Counsellor & Psychotherapist
Masters of Counselling & Psychotherapy UofA
Member of the ACA College of Supervisors
Level 3 Member Australian Counselling Association
Anger is simply an emotion with a bad reputation. We are taught to be frightened of it, to suppress and repress those expressing it. In fact we have gone as far as to label it as "bad" because to be angry is seen as losing control.
Anger in it's purest form applied to and expressed at the right time is appropriate. Difficulty arises because we have denied our anger and refused to put a voice to it. It then pokes out at the most inconvenient of times, in the most emotional way and tends to cause people to run away or stand and defend themselves. It certainly doesn't result in being heard, understood or perceived as in control.
The key to managing anger is really simple but often not explained because anger is such an avoided topic. So let me shed some light on the much maligned anger and clear up some misinformation.
First I need to clarify something - no one can make you think, feel or do anything. You may not be conscious of it but thinking, feeling or doing (reacting) requires a choice. It happens without your awareness and in a split second but a choice is made.
WHEN SOMEONE MAKES you angry, it may seem that the cause of your anger is the other person's actions. But what really makes you angry is what you think the action means and the choices you make in response to that meaning.
We now know that no-one can make us do/feel or think anything as it is all about identifying our choices. We can choose options which give away our power such as allowing our emotions to overtake us or we can take a more helicopter view of the situations presented to us which results in keeping and growing our personal power.
So what do we do when we find ourselves sitting with a belly full of anger because of how another person has acted?
Notice the emotion and then look closely at the assumed meaning of the event, with closer scrutiny your certainty about your right to be angry will fade. You have given yourself time to realize the situation doesn't necessarily mean what you think it means because there is a variety of possibilities. This uncertainty will take the heat out of your anger and allow you to examine the situation further.
Let’s look at a common example of an action that has the potential to make people angry.
You are speaking and someone interrupts you and it makes you mad. You "know" because they have interrupted you that the person doesn’t respect you.
Time to ask yourself : “Is that a fact or is it fiction?”
When we understand that everything we think is not necessarily factual we will notice -
1) an event happens,
2) you figure out what it means,
3) you feel an emotion in response to the meaning you created.
It is because step number two happens very fast we arrive at the assumption that it is the event which is the cause of our feelings. But that isn't so. And you can prove it to yourself.
Wait until the next time you get mad at someone. Then try to discover one thought you have about what they did. You may have to backtrack do a slow-motion replay. Ask yourself, "Why am I mad?" Your answer is probably, "Because he did such-and-such." Ask yourself another question: "Why would that make me angry?" Your answer to this second question is probably a statement about the meaning of the action. Now you have something to work with.
Unasplash Lucas Vasques
Take your statement and look at it scientifically. In the above example, someone interrupted you. You thought, "He doesn't respect me." Looking at that thought scientifically, you realize it's a theory to explain why he interrupted you. Once you look at it, you also realize it isn't the only explanation possible!
Try to come up with other explanations: "Maybe he never thought much about interrupting, and no one ever said anything to him about it, so he's in the habit of interrupting people those he respects and those he doesn't." Or "Maybe he interrupted me because he has a poor memory and didn't want to forget his thought, so he blurted it out."
You can never really be sure why another person does something. Sometimes the person himself doesn't know why he's doing it.
After you create two or three good theories (this will only take a few moments), your anger will fade, you'll feel better, and you'll deal with the situation more rationally. Argue with yourself this way and everyone wins!
So now you have a plan to deal with those angry feelings they won't seem so overwhelming and scary.
Follow these simple steps:
1. When you're angry, argue with yourself first.
2. Then if you are unsure of the meaning or intent of the other persons actions then ASK.
3. If it is worth getting upset about then it is worth taking the time to clarify. Most of the times when we assume or believe we KNOW what another person is thinking or what they intended we are wrong.
Anger isn't the problem... It is an emotion. However, assumptions can lead to all sorts of upsetting consequences.