Dr Thanh-Tam Pham - 11/9/2018
Anger is a common normal human emotion as everyone gets angry sometimes. However, if anger is uncontrolled, it can lead to heated arguments and violence or if it persists over a long period of time it can cause relationship problems at home and at work.
Anger can range from mild annoyance to intense fury. It is usually accompanied by angry behaviours such as abusive language, yelling, throwing things, physical violence, storming out or sometimes ignoring and withdrawing from communication and doing nothing.
Anger is accompanied by physiological changes in the body like increased heart rate and blood pressure due to the release of adrenergic hormones.
Causes of anger
You get angry when things do not happen the way you want or people do not behave the way you think they should. When your thinking is inflexible, you are less likely to accept anything different than your own ideas, principles and beliefs.
Emotions such as anger and hatred are often based on projections and exaggeration, not on objectivity and thus are basically incorrect.
People who are prone to anger have a low tolerance to frustration, inconvenience or annoyance.
The cause may be genetic or inborn like some children are born more irritable, touchy and easily angered. The other cause may be a learned behaviour especially for people who come from disruptive family and are not skilled at emotional communication.
Anger may be associated with low self -esteem, anxiety, depression or poor communication skills and inability to express the feelings like being sad, hurt or unhappy.
Anger can thus result from misunderstanding or poor communication between people.
Why the need to manage anger?
Anger becomes a problem when it affects your relationship with people around you at home and at work. Anger often involves verbal, physical or psychological abuse and people around you are often worried, frightened and cannot talk or disagree with you in case you get angry.
Anger often makes the problem getting bigger than the event that set it off.
Some people believe that venting anger was beneficial but in reality it actually escalates anger and aggression and does nothing to resolve the situation. On the other hand, bottle up anger and not expressing it may lead to the pressure cooker experience and it will blow up one day with a small trigger.
People who harbour a lot of anger are not happy as anger is like a fire that will burn the one who bears it. You can lose sleep, lose your control and be unhappy when you are angry with another person or a situation. Anger can be suppressed and redirected inward causing depression and sometimes self- harm.
Anger can be suppressed and then displaced to someone else such as when you are angry with your boss you cannot express it but then you can vent your anger toward someone close such as your partner and children.
How to manage anger?
1- Recognise that you have an anger problem.
A lot of people do not realise that they have an anger problem even though the people around them do suffer from their temper but they keep blaming everyone else. “If my partner could change, we would be happy”. Blaming other people from triggering your angry outbursts to justify your own behaviour would make the relationship worse.
So the first thing is to recognise that you have a problem of controlling your anger and it is causing a problem in your life.
2- You want to change and manage your anger.
Changing a life- long habit is never been easy as it needs a lot of determination and mind control training.
You have to understand that when intense anger arises, you lost the ability to judge between right and wrong and assess the consequences of your action. Therefore, you realise strongly that you need to distance yourself from such emotional explosions to avoid the negative and destructive effects of anger.
3-How to recognize the early signs of anger:
Many people have not learned within themselves to recognize anger as it approaches, only to be aware once it has exploded.
You have to be aware of the warning signs of anger such as heart racing, feeling flushed, sweaty, clench jaw, make fists, sweaty palms.. The earlier you can recognise these warning signs, the more successful you will be at calming yourself before it gets out of control.
When you start to be angry, you can notice some emotional changes within yourself such as annoyance, frustration, sadness, stressed, feeling of jealousy,… These emotions may spiral out of control.
You need to understand yourself especially what make you react strongly: try to write down everything that usually triggered your anger in a piece of paper and try to think how you can solve them when you encounter them.
There are 3 levels of recognition:
- Aware of your anger only after the outburst already happened: it is late as the damage is already done but you can still remediate the situation by admitting that you were angry and felt sorry about what you said or did that were hurtful to the other person.
- Aware of your anger during the outburst: try to cut down what hurtful things you want to say. If it is too hard to stop, try to walk away from the situation and return your attention to your breath or to your footsteps. After you calm down, you can resume the conversation and say your opinion in a constructive way.
- Aware of the early signs of anger before it happens: this is the best situation to be able to defer the angry outburst. When you realise you are angry and you do not follow the anger it usually die down on its own. You can use your practice of patience, forgiveness, loving kindness and understanding toward the other person to see things more objectively without much emotional workup.
4- Do not have unrealistic expectations.
If you believe that things should be perfect, it is almost unavoidable to feel disappointed and hurt. Nothing is perfect so do not expect it in your partner or children.
5- Changing or accepting a situation or life event.
If an unpleasant situation arises, see if you could change it. If you could change it so make steps to do something about it instead of getting all worked up and angry or be frustrated.
If you could not change the situation, you will have to accept it otherwise it will lead to more frustration and anger and it will make the situation worse.
6- Do not overreact to criticism.
If someone criticised you, see if the comment is founded.
If it is true that you make a mistake, you should listen and learn and have the courage to accept that you are wrong.
If it is untrue and the other person made a mistake, you can tell the person and then let it go. Nobody is perfect so accept that the other person just made a mistake.
7- Practice patience.
Patience is a virtue to counteract anger. When you are angry, just count to 100. Do not burst out the first thing that comes to your mind. You may regret it later as whatever you say will stick to the other person’s mind and will make the relationship worse.
8- Forgiveness is letting go of the past.
If you were hurt or injured in the past, and if the thought causes intense anger or hatred to that person, you will never be free of that person. Forgiveness is a sign of positive self- esteem, an act of courage to assert that you are no longer victims of past injuries or injustices.
Forgiveness does not erase what happened but allows you to lessen the pain. The past no longer dictates how you live in the present and it no longer affects your future.
Sometimes you use your resentment and anger of what happened in the past as an excuse for your depression and your shortcomings. You do not need to punish others nor yourself by withdrawing socially and keeping others away from you.
Forgiveness is you no longer wish to punish those who hurt you. The anger you feel toward them hurt you far more than it hurts them as it destroys your happiness and inner peace at the present moment. When your mind is not peaceful, you have a tendency to overreact to other persons including your loved one who will suffer from your bad temper.
You have to realise that the energy spent to rehearse about the past and feel sorry for yourself is better spent on improving your present life and your future.
9- Show understanding toward others.
Try to understand the other person’s view before getting upset and angry.
Sometimes a parent is so angry towards a child when the child did something that may hurt itself. It is important that you show more understanding and not anger if you try to make the other person change the behaviour.
Try to visualise yourself at the receiving end of your angry behaviour and see how it affects you, to curb down your anger.
10- Meditation and mindfulness:
You need to let go of the past and the future and be mindful in the present moment.
Practice mindfulness is to observe objectively every change in your mind and body to detect the early signs of anger and understand the cause of anger as well.
Meditation helps you to achieve peace in your mind and have insight about your anger problem.
Loving kindness meditation: it helps to bring positive changes in the mind to develop compassion. The practice always begins with developing a loving acceptance of yourself to overcome any feelings of self -doubt or negativity. When you can accept yourself, you can then extend loving kindness towards others. This is an unconditional love, not restricted to friends and family, and it extends to all living beings. This is pure love with no expectations of anything in return.
Anger, if uncontrolled, can give rise to destructive forces and it is the cause of much suffering to yourself and to others around you. Anger is not a sign of strength but it is more a sign of weakness as when you lose your temper, you can no longer see things objectively or make the right decisions. On the other hand, patience and loving kindness will give rise to wisdom, inner peace and happiness.
Live each day as if it is your last. Life is short and it is much better spent positively then negatively. Realize that if you spend all your time being angry, you will miss the many opportunities at happiness that life has to offer.