Although we may not have control over how others express their emotions, we have the choice to express ours in a healthier way
Whether we’re at the workplace, negotiating the intricacies of a relationship with a partner or dealing with traffic on the way to an important event, anger can be an enticing emotion to resort to when things aren’t going our way. It can make us want to destroy things, raise our voice or inflict harm on others, especially when these things and people are the source of our frustration. It is because of these impulses that anger is often seen as an unproductive emotion; as a ready excuse to invoke havoc on everything in our path.
However, anger doesn’t always have to be destructive. Feelings of anger can lead to positive change, which is why it has survived our evolutionary history. For instance, if we’re unsatisfied with our living space, our career or our relationships, anger can be our catalyst to clean our house, to find greener pastures and to negotiate with or break away from the toxic people in our lives. Without anger, it becomes easier to become stranded in environments or relationships that bring us unhappiness.
But how do we know when our anger is justified and how do we know that we’re not just making mountains out of anthills? Well, having a healthy relationship with anger is much easier said than done. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, puts this ongoing struggle with anger nicely:
“Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”
In the throes of anger, our instinctive reaction is to throw a tantrum and direct our anger towards anything or anyone that we think will quell this intense feeling. In this heightened state of arousal, our ability to think critically, or laterally can slip away from us, potentially resulting in our anger being misdirected to the things and people in our immediate vicinity - often those we love and care for. Anger can also give us a sense of unearned righteousness and any attempts to reason someone out of their rage are likely to be shut down in a dismissive or fallacious way, as they believe that their intense emotional state itself is sufficient justification to ‘prove’ that they’re in the right.
How to deal with anger
To our great misfortune, the things and people that instil anger in us will always wend their way back into our lives one way or another. However, as persistent as they might be, our ability to manage and prevent feelings of anger can always be improved, and the impact and control that these nuisances have over our emotions can be mitigated.
Here are some ways we can manage our anger:
1. Relaxation techniques are a convenient way to calm ourselves down and can be called upon in most situations to avoid an outburst. These can include deep breathing, slowly repeating a calming word or phrase, viewing relaxing imagery, and non-intensive yoga-like exercises.
2. Reframing our thoughts involves focusing on the set of thoughts that led to our anger and questioning their validity in a non-biased and calm way. Brainstorming alternative explanations for the events that set us off might lead us to a more accurate and less emotionally-stimulating conclusion. We wrote about this one in our Mendl Movement Blog #4.
3. Active communication can be an effective way to iron out any disagreements and confusions before they get the best of our emotions. Make sure both sides get to have their say and feel heard by the other person. Try to be specific as possible and avoid making reaching conclusions or assigning unhelpful labels.
4. Changing our environment is a way to remove ourselves from the settings and people that can be a source of a lot of our anger, if even for a moment, or a while. Taking regular time away from these anger-inducing elements in our lives can help us to relax and recharge.
It’s important to note that not all anger takes the form of an unwieldy, unstoppable force of destruction that brutalises everyone in its wake. At the end of the day, anger is our brain’s way of expressing it’s dissatisfaction about our current circumstances (even boredom can be a form of anger), or at least our perceptions of them. These perceptions can be very different from person to person and can result in very different emotional responses depending on who we are. For example, as we know, some are quicker to anger than others, and some have little remorse over their sudden outbursts of anger after they’ve subsided.
Although we may not have control over how others express their emotions, we have the choice to express ours in a healthier way, steering ourselves clear from anger’s destructive forms that ultimately, only stand to do more harm than good. Ideally, we can be left with a healthy relationship with anger that can galvanise us into improving our current circumstances and striving for a richer, more fulfilling life.
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