We live in the age of angry. You see it everywhere - rage on the roads, violence in the home, incontinent public outbursts by celebrities - while the myth lives on, that it’s good to ‘get the anger out’.
For all the scientific attention given to stress, depression, addiction and anxiety, anger hardly gets a look in by comparison. We fail to see chronic and excessive anger for the mental health issue that it is, causing huge (health) dangers to the sufferer personally, as well as to those at the receiving end of the aggression, the workdays lost, not to mention costs to the health service.
Inspired by anger expert Joe Griffin I am on a mission to name the elephant in the room.
Anger needs to be better understood so that it can be acknowledged for what it is, and be managed effectively.
Are you ever more angry than you’d like to be or, do you wonder ‘where that comes from’ when you lash out at people too often?
Perhaps you go around with a chronic sense of indignation or superiority even - a certainty that you are right and others wrong?
I have certainly always been interested in those personal emotions that are out of proportion with what’s going on in the moment; when I instinctively don’t like or dismiss someone, without having given them a chance first….
Let’s be clear:
Anger is a healthy emotion, programmed into us since the beginning of time and vital for our survival. Anger - as someone famously said - expressed at the right time, to the right person, in the right amount, is part of a healthy and successful life.
Unbridled anger on the other hand - even if passively expressed - is tantamount to having your life ruled by the tantrums of an infant or an untamed beast.
How can you begin to manage your anger?
Firstly, the emotion of anger needs to be recognised and regarded as information. It is not good, nor bad.
Once recognised, we need to separate the emotion from what comes next and decide how to express it appropriately in the context of the particular situation we’re in. This is a vital skill.
When we learn to refine our emotions and curb our appetites, we mature as individuals and as a society, allowing us to move beyond a state of permanent infanthood.
Fight or Flight
Anger, like anxiety, is triggered by our survival mechanism. That’s why we talk about ‘fight or flight’.
While we can muster up a lot of patience for each other’s anxiety and worry and are happy to pull out the tissues, we can be ill at ease when faced with angry behaviour, preferring to look the other way.
Women in particular, have often been conditioned to believe that anger is un-ladylike. Their anger is accompanied by shame or guilt. This can feed resentment and passive forms of aggression such as stockpiling complaints or cold-shouldering.
What is healthy anger and what is not healthy?
Creative people know about strongly held passions. We need righteous anger for example, to deal with some of the innumerable threats to the quality of our lives.
The trick though, is to distinguish what is healthy and right from chronic anger, which, like addiction, can be a symptom of untreated trauma.
I am sure that our prisons would be emptier, and that there would be less bullying about, if we made it amatter of course to look atwhat lies beneath bad behaviour and aggression.
Try to catch your own defensive moments and discover what’s ‘at stake’. I find it very insightful and it increases my empathy for others.
Time out to reclaim your intelligence
An anger attack can flare up in seconds and the high level of emotional arousal will instantly rob us of our thinking abilities. I bet we all recognise these ‘what came over me?!’ moments.
Next time I’ll share with you some examples of how I helped people deal with their (sub-threshold) traumas so that they could reclaim their ability to choose how to respond to anger.
TAKE ACTION: Time Out
Before then, see if this helps you:
Once angry it takes our bodies 20 minutes to calm down enough to be back to ‘full’ intelligence again. So, take your 20 minutes of ’time-out’ when you know you need to and if you are a parent or educator encourage your child to take that Time Out when she needs it.
Renée van der Vloodt ( M.A. , FHGI ) is a psychotherapist and coach – and has had a private practice for over 20 years, which is now based at the Elysian Centre in Rye, East Sussex.
Renée is the author of the CD Calm the Chaos of the Creative Mind and works with children and adults as a coach and therapist to help them overcome life's challenges and emotional difficulties including stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anger or addictive behaviour.