What are some of your tendencies when it comes to anger? How can you use anger to help inform important conversations when it comes to the relationships you care about?
Anger can be seething and explosive which can cause harm to your relationship if it is not understood or goes unaddressed. Understanding how your anger manifests itself and whether it’s destructive or constructive in nature, can help you become more peaceful, calm, and open toward others and the people you care about most.
It is possible to change your response to anger by becoming more aware of how it presents itself in your life. As a therapist, I have seen many people open up and create new ways to express difficult emotions in a more productive, healthier style leading to improved intimacy and connection.
In my sessions with couples and individuals who are trying to make sense of unhelpful patterns, I often hear: “I felt really angry” or “I felt frustrated.” It’s important to recognize that anger can help us access important underlying emotions.
Do You have a Problem With Anger?
Answer Yes, No, or Unsure.
__ “blow up” at others?
__ “never feel angry?”
__often criticize others?
__ feel anger but can’t express it?
__ receive negative feedback about your anger?
__ hate yourself?
__ feel bitter?
__ have impulses to harm others?
__ feel your anger is misdirected?
__ use hurtful words with others?
*List adapted from Seeking Safety Treatment Manual
Think for a moment about the last time you felt angry. Perhaps your partner said or did something that triggered an angry response.
- What was it that provoked you?
- Were you feeling misunderstood, dismissed, uncared for?
- Do you feel that no matter what you seem to try, your partner just doesn’t “get it”?
Relationship to Anger…
Taking a moment to check in with yourself before responding can help you to uncover the real emotion driving the anger. Perhaps it’s something like “when you mention a topic that’s important to me and then quickly change the subject, it makes me feel as though you don’t care that much and that feels hurtful to me.” Instead of allowing the anger to “take over” and dictate how the rest of the conversation goes, you are operating with a deeper regard for the underlying emotion that you’re feeling.
In thinking more deeply about your current relationship to expressed anger, you may want to consider the following questions:
- What messages did you receive as a child about expressing anger?
- What tends to trigger anger in you? (types of people, situations)
- Is it okay for you to feel anger?
- How do you feel about expressing angry feelings? To others? To inanimate objects?
- If you do express anger, how do you go about it? Are you aggressive? Assertive? Stubborn/ resistant? Complaining? Rebellious?
- What are you willing to do to increase your ability to recognize angry feelings? Express anger? Communicate anger appropriately?
*Questions adapted from The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook.
Next time you notice anger rising in you, take a moment to consider the trigger of the anger. Was there something specific your partner mentioned that set you off? Were you confronted with a particular person or situation at work that seems to always rub you the wrong way?
Destructive vs. Constructive View of Anger
“I’m right to be angry”/ “I have a right to be angry, but how I express it is what counts”
“I know I need to stop blowing up, but I can’t”/ “I need to listen to my emotional pain—that’s what’s behind my anger”
“The only way people hear me is if I yell” / “People will want to help me more if I talk to them respectfully”
“Others should try to make things easier for me” / “It’s ultimately up to me to take responsibility for my actions”
*List adapted from Seeking Safety Manual
The Upside of Anger
Most importantly, anger informs us when something is wrong. Our feelings are valid and real. It’s important to know that anger is not bad or wrong. Rather, it is information that can be used to help improve relationships.
Anger may serve an important purpose that helps you feel protected allowing you to make it through a difficult situation or helping you deal with something overwhelming in the best way you know how.
Often there is an unmet need behind the anger. Perhaps you are not taking enough care of yourself, or you have a lot of sadness or other emotional pressures to work through, or you are in a harmful relationship. Really tuning into your needs can help you resolve anger and adapt healthier ways of expressing yourself.
Change is Possible!
Finally, destructive anger never works in the long term. You can work to cultivate a more constructive relationship to your anger. It involves a willingness to explore your triggers and a curiosity about others feedback about your anger.
When expressed constructively, anger can serve as a way to open up new lines of communication that lead to enhanced intimacy, a deeper understanding of our vulnerabilities, and healthier relationships.