11 Ways to Work with Your Anger
Having come from decades of playing angry music in punk rock and heavy metal bands, anger became an intriguing emotion to me, and I wanted to research it when I entered into the field of psychotherapy. My anger did not display outwardly, as much of what society and culture view of anger, nor did it ruin my relationships, but I do believe it made me irritable, depressed, and passive aggressive.
The way I experienced anger was more turned inward; repressed and suppressed. The reason why anger became intriguing to me, is that I did not realize I was holding onto unresolved anger, and as a result I acted out in ways to channel that anger, such as dedicating a large portion of my teen and young adult life to thrashing out angry riffs on my guitar, banging my head, and belting out guttural screams on stage.
When I began working with couples and families, who likely came to me for my interest in anger, I quickly realized how damaging anger was on individuals and their relationships. I also realized how anger (which is not violence or aggression) could turn into violence and aggression that could put both partners in harms way, making the vulnerability model of couple therapy unsafe and contraindicated. As a result, I took my focus off of anger and do not work with couples in high conflict relationships.
Anger is a valuable emotion. It lets you know, something is wrong. Anger is a problem when it impacts people and/or their relationships and those around them in negative ways. For example, when anger is used to intimidate, manipulate, and/or control others, when it is reactive in nature, and/or when it is turn against one’s self. Anger is used more often in maladaptive ways, as opposed to constructive ways. There is a lot of good that can come from anger when used constructively. In fact, I believe it could solve a lot of our world’s problems if we could.
Outlined below are some ways to work with anger constructively when it is a problem.
- Acknowledge Your Anger is a Problem
If you don’t think your anger is a problem, but it is, your first hurdle is to admit it’s a problem.
- Identify Your Relationship with Anger
In the same way our current relationships are shaped by our past relationships, the same is true with anger. What did you learn about anger growing up through your family of origin, culture, and society? How did you see anger being used and expressed (or not expressed)? Were you allowed to express it? What happened if you did? Did you learn that anger was a way to establish power and control? Or did you learn that you should never be angry? What were the consequences of anger?
- Recognize Anger as a Natural Survival Response
Anger is a natural survival response. It communicates to us when something is wrong. Understanding this primary function of anger can help you see that anger serves a purpose. It can be an ally when people learn how to effectively work with it, such as removing oneself from unhealthy relationships, establishing healthy boundaries, and resolving repressed and suppressed emotions which become harmful to your mental and physical health.
- Identify the Real Cause of Your Anger
Anger is a strong emotion. Its primary purpose is to protect us from danger. When you experience anger, ask yourself first, “does the level of my emotion fit the observable facts?” For example, if you are experiencing extreme anger, or rage, it would fit the facts if your life, or someone else’s life you cared about was in danger. If the emotions, or level of emotions do not fit the facts, what facts would fit the emotion? Often when emotions are disproportionate to the situation, it’s something from your past your body and brain are being reminded of.
- Identify Your Needs
When you can identify the real cause of your anger, you have access to identifying your needs. Behind most angry feelings exists an unmet need. Understanding this need gives you an opportunity to communicate this need and potentially get it met – by you, or another. What was your need in the situation? Did you need to feel safe? Did you need to know you could trust your partner? Did you need to feel respected and valued?
- Effectively Communicate
There are several factors involved in effective communications. First and foremost, you must be emotionally regulated. Second, you are clear about the need and there is enough sense of self-worth in having that need met. Third, speak in “I” statements from your own experience, refraining from ‘you’ statements and blame. Fourth, you have a willingness and an ability to listen to the other side with an open mind. Fifth, you can identify where you are responsible. And sixth, you have a plan for negotiation, or to accept the reality and walk away.
- Eliminate Yourself from Igniters (Or Accept Your Reality)
Stepping away from situations that consistently incite anger is one effective strategy to saving yourself from creating or experiencing more situations that will wind you up in trouble with yourself or others. Allowing yourself distance from triggering events can free up time for you to manage your life and work on your anger. However; part of survival as a human being involves social connection, so if everything makes you angry there are many tools that can help you begin climbing your way out of this vicious cycle.
a. Learn conflict resolution skills
b. Learn effective communications skills
c. See an individual therapist who specializes in anger and depression
d. Join a support group
e. Take an anger management course
- Learn and Practice Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and/or Join a DBT Group
When anger gets you into trouble and impairs your ability to function normally in life, such as maintaining relationships, keeping jobs, and depression, cognitive and mindfulness interventions can be extremely useful. Dialectical Behavior Therapy is a combination of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and mindfulness techniques. Seeing a trauma-informed therapist, learning CBT skills and joining a DBT Group are options to get you started.
a. Cope ahead to set yourself up for success
b. Challenge your rigidity to ingrained beliefs
b. Get real with yourself: what is staying angry getting you?
c. What do you really have to lose?
- Exercise, Eat Right, and Practice Mindfulness and/or Meditation Daily
You don’t have to see a therapist or join a support group to begin managing and working with your anger now. Exercise and diet have been proven to be highly effective in boosting and maintaining mental and physical health. Many people that struggle to manage anger and depression find that exercise alone reaps astounding benefits and rewards. Similarly, practicing mindfulness or meditation for only 5 minutes a day and incrementally increasing the time can get you on the road to results you can feel.
- Practice Gratitude Daily
Another way to take hold of your emotions and avoid the the vicious cycle, is to express gratitude on a daily basis. Like meditation, this requires no money, no technology, and relatively no time. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. With time, you’ll likely be amazed with the results. You can journal, or do your gratitudes in your head, or get creative. You can set a specific time daily, such as in the morning before you get out of bed, or at night before you go to sleep. According to relationship experts, it takes 5 positive interactions to repair 1 negative interaction (Gottman, J. & J.). Think about this as your relationship with yourself.
- Avoid Rumination (At All Costs)
Judgment is a lifetime sentence to unhappiness. Ruminating about who and how people have wronged us, including the world we live in and the systems that rule them, will never get us out of the vicious cycle that anger can create. At all costs avoid ruminating about anything negative. Find a way to stop your negative thoughts from spinning out of control, and if you can, identify more beneficial thoughts to replace them. It can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a new habit, and an average of 66 days for the new behavior to become automatic (Healthline). A month to a year of building a new habit, compared to a lifetime of misery sounds like a winner.
If you see any errors in this information, please feel free to contact me. I welcome any input as well.