Dealing With Anger

Learning how to handle your anger and understand others anger

anger "A strong feeling of displeasure or hostility"

What is it?

Anger is one of our normal range of emotions. Think of disliking something and then rapidly turn up the volume on that feeling to the point that you simply cannot stand it and need to express just how much you dislike it and there you have anger. It can be slow to build or can rise in an instant. It can last for hours, days, or weeks and it can also dissipate in seconds. As a primary emotion, it is natural and healthy to express. However, unmet anger can sometimes prompt other actions, such as violence, which when directed towards another person can be very harmful.

The expression of anger is two-fold. First, it acts as a motivator for yourself. It doesn't feel good and it promotes changes that hopefully will help you feel better. So in that way, it is an indicator that you can use to see issues that need to be looked at. Secondly, it can act as a signal to others around you that you are having an uncomfortable moment and that you need to quickly make changes to feel better. In both cases, it arises because something has blindsided you and taken you by surprise. Something unexpected has happened, or something you can't quite accept. If you have time to comprehend the challenge and have time to make adjustments then anger is not as likely to arise. It can also arise when the solution is out of your control and you have limited or no options to adapt to the challenge.

Anger can often be directed at another person, even though the challenge is actually yours. It is often easier to place the problem with someone else than to admit and accept that the problem is with ourselves. Consider these examples;

I'm furious that you were talking to that guy all night! = I'm scared that you will prefer him over me and I'll lose you.
I'm so angry that you ran with those scissors! = I'm in shock that you might have fallen and hurt yourself and I might lose you.
I can't believe you stole money from me! I'm livid!  = I'm sad that I can no longer feel safe with you and trust you with my belongings and I might have to choose to let you go.
I'm so pissed at you for telling my friends about the secret I told you! = I'm sad that I can no longer trust you with my deepest feelings and I might have to choose to let you go.
I'm angry at you for wasting years of my life! = I'm annoyed at myself for being too scared to make changes sooner.


When it becomes a problem

Anger by itself is not a problem. It is your mind and body's way of telling you that something isn't working for you and needs to change or be examined more closely. In looking at the above examples we can see that in addition to the person expressing their anger they are also attributing a reason for their anger as well. The implication is that someone or something else has caused anger in them and that in expressing anger along with a reason, that person or thing will know not to cause anger again. So we can see that anger by itself is not necessarily a negative thing, but when we combine it with causes, especially when those causes are external to us, then we start to see the problems arising. It can become an even worse problem when, having assigned the cause to someone else, we then act out in a way to control that person to prevent further anger. In these cases, the person experiencing anger has misunderstood that the cause, and the solution, lies with them. Consider these examples of solutions;

I'm furious that you were talking to that guy all night! = I need to either trust you completely, accepting that I am worthy of your love, or ask you for boundaries that will limit you but will help me until I am able to work through whatever issues are blocking my ability to trust.
I'm so angry with you that you ran with those scissors! = I need to be responsible and properly safeguard dangerous items until you are mature enough to understand the dangers of using such items.
I can't believe you stole money from me! I'm livid!  = I need to examine our relationship and decide if I am prepared to accept that you do not respect boundaries and may take my belongings as your own.
I'm so pissed at you for telling my friends about the secret I told you! = I need to examine our relationship and decide if I can accept that you may relay personal information to others without respect for my personal privacy.
I'm angry at you for wasting years of my life! = I need to examine what reasons I had to stay in this relationship and accept that it was my decision to stay for those reasons alone.

As an experiment, try angrily speaking the left column and see how easy it is to feel righteous anger at someone else. Then, with the same tone, try to say the right column and see how the anger feels.


How Can I Handle My Own Anger?

Meeting your anger head-on can be quite the challenge, but is definitely within reach of most people. Anger occurs when your mind and body are pushed to a point where chemical changes take place. Adrenaline is released, stress hormones are pumping, physical changes are happening, and it is difficult to clearly think under those conditions, so the first step is to calm down enough to allow for rational thought to occur again.

The simplest way to achieve that is to remove yourself from the situation. Of course, this is not always possible, especially in an argument, as the other person may be dealing with their own anger and want to pursue you (believing of course that you are the cause of their anger). If you are unable to leave the situation to calm down then you may be able to use calming techniques such as slow deep breathing or briefly recalling memories of moments of joy or love.

Another technique might be to view the other person as a toddler or young child, as heightened emotional states are a common feature of those age groups and we often can manage great patience, love, and acceptance when dealing with children. It may even help to see yourself as having been transported back to that age and have acceptance and love for yourself, stomping your little feet and making lots of noise to get your needs met. Or if children don't work for you, try well-loved pets.

If you are able to remove yourself from the situation then you may employ techniques that work physically on the vagal nerve, to reduce your body's response. You can try making faces, humming a tune, briefly holding your breath, or cuddling yourself. Since these are acting physically on your vagal nerve and do not require cognitive changes you can employ them even when you are unable to think clearly.

Some useful phrases you might try;

I am feeling really angry right now and I'm not thinking clearly! I need a few minutes to calm down, but I want to resolve this with you!

I am furious, but right now I don't know if it is me or you causing it. I need a moment to calm down so we can talk this out properly.

I am pissed at you, but I know that it's probably me needing something. I need a few minutes alone to figure out what is going on.

I am livid at you, but all my defenses are up and I'm all confused and all I know for certain right now is that in a short time I'm going to feel differently. I just need a few moments to shift gears.

The key to remember is that anger runs a predictable course. At some point, you WILL feel less angry, and then you WILL need to repair any damage you have done as well as figure out a solution for whatever caused the anger in the first place. Maturity is simply the understanding of your own patterns enough to skip to the end.

If you are angry and blaming someone or something else then start by accepting that it's you. Get over it. Deal with it. Whatever you need to tell yourself to get the message. It's just you. The quicker you get to that point the less apologizing you'll need to do later and the less exhausted you will feel. Give yourself a hug, remind yourself that you are still learning and no one is perfect. You are doing your best and you haven't figured everything out. But you will. You just won't do it by shouting, being mean, trying to control people, or breaking things. It doesn't work. It will never work in your favor and will only cause you to lose what you have worked so hard to get. If you get to the point of anger, just accept that the most amazing thing you can do is to take full responsibility for your feelings and let it go.

Sometimes anger is wrapped up with other issues, such as shame or guilt, making it much more difficult to get the distance needed to really address the feelings of anger. It may not be possible for someone dealing with multiple issues at once to accept their own anger or deal with it as we have described here. This is why therapy is so helpful. When issues start to pile up or are linked in complex ways then a custom-made solution or understanding is required and for that, you need a therapist who can take the time to carefully understand the various issues and how they are linked. If this feels more like where you are then we suggest browsing the providers in the menu bar above and find someone who feels like a good match for you. 


How Can I Handle Other People's Anger?

First, read the above sections, because it is important that you understand your own anger in order to understand others. Most people who are angry are scared of something. They are on board a runaway train, with no driver, and they are less in control than you think. They will say things that you would never expect, do things that might shock or frighten you and generally sound and act like someone other than what you know them to be. Getting angry back at them will not help you or them. You also want to make sure not to close down. One of the things that happen when we feel attacked is that we either fight back or close down. Closing down increases fears because we flatten our emotional expression and monotone our voice, giving only brief answers, making it harder for them to read our emotional state and reducing any emotional connection we have with them. If they felt scared before then closing down will not help them feel better.

They may be saying things that irritate or anger you, they may be using outright lies to make their case. You need to know that you are dealing with a toddler having a meltdown. They may be large and look mature, but emotionally at least, they are only recently potty-trained and have just had their favorite toy taken from them and they are not happy. They think you took their toy. You have not seen their toy, nor do you want it, but as far as they are concerned that is simply you trying to hide it from them.

You can probably relate to how that feels. You can probably remember a time when you felt the same. It's not a fun space to be in. As most parents know, one of the best techniques of dealing with upset toddlers is to distract them and that same technique can be used with the angry adult. There are a multitude of ways to distract someone, but some examples might be;

Be silly - "Did you know..." insert some interesting fact here.
Be loving - "I want to hug you. I know you are really angry right now, but I'm hugging you from a distance anyway."
Be curious - 'Where are you feeling this anger in your body?"
Be devious - listen intently and then start to stare at the side of their face. Look slightly concerned as though you just noticed a cut or something. Or... is that a small spider on the side of your face? 
Be fun - "Oh I was going to take you out for a..." insert their favorite food or activity here.

Of course, many of these distractions might not work - you'll need to figure out what works for your particular toddler. Everyone is different. Some might actually increase their anger. If distraction doesn't work then giving them space and allowing time to work its magic is the next best option. 

And again, as with dealing with your own anger, sometimes there are other issues in the mix and it is no simple task to address someone's anger in the ways we have described. In such cases, we suggest browsing providers using the above menu bar and selecting someone who you feel would be a good fit. They will help support you in dealing with your own issues so that you can deal with other people's issues, such as their anger.

Anger is a result of a reaction to a large number of experiences and as such, it can have many pieces to the puzzle and just as many solutions. Solutions are not always one size fits all, nor are they always immediate, or complete. Solutions, learning, maturity, they all come in small steps that make up the long journeys of our lives. Be reassured that each small step carries you closer and closer to your goals and trust in that process.

Finally, if you or someone you know is dealing with self-abuse or abuse from someone else, please use the Crisis Support numbers in the menu box below to get immediate support. Everyone can be helped in some way, but it takes reaching out for support for that to start to happen. Don't suffer in silence. 


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