Anger. It is such a common word and such a common emotion. Right? Just this morning as I was driving to work, a biker overtook me abruptly from the left with absolutely no notice and sped away in such a hurry. I felt enraged at this kind of irresponsible behaviour. I was quick to judge, and I quickly got very angry. Have you had a similar experience in your life? When was the last time you felt angry?
Now, we all feel angry at times and it's important to understand that getting angry is just a part of being human. While we have all felt angry and while we, and others around us tend to dislike the overall experience, it is helpful to remember that anger is a normal and healthy emotion. We might experience anger when we feel attacked, deceived, frustrated, invalidated, or unfairly treated by someone else.
It is also important to understand that anger is not always a ‘bad’ thing; in fact, it can sometimes be very helpful. For example, sometimes feeling angry can help us identify our problems or help us understand the nature of things that hurt us.
Anger only becomes a problem when it gets out of control and harms you or the people around you.
Feeling angry can motivate us to make important changes in our lives. It can also help us stay safe and defend ourselves in dangerous situations by giving us a burst of energy as part of our fight or flight response system.
Most of us will experience episodes of anger which are manageable and don't have a big impact on our lives. Learning healthy ways to recognise, express and deal with anger is important for our mental and physical health. We will explore some tips on managing outbursts and some long-term coping strategies later in this series, but first let us understand why and when anger can become a problem, what kinds of behaviour patterns are unhelpful, and some of the symptoms you need to watch out for.
Anger can become a real problem
Anger only becomes a problem when it gets out of control and harms you or the people around you. This can happen when you regularly express your anger through unhelpful or destructive behaviour, when your anger is having a negative impact on your overall mental and physical health, when anger becomes your natural reaction towards everything and everyone, blocking out your ability to feel other emotions, and when you haven't developed healthy ways to express and manage your anger.
How you behave when you are angry
How you behave when you're angry depends on how well you're able to identify and cope with your feelings, and how you've learned to express them.
Not everyone expresses anger in the same way and some ways are especially unhelpful. For example, you may behave violently with outward aggression by shouting, swearing, slamming doors, hitting, or throwing things and being physically violent or verbally abusive and threatening towards others.
Expressing your anger with outward aggression and violence can be extremely scary and troublesome for people around you - especially children.
You may, sometimes, be inwardly aggressive by telling yourself that you hate yourself, denying yourself your basic needs (like food, or things that might make you happy), cutting yourself off from the world and by harming yourself.
Sometimes you may behave with passive aggression by ignoring people or refusing to speak to them, refusing to do tasks, or deliberately doing things poorly, late, or at the last possible minute, and being sarcastic or sulky while not saying anything explicitly aggressive or angry.
Expressing your anger with outward aggression and violence can be extremely scary and troublesome for people around you - especially children. And it can have serious consequences: you could lose your family, your job, or get into trouble with the law. If you find yourself consistently behaving violently, it's very important to seek treatment and professional support.
But even if you're never outwardly violent or aggressive towards others, and never even raise your voice, you might still recognise some of these angry behaviours and feel that they're a problem for you. For example, you turn your anger inwards and self-harm or deny yourself basic comforts.
Again, if you notice that you are beginning to harm yourself, you should seek the support of a mental health professional immediately.
Some symptoms of anger you should be aware of
Anger feels different for everyone. You might experience some of the things listed below, but it is very much possible that you may also have experiences that are not listed here. These are only some general symptoms to be aware of.
As far as your body is concerned, you might feel a churning feeling in your stomach, tightness in your chest, an increased and rapid heartbeat, your legs go weak, your muscles becoming tense, you start feeling hot, you may get sudden urges to go to the toilet, you might start to sweat profusely, especially your palms, your head might start pounding, and you might experience shaking or trembling or even start feeling dizzy.
As far as your mind is concerned, you might start feeling tense, nervous or unable to relax, feeling guilty, feeling resentful towards other people or situations, become easily irritated, and sometimes even start feeling humiliated.
Recognising these signs is important because it gives you a chance to think about how you want to react to a situation before doing anything. Of course, this is usually very difficult to do in the heat of the moment, but the earlier you notice how you're feeling, the easier it can be to choose how to express and manage your anger.
In the next post we will explore some of the causes of anger and some tips on how to manage your anger outbursts.
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 angry behaviours?
Can you think of ways to help a friend or relative who is suffering from 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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