Why Anger Is Healthy… But Needs To Be Understood
Anger is healthy.
It’s ok…let it sink in for a moment, because this may seem hard or even impossible to accept as being the truth.
We are hardwired from a young age to believe that anger is a truly negative emotion and that it speaks to a lack of self-control and some deficit in our inner character. The truth is that anger in itself is not negative. Anger is an emotion and in itself…I believe no emotion is BAD to experience. Anger is simply a feeling; an emotional response to a perceived injustice in our lives or a series of bodily sensations that occur in response to a stimulus.
Just like sadness, joy, focus, guilt or confidence…ANGER in itself does not get us into trouble, make us go into a rage or cause that argument. Anger is your body’s signal that “I’m not ok” and what happens next is where it’s up to you what you choose to do with it. So in this blog I want to discuss for you what anger “is” and how the anger cycle works and then give you some tools for monitoring your own anger response.
The anger cycle:
There is a great illustration of an Anger Cycle on a website called therapistaid.com and i have added it above the blog as well because it highlights perfectly the cycle of anger and how it is activated, maintained and leads to negative behaviours. I am also going to explain each part of the cycle here but check this out if you like visual tools!
1) Trigger: Anger is triggered usually by a situation, comment, memory or even an observation. The trigger is very important as if we do not know what triggers us, it is hard for us to modify our own behavior. Some triggers will not seem important to other people, but your triggers are your own and it is important you acknowledge all of them as they often connect to your values, beliefs and life experiences.
2) Thoughts: What happens next is that we interpret and perceive this trigger through our own LENS (our culture, gender, age, experiences, beliefs etc) and how we view the world and we start creating thoughts about it.
Example: You get cut off on the highway by a man driving a big truck. You have experience dealing with men in big trucks that is inherently negative. Your thoughts go to a place where you begin to think “this is a bad guy” “people in trucks are so entitled” “I feel wronged”.
3) Emotions: Next you have an emotion that is created by your thoughts. At this time your emotion would likely be anger. But anger is often accompanied by other emotions such as rejection, sadness, disgust, grief or even being overwhelmed. It is important to notice all of the emotions felt when experiencing the triggered thoughts and not just the anger.
4) Physical symptoms: physical symptoms follow emotions often due to the adrenaline response our bodies have to threat. Symptoms may include increased heart rate, sweating, headache, feeling sick, clenching fists or shaking. Notice the symptoms you experience when you know your body is getting angry and be aware of them as this will HELP you to notice your anger response…before it turns into a rage behavior.
5) Behavior: the final step in the cycle is that you react to the threat, the thoughts and the physical sensations with a behavior. I quite often like to refer to anger as the emotion – and rage as the response. Not all responses qualify as rage but responses like: yelling, criticizing, attacking or fighting would be.
The cycle of anger can repeat itself over and over again unless you decide to learn your cycle and take control of it right at step 2) your thoughts about the trigger. Noticing your thoughts, emotions and physical symptoms is where YOU get to either take control…or allow the addictive behavior of rage to take over.
To stop yourself from a rage behavior it may be important to:
– Take a 20 minute time out – the length of time it takes the body to fully calm down when activated by anger
– Do a breathing meditation
– Write down the injustices you are feeling
– Punch a punching bag
– Go to the gym
– Phone a trusted friend or support to vent
– Go for a walk
– Draw your anger
– Squeeze a stress ball
These are just SOME ideas about how you can deal with anger, but there are many more. The most important thing is that we notice the emotions we are feeling and understand WHY they have been triggered. It might not be possible to communicate them when we are escalated by the anger response…but we can come back to a conversation later or write down what we are feeling for another person to see.
The main point is that anger isn’t bad, we need to let ourselves experience it and acknowledge that we feel it. What is bad is rage and we need to reach a level of self-awareness and coping skills that we have less rage responses and less negative behaviors associated with anger.
Thanks for Reading…and don’t forget to Love Your Life!
Your friend and therapist,