Previously we looked at what anger is, and we learned to recognise some its symptoms. Let us now look a little more deeply into some of the causes of anger and learn some tips on how to manage our feelings.
Anger arises within us depending on how we interpret and react to certain situations. Everyone has their own triggers for what makes them angry. Anger can be triggered in us when we feel threatened or attacked, frustrated or powerless, when it feels like we're being invalidated or treated unfairly, and when we perceive other people as not being respectful of our feelings or possessions.
Now, it is important to remember that we all interpret situations differently. A situation that makes you feel very angry may not make me feel angry at all. But just because we can interpret things differently, it doesn't mean that you're interpreting things 'wrongly' when you get angry.
How you interpret and react to a situation can depend on lots of factors in your life, including your childhood and upbringing, your past experiences, and your present circumstances.
Whether your anger is about something that happened in the past or something that's going on right now, thinking about how and why we interpret and react to situations can help us learn how to cope with our emotions better. It can also help us find productive strategies to handle our anger.
Your childhood and upbringing
How we learn to cope with angry feelings is often influenced by our upbringing. Many people are given messages about anger as children that may make it harder to manage it as an adult.
You may have grown up seeing your parents or family members acting aggressively or violently when angry and from that you may have learned to think that it is okay to do so. Thinking like this means that you may develop a tendency to have violent angry outbursts later in your life when you don’t like the way someone is behaving or whenever you are faced with situations you don’t like.
As you witnessed out-of-control anger, you might have learned to think of anger as something that is destructive and terrifying. This could have made you feel scared about anger in general, and especially afraid of your own anger. This means that you might now feel unsafe to express your feelings and they get suppressed. These suppressed feelings might then surface at odd and unconnected times and situations, confusing you and others around you as it becomes very hard to explain your ‘random’ feelings and behaviour.
Maybe you have been brought up to believe that you shouldn't complain about anything. You may have been punished for expressing anger as a child. Such experiences could have developed a tendency in you to suppress your anger. Later in life this kind of suppression becomes a problem. If you don't feel you can release your anger in a healthy way, you might also turn this inward on yourself.
If you've experienced situations in the past that made you feel angry, such as abuse, trauma, or bullying (either as a child or more recently as an adult), and you couldn’t safely express your anger at that time, you might still be coping with those angry feelings now.
This might mean that you now find certain situations particularly challenging, and more likely to make you angry.
You see, sometimes the anger that you may be feeling right now may not only be because of your present issue. It could also be related to some past issues in your life. What this means is that the anger you feel right now is, at some level, reflecting your past experiences also. It is important to become aware of this possibility because, when you understand this, you will be able to respond to your current situations in a less distressed way.
Life can and does get overwhelming at times. If you're dealing with a lot of problems in your life right now, you might find yourself feeling angry more easily than usual or getting angry at totally unrelated things.
If there's a particular situation that's making you feel angry, but you don't feel able to express your anger directly or resolve it, then you might find yourself expressing your anger at other ‘random’ times.
Anger can also be a part of grief. If you've lost someone important to you, it can be very difficult to cope with all the feelings you are experiencing.
Managing your anger
It can be frightening when your anger overwhelms you. But there are ways you can learn to manage your anger when you find yourself in difficult situations. Always remember that if your outbursts are turning violent or abusive, this can cause serious problems in your life and in your relationships and can be very damaging to people around you. If you notice that this is happening in your life, then it's essential to seek professional treatment and support for your anger.
Coming back to managing your anger, it’s important to look out for some warning signs. Anger can cause a rush of adrenaline through your body, so before you recognise the emotion you're feeling, you might notice that your heart is beating faster, your breathing is quicker, your body is becoming tense, your feet are tapping and you're clenching your jaw or fists.
Recognising these signs gives you the chance to think about how you want to react to a situation before doing anything. This can be difficult in the heat of the moment, but the earlier you notice how you're feeling, the easier it can be to choose how to manage your anger.
Sometimes when we're feeling angry, we just need to walk away from the situation for a while. This can give you time to work out what you're thinking about the situation, decide how you want to react to it and feel more in control. Some ways you can buy yourself time to think are:
Counting to 10 before you react.
Taking yourself out of the situation by going for a short walk – even if it's just around your block or local area.
Talking to a trusted person who's not connected to the situation, such as a friend, family member, counsellor, or peer support group. Expressing your thoughts out loud can help you understand why you're angry and help calm you down.
Some ways to manage your feelings
There are many ways to calm down and let go of angry feelings, depending on what suits you and what’s convenient at the time you are angry. Here are a few things that you can try out in your life.
Breathe slowly – try to breathe out for longer than you breathe in and focus on each breath as you take it.
Relax your body – if you can feel your body getting tense, try focusing on each part of your body and then relax your muscles.
Try mindfulness techniques – mindfulness can help you to be aware of when you're getting angry and can help calm your body and mind down.
Exercise – try to work off your anger through exercise. Sports like running or boxing can be really helpful for releasing pent up energy.
Use up your energy safely in other ways – this can help relieve some of your angry feelings in a way that doesn't hurt yourself or others. For example, you could try tearing up a newspaper, hitting a pillow or smashing ice cubes in a sink.
Do something to distract yourself mentally or physically – anything that completely changes your situation, thoughts or patterns can help stop your anger escalating. For example, you could try:
➔ putting on upbeat music and dancing
➔ doing something with your hands, like fixing something or making something
➔ doing something creative like colouring or drawing
➔ writing in a journal
➔ taking a cold shower
Learning new techniques to help manage your feelings can take time and practice.
So, try to be patient and gentle with yourself as you learn these new skills.
Next time, we will look at some long-term strategies for coping with anger. Until then, try out some of these techniques and be kind to yourself.
Now put on your thinking hats and think about the following questions for a couple of minutes.
Can you think of some factors that may contribute to anger outbursts?
Can you think of some ways to manage your anger outbursts?
Write down your thoughts and discuss them with your students, children, and your colleagues. Listen to their views and compare them with your own. As you listen to others, note how similar or different your views are to others’.
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