How to be angry without killing anyone
Updated: Nov 13, 2021
Most of us have had moments when we were angry and said or did something that we regretted later.
The bad news is, while we tend to forget about it, our anger can create a lasting impression on others. We may find that we have created an unwanted reputation for ourselves.
The good news is, we can manage our anger. But, managing anger means that we think about it and change how we act. It can be easier said than done.
Here are few things to consider.
Know your triggers
Knowing what makes us angry is the first step to handling it when it happens. When we anticipate a situation, we disarm it. We are less likely to act impulsively and we cope better. Anticipatory coping lets us prepare for the inevitable. Decide ahead of time how you will act. Make a behavior contract with yourself and try to keep it.
Break the chain
Every emotion has an action potential. When we are happy, we tend to engage and share with others. When we are sad, we tend to withdraw. When we are angry, we tend to lash out. But we have to recognize that the emotion and the behavior are separate. Yes, the influence each other. But we do not have to let emotion lead to action. Being angry does not necessarily mean that we have to act angry.
A lot of times our anger is really just frustration coming to the surface. It can be what I call flash anger. We are intensely angry for a moment but we can set it aside fairly quickly and move on with our day. The problem is that while we may have forgotten about it, others around us may not. Anger is an intense emotion and creates a strong impression. We can inadvertently create a reputation for being hot-headed that we may not see, but others do.
Another problem with impulsive emotions is that they set us up for manipulation. When people figure out what buttons to push, they may push them when it is to their advantage and not ours.
Express it safely
A lot of emotions create energy. Sometimes it helps if we vent that energy in a safe way. Angry? Go for a walk, a run, or workout. Even taking a few moments to stretch can help. The key is to move. When we put a muscle under tension and then relax it, our stress tends to dissipate.
The secret behind expressing an emotion safely is that it is really a process of letting go. When we find a channel to express an emotion, we want it to drain and weaken the power of the emotion, not strengthen it.
Recognize that anger is sometimes a fraud
Anger can cover up a lot of things. Sometimes it stands in for other emotions. Sometimes when we are deeply frustrated or, perhaps, we have been mistreated or disrespected in some way, it can trigger us. Sometimes, our concern that someone we love will make a terrible decision gets expressed as anger when it is really fear. Anger likes to step in and take over other emotions. But it is a fraud. We do not have to let anger override other emotions. But it means that we have to be able to tell the difference.
Sometimes our emotional awareness and our emotional vocabulary are poor. When we are having trouble placing our emotions, anger likes to takeover. But is really just us acting out. We can stop it if we really know how and why we feel the way we do.
Talk about it
Walking around angry and steamed up all day is like setting an ambush for yourself and others. One of the quickest ways to defuse the power of an emotion is to simply admit it exists. If I was angry, I could simply say, “Wow, I am still mad about that last meeting. I really don’t want this to ruin my day.” When we explain how we feel two things happen. First, we experience relief by disclosing our emotion. Secondly, we give others the opportunity to see what is going on and support us. We don’t have to solve anything. Just simply sharing with each other helps smooth out our emotions.
Talking about a situation or how we feel is helpful. But we want to be careful not to focus so much on it that we inadvertently drag out a negative emotion. We want to briefly share and then move on. We do not want to start a day-long pity party. When we handle our emotions up front it helps set the stage for problem-solving. Handling our negative emotions helps get them out of the way so we can shift gears to positive action.
Close it out
Many times, anger is like an uninvited house guest that just does not want to leave. It is a strong emotion, so it can stay with us. If we let anger linger or keep it bottled up inside of us, we may express it at an inappropriate time for an inappropriate reason. Let’s say we were angry over a meeting. If we keep anger inside of us, we may lash out later over something else that is unrelated and unimportant while at work.
When the moment of anger has passed, we can close it out by simply acknowledging it or saying we were sorry. We might say, “I am sorry I reacted that way, but I was really frustrated that they did not recognize our hard work.” When we take the time to apologize and break the chain, we let others know it is behind us and we can move on.
For more insights see my books and blog at https://www.jamesmcginley.com.
Or, my YouTube channel, The Coping Expert, at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbsIoVmbTlMZFNqv_1vCu9Q
James McGinley, PhD is a professor, author, certified life coach, and licensed counselor. He is interested in cross-cultural and applied psychology, whether at work, as a part of a team, in our personal lives and in our relationships with others, or when we face adversity in life – whether from stress, addiction, or exposure to crisis.
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