Anger is a natural, adaptive response to threats; it inspires powerful, often aggressive, feelings and behaviors, which allow us to fight and to defend ourselves when we are attacked. A certain amount of anger, therefore, is necessary for our survival. On the other hand, we obviously can't lash out at every person or object that irritates or annoys us. So expressing your angry feelings in an assertive, not aggressive manner is the healthiest way to express anger.
To do this, you have to learn how to make clear what your needs are, and how to get them met without hurting others. Being assertive doesn't mean being pushy or demanding; it means being respectful of yourself and others.
The goal of any type of anger management is to reduce both your emotional feelings and the physical arousal that anger causes. While you can’t always change the situations or people that upset you, you can learn to control your reactions. Here are some great tools to try:
1. Relaxation - simple relaxation tools, such as deep breathing and relaxing imagery, can help calm down angry feelings. Books such as The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson and Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabatt-Zinn are excellent sources for instruction in meditation and relaxation. Once you learn the techniques, you can use them in anywhere to quickly calm down.
For additional help with relaxation, practice breathing deeply from your diaphragm; breathing from your chest doesn’t tend to elicit nearly as deep a sensation of relaxation. Picture your breath coming up from your diaphragm while you slowly repeat a calm word or phrase such as "relax," "take it easy." Repeat it to yourself while breathing deeply and putting attention on your breath. Use imagery: visualize a relaxing experience, from either your memory or your imagination, with as many senses involved in the visualization as possible. Hatha yoga is also a great method for relaxing your muscles and making you feel much calmer.
2. Change Your Thoughts - Angry people tend to think negative, critical thoughts about themselves or others. When you're angry, your thinking can get very exaggerated, overly dramatic and irrational. Try replacing these thoughts with more positive and rational ones. Remind yourself that getting angry is not going to fix anything, that it won't make you feel better (and may actually make you feel worse). Also, when angry, people often feel victimized. So it’s helpful to reflect on what’s happening and take responsibility for whatever you are doing to partially create the situation that frustrates you.
3. Communicate Directly After you Calm Down - when angry, people make assumptions that may not be true about others’ intentions. So slow down, calm down, and speak clearly about whatever it is that is frustrating you to the person(s) involved. Talk about your feelings and perceptions rather than blaming others. At the same time, listen carefully to what the other person is saying and take your time before answering.
4. Take Time for Yourself - make sure you have some "personal time" scheduled for times of the day or days of the week that you know are particularly stressful. One example is the woman who has a standing rule that when she comes home from work, for the first 15 minutes "nobody talks to me unless the house is on fire." After this brief quiet time, she feels better prepared to handle demands from her kids and husband without yelling at them.
There are some excellent self-help books available on the topic of dealing with anger. Two of our favorites address specific gender issues that men and women face: The Dance of Anger: A Women’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships, by Harriet Lerner and Beyond Anger, A Guide for Men: How to Free Yourself from the Grip of Anger and Get More Out of Life, by Thomas Harbin.
Anger is an expression of our life force. When manifest in an appropriate manner, it can be an intelligent expression and reaction to the circumstances of our lives. When we befriend our anger, we tame its impulsive expression and give ourselves a valuable tool to create constructive change for ourselves and the world.
We encourage you to start wherever you are, with compassion and love for all parts of yourself, and begin to explore your own relationship with this powerful and necessary life energy. And be honest with yourself in the process: if you cannot understand this energy, if it feels like a wild beast or a scary monster, seek out help from those who can guide your journey of healing and discovery in a safe and constructive manner.
The Relationship Institute has several programs to help people learn to manage their anger constructively. Please call (248) 546-0407 for more information if you or someone you care about has had problems in this area.