.
Overwhelm, worry, and anxiety often surface together, although usually one of them is more prominent. Either way, they can build up and manifest as anger and feelings of powerlessness. Once anger surfaces, it’s a warning that you need to stand back, take an objective view of what’s going on and what’s causing your distress, and then decide how you can change the situation(s) that are perpetuating it.
SOLUTION: You need to regain the upper hand. Start by taking time out to review what’s happening from a distance. Identify and challenge your distorted thoughts. Talk over the issues with someone who can serve as a sounding board. Evaluate what you can change, and create a plan of action to deal with specifics. Get in front of it instead of behind it.
5) Invasion of territory
The underlying issues here are reactions to:
- Rearrangement of one’s things or throwing them away
- Changes in routines
- Feeling emotionally or physically invaded
Some of us are more territorial than others – not because we’re selfish, but because we’re more sensitive to changes and transitions. If this description fits you, you may not like to have your things disturbed or routines interrupted. You may not like surprise changes in schedules or plans. You may need your own space, like having your own room or office that no one can disturb.
Abrupt changes, removal or messing with your stuff, or interruptions to your routines or schedules can make you angry. These things feel more like an assault than just a change or shift. The underlying feeling is usually anxiety.
SOLUTION: Recognize these tendencies and work on practicing flexibility. As situations arise that bring on a reaction, self-talk yourself down from the ledge and work on taking things in stride. You can also tell someone when you’re reacting and why, which helps you diffuse your irritation and inform the other person how they might better approach you. For example, you might say, “I don’t do well with surprise changes. I’m much better when I have some notice.” Ask for accommodations while also building in flexibility.
6) Triggers from past experiences
The last item on our list has to do with past experiences and internalized triggers that can set us off. These usually have to do with:
- Our upbringing and family issues
In these cases, we associate current situations with past experiences that have led us to feel personally attacked, unworthy, afraid, oppressed, humiliated, demeaned, or any other negative personal reaction or evaluation. What happens is that we project onto a current situation or person the experience or pattern from our past and react to it as though it’s the same. Sometimes it is similar, but often it’s not.
SOLUTION: The solution is to recognize the projection and correct it. That’s not easy, however, as sometimes we have no awareness of it. We feel anger and underlying feelings such as shame or fear. In these cases, it’s best to engage in therapy to gain insight into our histories and identify how old issues are cropping up in the present.
There is a good deal of overlap in the causes of anger, and in most cases, helplessness accompanies one of the others. If you keep that in mind, you can always start with the question, “What do I feel is out of my control here?” The answer to that question will help you refine the underlying issues and provide the right solution or response.
Hope you have a great week!
All my best,