Understand anger and change it to its healthier alternative
We have all felt it before - Lord knows I have - but what exactly is going on in us when we are experiencing anger? What's the healthier alternative? And can we change "Unhealthy anger" to its healthier counterpart?
Anger may be an emotion that we cannot remove from our lives, but the truth is that life is much richer when we learn not be reactionary and responsive to it. In not responding, noticing and naming the emotion we begin the diminish it of its power, giving us a greater sense of control well-being. Two fitting quotes on anger from two inspirational people are:
"You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger."
"Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding."
Anger is a negative internal feeling state that is associated with rigid expectations, fantasies of revenge, and physical sensations such as muscle tension, rapid heartbeat and feeling warm. Anger is inferred from a point of view that the self or another has violated one's personal rule, or another poses a threat to one's self-esteem. It has also been described as temporary insanity.
Although anger does not always lead to a cussing match or a full-on fist fight, aggression is almost always preceded by anger. Aggression, as we all know, comes with negative consequences in society and to ourselves such as loss of relationships, physically hurting someone or yourself, prison and death. However, when felt intensely, frequently, or for a long duration, anger in itself can lead to physical diseases such as high blood pressure and coronary heart disease.
We commonly bundle anger up into one big explosive emotions, but studies show that there are actually around 10 types of anger:
- Assertive anger is the most constructive type of anger expression. When experiencing this type of anger, you use feelings of frustration or rage as a catalyst for positive change.
- Behavioural anger is expressed physically and is usually loaded with aggression. This type of anger is experienced when you may feel so overwhelmed by your emotions that you lash out at the object of your rage.
- Chronic anger is an ongoing, generalised animosity towards other people, frustration with circumstances, and anger towards oneself.
- Judgmental anger is righteously indignant. This type of anger is usually a reaction to a perceived injustice or someone else’s shortcoming.
- Overwhelmed anger is an uncontrolled type of anger. This occurs when we feel that a situation or circumstances are out of our control, resulting in feelings of helplessness and frustration.
- Passive-aggressive anger is an avoidant type of anger. If this is your usual mode of anger expression, you're likely to be trying to evade all forms of confrontation and may deny or repress any feelings of frustration or fury being experienced.
- Retaliatory anger is usually a gut response to being confronted or attacked by someone else. This is one of the most common types of anger and is driven by revenge for a perceived wrong.
- Self-abusive anger is a shame-based type of anger. This type of anger comes with feeling hopeless, unworthy, humiliated or ashamed. One tends to internalise those feelings and express anger via negative self-talk, self-harm, substance use, or eating disordered behaviour.
- Verbal anger is often seen as less dangerous, but it can be a form of emotional and psychological abuse and can deeply hurt the target of one’s anger.
- Volatile anger seems to come out of nowhere. In this type of anger, one is very quick to get upset about perceived annoyances, both big and small.
Most of us would have experienced some - if not all of these types of anger - in thought, feeling and behaviour at some point in our lives. The thing is that anger is usually followed by a feeling of regret or guilt for our actions and behaviour which does nothing but further compound our state of emotional disturbance.
The great thing is that although we can not stop our emotions, we can actually control our emotional responses by creating a small shift in our thought process and beliefs if we stay present in the moment, noticing and naming the emotion and understanding the emotion we are experiencing, we begin the diminish it of its power.
As the main perception when experiencing anger is an attack on a personal domain, the first thing to do is notice your thoughts when you are feeling angry. No doubt you may notice an overestimation of malicious intent or motives of the other, thoughts of being 100% right and the other completely wrong, and being unable to see the other person point of view due to a breakdown of empathy leading to thoughts of exacting revenge. These thoughts are irrational, unhealthy and dogmatic, which will always trigger unhealthy negative emotions. The trick is to change these through thought and presence to rational, healthy and flexible ones. Not overestimating malicious intent or motives, noticing that we may not be 100% right in the situation and trying to see things from the other person's point of view is a great place to start changing unhealthy anger into its healthier counterpart, Annoyance.
So, the next time you find your blood boiling, don’t try to control the anger; instead, notice the trigger, notice the emotion, name it and change your thought processes to healthier, flexible and rational alternatives before you act. With a little practice, it becomes a part of your life and you-you reap the benefits of a greater sense of well-being.