Anger management, in the traditional sense, doesn’t always work. Sure, there are coping or calming strategies to help you manage your anger, which do work in the short term, but they don’t always deal with the root cause of the anger itself. Deep breathing, counting numbers, guided imagery, sucking on candy and using mantras all work to deflate anger in the short term; to really deal with anger, you have to dive into it and transform it from the inside, which is the longer term strategy.
The Spectrum of Anger
In general, on the spectrum on anger, there are two opposing poles: there is anger suppression, and there is anger explosion. Some people fall more to one side or the other, but many fall somewhere in between, or go between both ends of the spectrum (a combination of stuffing and exploding). Both ends aren’t effective in getting what you want, opening up communication, or dealing effectively with others, but there are ways to deal with your anger in a healthy way, which will be looking at in the following questions for you.
In suppressing your anger, you’re more vulnerable to depression, drinking, people pleasing, conflict avoidance or “lighter” problems like constant sarcasm, inauthenticity to self or others, or falling into obligation. Stress builds, and soon enough, suppressing your anger becomes an unconscious habit which chips away at your mental and physical health. The suppressed anger gets “baked” into your personality, and because it’s unconscious, you may not be fully in touch with it, but other people pick it up where you don’t. Your angry expression and behavior becomes a blind spot, which may be affecting you in a very real way.
Some guys are simply scared of their anger, because they’ve only seen it rear its ugly head in the past, or they’ve seen it in their father’s display of anger growing up, and refuse to give expression to it. They stuff it and suppress it, but it only grows stronger over time without expression. Dealing with the fear of anger sometimes is the first step towards effectively dealing with your anger in a healthy way, and sometimes this requires professional counseling support to get you going.
Exploding through anger, you alienate others and damage relationships. You may have work-related problems, or marital problems, by not getting a hold on your anger. Walls get punched, objects thrown, your kids get alienated, and you then suffer from guilt and self-abuse for taking out your anger through explosion. It keys off a vicious cycle, which pushes people away and leaves you angrier about not getting what you need from others, because they’re too afraid of you and your anger.
Knowing the Roots of Anger
To know anger, you have to dig a little, or a lot. Anger is usually the easier emotion to get in touch with, compared to the other deeper and more vulnerable emotions, because it’s the more powerful one. For men, it’s easier to hold onto the anger and express it, because there is power and control associated with it, and men like feeling in control, not out of control which is associated with vulnerability.
Anger is a secondary emotion compared to primary emotions like sadness, fear, pain, grief, inferiority, powerlessness, and helplessness. These are traditionally emotions that are harder to get in touch with for men, and even harder to adequately express. It is critical to try to get in touch with these primary emotions, as the secondary ones can often times lead to destruction, and the primary ones can usually open up and dramatically enhance relationships.
It’s really hard, when our culture implicitly “approves” of male anger (read: getting empowered by getting angry), yet shuns it at the same time. I think of cultural “outlets” for anger as ways culture “permits” anger, through violent video games and movies, UFC and other bloodsport, professional sports like hockey and football. As individual men, we get mixed messages about what to do with our anger, so we usually end up avoiding it. We don’t want to turn into “that guy,” – the angry guy, so we do what we can to avert anger at all costs. Unfortunately, like all other emotions, anger is organic and natural, and it’s a matter of wielding it in the right way and expressing it in a way that is healthy and life-affirming, not destroying.
What characterizes unhealthy expressions of anger?
- Berating others
- Losing it
- Criticizing or judging others
- Stuffing or suppressing it
- Passive-aggressive behavior
- People pleasing
- Conflict avoidance
- Violent behavior
- Depression or anxiety
- Self-abuse or victimization
- Alcohol or drug abuse; self-medication
Questions to ask yourself to promote healthier anger expression:
- Am I aware of my anger?
- Where in my body do I feel the anger? In my chest? Stomach?
- Can I mindfully stay with the feeling of anger, instead of acting on it or saying something I’ll regret?
- Do I act on my anger? How so? What do I usually do when I’m angry?
- Do I withdraw? Do I explode? How so?
- Is my anger possibly getting in the way of my relationships?
- How would others see my anger expression? Or would they if I suppress it?
- What am I not getting that I need? From a person or a situation?
- Have I tried communicating this in a direct and non-confrontational way first? What happened then?
- Have I said, “I’m really angry,” either to myself or someone else?
- Am I tired, hungry or plain irritable – things that would spike my anger? Have I dealt with them first?
- Can I reach behind the anger and find the “softer” more vulnerable emotions, like pain, fear, powerlessness, sadness, loss, inferiority? Why not, and what’s preventing me from doing so?
Judging between healthy and unhealthy expressions of behavior allows you to understand the difference and identify it for yourself so that you can promote better and more fulfilling relationships in your life, instead of harming them through unhealthy expression. Your anger is yours, and everyone gets angry in one way or another, so it’s your responsibility to “own” your anger and deal with it effectively.