Anger can be good. It is an emotion that we as humans have and it is useful only if we can channel it to effect positive actions in our lives or in the lives of others. Anger over injustices can lead us to advocate for changes in laws and policies. Anger over some of our shortfalls can lead us to setting goals and taking steps to change behavior and better ourselves. Anger over a mistake on our job can help us re-evaluate the root causes to ensure that that mistake is not repeated. The list goes on and on where anger can be a useful emotion in our lives.
On the flip side, if anger becomes a catalyst for destructive behaviors that result in violence or abuse to ourselves and others, than it is a misuse of the emotion. Unfortunately, we see much of it in our society. Recently, here in Oakland, we saw a splinter group break off from a peaceful protest and became violent causing injury and property destruction. No matter how legitimate their cause was it was lost to their senseless display of physical damage.
On the international front, we have seen how radical extreme groups have used violence as methods to express their anger over the issues of injustices that they perceive have been rendered against them. Again, their issues have been buried deep from the public consciousness beneath the bloodbath they have caused. The negative way they have expressed their anger has not brought them the universal empathy they seek.
Anger has also riddled our families with verbal and physical abuse when it has been expressed in a destructive way. It is a real blight in our society that exceeds any health epidemic we currently our challenged with now.
So the real point is that, we all get angry some time in our lives. How we manage that anger and use it to affect change for the good is the key. The answer is not found in any Rambo/Terminator philosophy but it is found in that quiet resolve to improve rather than destroy.
Handling Anger Assertively
By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.
The emotion we call “anger” is a natural response to frustration, pain, loss or neediness. It may also occur out of “old habit” or imitation of an angry parent. Anger is what we label the biochemical/physiological response we experience when our wants and needs are not met, when we are blocked from pursuing our goals, when we are hurting either physically or emotionally, or when we have experienced a loss of some kind. Anger is a natural emotion and a powerful energizer.
Many, many people have problems expressing their anger. You may have been given lots of messages as a child that you were supposed to be nice, kind, and sweet all the time. Or perhaps any anger expression was not tolerated and punished in some way. Messages like, “Don’t you talk back to me!” accompanied by a swat, is not only telling the child his or her angry feelings are “bad”, it is punitive of the child’s attempt to express the anger. It is also very confusing, because the child is being shown how the parent handles anger and at the same time told not to handle his or her anger in the same manner. So the child often learns to bottle up his or her anger in an effort to be a “good child” and avoid punishment.
Bottling up your anger, allowing it to build until you explode, or becoming your own angry critic of yourself and others, are not the most beneficial methods for handling anger. Learning how to be self-supportive and assertive with your anger are the most healthful ways to deal with your naturally-occurring emotion.
It is unnatural for everyone to remain smooth, calm, and unaffected by the frustrations, hurts and losses experienced in life. But expressing anger in a rage or “dumping” your anger on yourself or others is highly destructive to your psychological well-being.
Instead of venting your angry feelings in thermonuclear outbursts, or blocking them, thereby creating enormous internal stress, you can learn to turn your anger into a motivational tool which will give you the charge of energy you can use to take control of your own life, pursue your wants and goals more vigorously, and clarify where you stand in relation to others in your life. Using your anger for powerful assertiveness is the natural purpose for having it in the first place. Here are six suggestions for handling your anger assertively.
1. Allow yourself to acknowledge your feelings of anger. Take a deep breath and listen to yourself for a minute. Become aware of the bodily sensations your anger creates. Ask yourself, “Do I feel angry enough to let others know what I am feeling?” or “How can I use my angry energy to address the problem to which I responded with anger?” Then decide either to let the problem go…along with your anger, or use the energy to address the precipitating issue.
2. Pick an appropriate discussion time. If possible, arrange with another a suitable time to raise the issue to which you responded with anger. A sudden outburst of anger may just put others on the defensive and may be even more frustrating for you.
3. Avoid blaming, judging, and accusing others. Your blaming offensive will only breed a defensive counter attack. It also makes you feel more helpless, because blaming becomes an obstacle to problem-solving. After you cool down, the problem remains with perhaps the addition of guilt or anxiety over your own outburst.
4. Always express your anger using “I” statements about how you are feeling. Say “I am feeling really frustrated and angry right now” rather than “You and your stupidity make me feel sick (tired, angry, ticked off, or any other adjective describing your anger).”
5. Say what it is you are wanting or needing which would address the problem or your anger. Make your needs clear and very specific.
Don’t ask the other person to change his or her feelings. They have a right to their feelings just as much as you have to yours. Ask directly and specifically for something that will help you feel satisfied or less angry.
6. Listen to the other’s response. Allow the person you’re talking to enough time to hear and respond to what you’ve said. Look at them when they talk. Don’t interrupt or rehearse your reply while they are talking. Slow down, and take in what they are saying. Then choose how you want to respond to them. Before you respond, acknowledge that you heard what they said, even though you may not agree with what they said.
The practice of using your anger to assert yourself can result in a much more fulfilled way of functioning. It can even bring others closer to you through caring and respect. Learn to use your anger for self-support and you regain control of your feelings and your life.