Dealing with anger

Anger can be one of the hardest feelings to deal with. Life’s difficulties often make us angry – someone has been unfair, or has hurt us, or is angry towards us, or something goes wrong and we leap to being angry.

Anger has two faces. It helps us protect ourselves when we feel threatened by something or someone, for example if we are mistakenly accused of something then feeling angry can give us the opportunity to come to our own protective defence. It’s like the furnace in a steam train where the heat gives energy that drives the train forward. But the other face of anger is potentially harmful – like a forest fire, it can start with a small smouldering flicker and can end up causing huge damage. We can feel angry about something and leap to aggressive behaviour, but this anger can be a cover for other feelings we would rather not own up to. Guilt, shame, hurt, confusion, feeling shut out, misunderstood… Underneath, anger is always a deeper-down feeling and it can often be the ‘easier’, more ‘in-control’ feeling to express rather than the more vulnerable ones, where our heart or gut feelings are hurting but we don’t want to risk people seeing them in case we lose face or get hurt even more. Anger is often the face of distress and anxiety.

Dealing with anger can take practice but we don’t need to be victims of our own aggression or rage. We can learn to think before we react. And even if we’ve reacted first (which is sometimes necessary if we’re in danger physically or emotionally; our brains and gut reactions immediately help us fuel-up with adrenalin so we can react accordingly – the ‘fight or flight’ automatic reaction) and resorted to anger before we have time to draw breath, we can usually go a long way to mending a heated situation afterwards by thinking it through and apologising where necessary.  All of us understand anger and all of us appreciate being apologised to as a way to mend things and aim for another chance to find a more empathic way forward.

Ways to try to deal with anger:

  • The old favourite, count to 10, can really work.  It gives a little space for the mind to shift gear.
  • Walk away from the heated situation to calm down.  Say “I can’t deal with this any more for now. I will come back to you later.”.
  • Go for a walk or go the gym – doing something physical allows the tension in the body to relax and then both body and mind can calm down and start to think more clearly.
  • Talk the situation through with someone else who is not directly involved. Listen to reasonable feedback and try to see it from someone else’s viewpoint – we are not always right even when we feel certain we are justified!
  • Write down your thoughts on the situation that made you angry. Try to think back to other times when you’ve felt so angry. Usually how we feel in the present is actually linked to different past experiences that made us angry/hurt/upset. If we haven’t acknowledged or dealt with the original hurts, anger in the present will add to the storehouse within us and start to be a reactionary ‘way of life’, rather than a one-off event that we can actually deal with more productively at the time.
  • Forgive yourself – for making mistakes, for getting upset – and remember that everyone is actually doing the best they can do at that moment. Some people do horrible things and while these have consequences for those affected, they are actually struggling inside and probably can’t do any better that day/that moment.  Walk away and just try to stay on your own path of being the best person you can possibly be.