Anger can kill romance, screw up aspects of work, eat away at relationships, be used as a tool to gain more power or release pent up feelings. Anger can also be a useful way to communicate when done in an appropriate way. Men in particular often have difficulties with anger. Western societies teach men that feeling scared, hurt, guilty or sad is weak and shameful and so most males force their emotions underground at a very early age. In this way, our culture contributes a lot to the mental health issues of both men. The problem is that these feelings don’t just go away. In fact, they build up over time and can cause a lot of emotional pressure. The result of strong emotional pressure is that people will often just get angry rather than feeling sad or hurt.
Sometimes people may respond too strongly to a situation because of the pressure from stored up feelings. For example, you might lash out verbally in a harsh manner at your partner who is preoccupied with getting a child’s homework done instead of paying attention to what you are saying. You overreact because of the bottled up emotions. This means that situation itself is just the straw that broke the camel’s back. This type of anger is quite destructive for both parties. The partner just gets defensive and hurt, and the person lashing out doesn’t feel heard.
One way around this is to ask yourself “what is underneath this anger?” Try and identify what it is that you are feeling. Do you perhaps feel emotions such as hurt, sadness, guilt or shame? Once you have worked this out, then try and tell your partner for example, that you feel hurt when they do a particular thing. If you are feeling really pissed off, it’s better to go for a short walk, or even spend five minutes in the toilet cooling down. Expressing your emotions while throwing your partner’s favourite crystal decanter at his or her cat is not overly conducive to effective and loving communication. Talking about how angry you felt at a certain time when you are calm and rational can be very positive. This can be more effective if you are open to really listening to the other person and having an open mind to what they also have to say.
Holding on to anger and pretending it is not there can be very destructive. Anger does not just disappear, it usually leaks out in other, sometimes very powerful ways. For example, suddenly becoming silent and having “that look” on your face for example can be quite aggressive in some situations. It is better to cool down and then talk about how you feel rather than holding it in. If it is inappropriate to talk about it, at least acknowledge to yourself that you are angry. Another thing that causes anger is the way that we think. If you say to yourself that your partner “should” (ie. must) communicate when you want them to, and it is terrible when they don’t, it is likely that you will get quite frustrated with her or him.
One way around this is to identify what you are saying to yourself. If you can find these types of demanding thoughts, challenge them. Why must he/she do what I want when I want it? If you can change demanding thoughts into preferences, it can help to reduce irrational anger. For example, “I would prefer it if he/she didn’t watch the television while we are eating family meals.” In this situation, it may be important to also communicate about the impact her/his choice to watch tv during meals is having on your attraction or interest in your partner and the example it sets for your children about relationship communications.
Anger doesn’t have to get in the way of getting what you want in life when you can talk about how you feel with people when appropriate, identify and challenge demanding thinking, and cool off before reacting. Anger management is a fundamental skill useful for work social and personal relationships. For assistance learning how to manage your anger, speak with your GP about getting a Mental Health Care Plan and come see one of our psychologists. Or, if you prefer, call the Centre for Human Potential directly and book in to speak with a psychologist.
Clinical Psychologist Annabelle Young has extensive experience in working with people with depression, anxiety (including panic), adjustment difficulties, stress, trauma, PTSD, bipolar disorder, low self-esteem, grief and loss, interpersonal difficulties, as well as alcohol and drug use issues.