‘When you let anger get the best of you
It brings out the worst in you’
The starting point for understanding your anger is to realise that feeling angry is not the problem it’s what you do with the anger that causes distress. Anger is an emotion, and a response to threat. It provides the impetus to take action and serves a protective function. In that respect anger is normal and healthy, it’s how we use the anger that can become the problem. When used in healthy and functioning ways it’s beneficial but when used negatively it becomes damaging.
The anger response can manifest in two ways, instinctively or consciously. The instinctual response is when our fight or flight response is triggered, which results in us losing our tempers and using aggressive measures to cope. This response belongs to our old ‘emotional brain’. Whilst the fight or flight response serves a hugely important function when the threat is real, it’s not necessarily helpful in everyday, modern life when the threat is imagined or perceived.
A more conscious approach involves using our ‘thinking brain’, which makes possible our organizing and planning abilities. This part of our brain enables us to figure out the meaning of our emotional experiences such as why we feel upset or hurt. It is this part of the brain that is more adept at making sense of threat, and is responsible for healthy decision making when our anger gets activated. Learning to tame your emotional brain and reach for your thinking brain is what’s involved in using your anger in a healthy way. Unfortunately once the pattern of unhealthy or instinctive anger gets established it becomes the normal way to respond to difficult or stressful situations. The more one resorts to aggression or abuse to resolve difficulties the more ingrained this process becomes.
If anger per se is not the problem then what is? The problems manifests when negative thoughts and feelings impact the anger. Hostility and bitterness are the most common emotions that fuel negative anger, and when combined become a potent and aggressive force. Hostility is where you experience others as threatening or the world as unjust. Bitterness is the dwelling on hostile thoughts about a specific person or event. And aggression is the behaviour that results from these feelings and causes the physical or emotional damage. So anger is ok when used properly, but when it’s mixed with other negative thoughts and beliefs it becomes problematic. An example of this might be where you agree to take on extra work even though you’re already under pressure. Your body might tense up and you get a knot in your stomach. You start thinking how your boss treats you unfairly and doesn’t appreciate you. And then you end up being being rude to your boss or another co-worker as a result of the build-up of hostility and bitterness.
As you can see this powerful combination turns up in our bodies, thoughts and behaviours. Our bodies stress level is raised, our thoughts become negative and our behaviours are not rational or productive. Learning about your response to anger is the first step in making it work for you instead of against you. Do you allow anger to set off a chain reaction of negative thoughts and behaviours or do you take a step back to consider the situation, your role in it and your response.
If you want to work on improving your response to feeling angry set your intention to deepen your knowledge of anger. Pay attention to how your body responds when you become annoyed and feel the tension that builds in your body. Generate awareness of your thoughts to recognise how they influence your anger. And notice any unhealthy patterns of behaviour such as yelling, swearing, sulking, throwing or hitting things? It is by bringing these negative elements out of hiding, and into your everyday attentiveness that change can begin to emerge. Once you gain some mastery over understanding your anger you are on your way to building a healthier you.
If you’re struggling to cope with your anger then talking to a counsellor at the Melbourne Counselling Centre can help. We offer Anger Management Courses that look at current stressors, underlying triggers and coping strategies. Click here to book a session.