We all know and have felt, anger. The definition, according to Charles Spielberger, a psychologist who specializes in the study of anger, is “an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage.” Anger is a completely normal and often healthy emotion, developed as an adaptive response to threats. That said, there are a number of ways anger can become controlling, destructive, harmful, or habitual. When this happens, the quality of a person’s life, work, relationships and physical health, suffers.
People use a variety of conscious and unconscious processes to deal with feelings of anger, namely: expressing, suppressing, and calming. Expressing angry feelings requires getting clear about your needs, and articulating them without being hurtful to others. Healthy expression of emotion is not aggressive or demanding but rather done out of respect for yourself and others. Expressing anger indiscriminately or in an accusatory manner often escalates a conflict, so it’s important to decipher when, and how, to express anger appropriately.
Anger can be also suppressed, and then converted or redirected. This happens when a person holds in his or her anger and re-directs their attention to something positive. The purpose of this is to inhibit anger, with the intention of translating that energy into more constructive behavior. The problem with this type of response is that if anger isn’t permitted an outward expression, it can turn inward. Unexpressed anger often has biological consequences such as hypertension, high blood pressure, or depression. Unexpressed anger can also lead to unhealthy expressions of anger, such as passive-aggressiveness, or hostile and cynical social behavior.
The last approach individuals typically resort to is attempting to calm down internally. Like other emotions, anger is accompanied by physiological changes in the body: heart rate and blood pressure increase, as do the levels of certain hormones, namely adrenaline and noradrenaline. For this reason, tuning in to the body as a means of calming can help a person gain control over their internal response to anger. Taking steps to lower your heart rate such as deep breathing, and relaxation techniques are often useful.
You can’t eliminate, change, or avoid everything or person that angers you, but you can regain control over your reactions. Pema Chödrön illustrates the difference between trying to eliminate everything that enrages or hurts us, as compared to working with our thoughts. She uses the metaphor of trying to cover the whole world in leather, versus making leather shoes. The goal of anger management is to make leather shoes. That is, to reduce emotional feelings of anger, and ease the physiological arousal caused by anger. Therapists work with clients to develop skills related to identifying triggers, improving communication, and engaging in cognitive restructuring (creating new thought patterns) by bringing mindful awareness to language, self-talk, habitual reactions and automatic thoughts.
Counselling can help you work through and understand how anger shows up for you and what you can do with it. We would be happy to help assess this for you and create a manageable plan to reduce the experiences of anger and help you to create healthy coping habits to reclaim back areas lost in your life due to experiences of anger.
*Also available for early, late and weekend appointments upon request