Healthy anger requires self-awareness, open communication, and the ability to self-soothe. When you can clearly describe your thoughts and feelings, be open to alternative perspectives, and problem-solve, you keep your anger in check and promote intimacy in relationships. On the other hand, if your anger feels out of your control, makes you “see red,” or even scares the people around you, you must develop a new way of expressing your anger.
Before you can rein in your anger, however, you must stop minimizing or justifying it. Look in the mirror and acknowledge your responsibility for your actions. Refrain from pointing the finger at others for setting you off or provoking you. Physical and verbal aggression never have a place in your relationships. There is always another option.
Once you have fully owned your anger, it is time to understand it. Explore the following aspects of your anger to learn more about its origin, its purpose, and how to address it.
1. How Long Has This Been Going On?
Ask yourself if the way you manage your anger is new to your life or if it precedes your current situation. When you are honest with yourself, you may recognize a long-term pattern of losing your temper or expressing your anger in unhealthy ways. Perhaps you’ve always had a short fuse and taken your anger out on others. Perhaps you’ve taken your anger out on yourself through self-harm (substance abuse, self-injury, risk-taking, etc.). Allowing yourself to recognize the pattern will help you continue to take responsibility for your actions. You will have further evidence that something inside of you needs to heal.
If your anger does feel new, assess your life for anything unhealthy that impacts your behavior in a negative way. Substance abuse, toxic relationships, and recent trauma can all impact how you manage your anger. Traumatic brain injuries have also been known to alter personalities. Please be sure to address any emotional, situational, or medical factors that could be involved in learning to control your anger.
2. Is There a Cycle?
Use a diary or calendar to chart out when your angry episodes occur, their frequency, and what is going on in your life when they happen. Pay attention to the time between episodes, too. Describe your mood, physical sensations, stress level, and any events or interactions that take place on a daily basis. You might become aware of a gradual increase in tension or irritability that eventually builds up to an explosion. Be sure to note how you feel after an episode, identifying any remorse, shame, or even relief. This can help reinforce consequences of maintaining your angry behaviors and/or offer you valuable information regarding your stress-management needs.
When you tune into your daily experience, you will learn how your anger develops over time. You will gain a clearer picture of what triggers you; even small triggers add up! Even if your anger seems like it erupts quickly and without warning, there is usually something bubbling under the surface. For example, a low tolerance for frustration, a need to control your environment, or anxiety about your life situation can all lead to uncontrollable anger. The more you understand about what fuels your anger and how it progresses, the greater chance you have to address it with therapy, coping skills, or relaxation techniques.
3. Consider Your Family History
Who were your models of emotional expression? The way your parents or caregivers expressed feelings can influence how you recognize emotions and cope with them.
As you begin to uncover the roots of your anger, you can begin to separate your past from your present.
In some families, anger is the only emotion expressed, which can limit your emotional vocabulary. Disappointment, hurt, and embarrassment can become confused with and communicated as anger. Your response to distress also depends highly on what you witnessed as a child. If you watched the important adults in your life act in aggressive or hurtful ways, you might learn to do the same.
Furthermore, families who struggle to experience the vast array of emotions may also struggle to accept and validate you for who you are. Long-lasting anger can develop when we have not been permitted to be ourselves and communicate our thoughts, feelings, and needs openly.
4. Consider Your Personal History
Traumatic experiences of abuse, violence, or other life-threatening circumstances can create an unsafe view of the world and fuel a need to be on guard at all times. This kind of hypervigilance can make you interpret those around you as critical or deceptive, even when they have good or neutral intentions. You may also be justifiably angry at those who hurt you in your past; instead of healing those wounds, though, you take your pain out on those around you. It’s as if your current relationships are being asked to pay the penalty for crimes they did not commit.
As you begin to uncover the roots of your anger, you can begin to separate your past from your present. You can live in the here-and-now with your loved ones, rather than reliving horrific experiences that no longer exist today. If it feels appropriate, you can learn to forgive those who hurt you, thereby letting go of the weight of the pain they caused you. You may also need to forgive yourself for any pain your anger caused the people you love.
Be kind and patient with yourself during this process, as it may reveal aspects of your life that are painful or uncomfortable. Seek support from a professional who is trained to assist you in your self-discovery. A therapist, meditation teacher, spiritual/religious advisor, etc., can help you learn valuable tools to heal past hurts, respond appropriately to a variety of emotions, and cope with the present-day experience of your anger.
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