Understanding Anger as an Emotion and Learning to Manage it More Productively

On this site, in the Solid Blog and on Wellness Wednesdays on The Spin, we discuss ongoing strategies, ideas and plans for sustaining ongoing foundation for mental health and wellness.
If you or anyone is struggling or in crisis right now, please call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Alternatively, crisis resources can be found here.

*** As an additional note in relation to this post, the discussion is about understanding anger from the standpoint that every one of us as human beings experience anger. But if there are concerns about yourself in relation to anger or the anger of someone else in your life, please do seek help from an anger management or mental healthcare provider. ***

For many people anger is… Road rage or losing your temper at a drop of a hat, or yelling during conflict or maybe even violence.  But what exactly is anger anyway?

So the reality is this: We all get angry. Anger is often considered to be “bad” and most of us get the message from an early age that we shouldn’t feel angry.

We’re often told: “Don’t be angry” or that it’s unacceptable to feel or express anger.

While in actuality, anger is neither good nor bad, what you choose to do with the emotion of anger can make a huge difference in your life.

Anger is Often Misunderstood

The emotion itself isn’t either positive or negative.  It’s what can happen as a result of someone being angry that can have a negative impact.

On the other hand, if there is anger due to an injustice or some kind of wrongdoing, and actions are taken to improve things, it can be considered to have a positive impact.

Having a better understanding about anger and what might be the cause of it, can be the first step to addressing it more effectively and managing things better when you’re feeling anger.

All Emotions Have a Purpose

Emotions exists to help us survive, avoid danger and can motivate us to be more thoughtful or to make changes.

If all emotions have a purpose then, anger as an emotion is a signal that something is requiring our attention in some way. 

It usually doesn’t feel great to be angry. 

But feeling badly and maybe feeling out of control or doing something destructive or hurtful when there’s anger, is what makes anger as an emotion complicated and maybe also misunderstood.

Anger Itself is a Secondary Emotion 

Anger is usually felt as a defense from more vulnerable feelings like, sadness, disappointment, hurt or fear. 

It can be really challenging for many of us to allow ourselves to feel these vulnerable feelings.

Whereas feeling angry can feel less scary, than maybe feeling sad or fearful.

It’s the defensiveness interconnected to anger that can manifest in undesirable or regrettable ways.

Tips on What to Do When You’re Angry:

Take a Break

Take a time-out and even better, go and get some exercise or go for a walk.

If you’re noticing that your heart is racing and your mind feels “sped up”, these are cues that taking a break, taking some deep breaths and letting out some physical energy could be helpful to be able to think things through more clearly.

Don’t Suppress Your Feelings of Anger

BUT be aware that anger does not need to be expressed through overly physical or verbally aggressive means.

Trying to ignore it or compartmentalizing feelings of anger can lead to passive aggressiveness, depression, anxiety and lowered self esteem.

Try to understand the underlying reason for your anger.

Remember, anger is a secondary emotion and there are other feeling or feelings that you’re protecting. 

As discussed above, take a break, some deep breaths and try to think or journal it out. 

If you find that you’re stuck with the same thoughts and feelings, it can be helpful to talk it out with someone your trust who can help navigate you through it.

Know When to Seek Help

Everyone experiences losing their temper at different times. 

But if it’s a regular occurrence of if your anger feels out of control, and you’re getting feedback from others that there may be a problem, seeking an anger management program or psychotherapy can be part of the solution.

Dealing with Anger is a Part of Life 

Just because you might have learned unhealthy ways of dealing with your feelings of anger up to this point, doesn’t preclude the possibility of learning new strategies.

Resources to Learn More About and Understanding Anger Better

Books about emotional intelligence like The Subtle Art of Not Giving an F*ck by Mark Manson can be helpful as it discusses the importance of seeing things from a different perspective.

For men, there’s a book I highly recommend called I Don’t Want to Talk About It by therapist Terry Real.

For women, Harriet Lerner’s book The Dance of Anger is a helpful resource.

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