Anger is a powerful emotion that comes from fear, frustration or strong disappointment. It is a natural human emotion, experienced by all of us. Many people think of anger as only a "bad" or "negative" emotion, which can prevent themselves or others from using it in a healthy and helpful way.
Everybody, young and old, male and female, feels angry at some time or another. Many people think that men, especially young men, get angry more often than women. This is a myth. This belief may have come about because men and women tend to express their anger in different ways.
Men and boys are given messages that they should be 'tough' and that it is unmanly to express feelings such as fear, hurt, rejection and other 'painful' emotions.
Women and girls are generally taught that getting angry is 'unladylike' or unfeminine. What names have you heard females called if they show anger? "out of control", "bitch.."
This can mean that women are more likely to bottle up their anger or ignore it, while men lose their temper and let people know they feel angry.
Anger can lead to dangerous situations unless you learn to recognise and manage it.
Recognising anger in yourself and others
When you get angry, your body releases a whole load of chemicals into your brain and they change the way your body is working. It stimulates the 'fight or flight' response so that your heart beats faster to push blood and the oxygen it carries, round to every part of your body, giving muscles and organs a boost to perform at their best.
Anger makes the heart pump faster; breathing gets faster and irregular (panting).
Your temperature rises and your body shakes or trembles.
You may feel like you want to hit out at something or someone, hurt yourself or others, run away as fast as you can, burst into tears or scream and shout.
People who are angry look very tense with clenched fists and tight muscles.
Their eyes look wild or tearful, their voices sound loud and uncontrolled, or extremely quiet and 'dangerous'.
Their face may be red and look swollen, or very white and tight looking with lips drawn back (a sort of human version of a dog snarling!).
If most of these signs are there then this could be a dangerous situation unless it is handled well by you and any other person involved.
How anger can be helpful
In spite of the way anger is often viewed, it can be a helpful emotion in our lives. Anger can help you by:
driving you to reach your goals, handle emergencies and solve problems
helping you express stress and tension
communicating to others what you are feeling
motivating change towards social justice.
In more primitive times anger was used as a survival tool. In more modern times, anger is also useful to:
notice you have been treated unfairly or been emotionally attacked by others
help you protect your emotional well-being
allow you to stand up for yourself and your rights
show disapproval when someone breaks social rules or 'norms'. Anger communicates a message that some behaviour is not OK, eg. you might get angry at Joe when he 'beats up his girlfriend' because you see violence as very harmful, illegal and not OK
lead to changes in the way our society runs. When a group of people get angry over the same things, they will often join together to change the situation, eg. marches against racism or protests against war.
Note: Your anger can be useful, but only if you express it in a helpful way. It is important that you don't hurt yourself or other people or damage property.
Dealing with your anger
Your instinctive reaction to anger is to go into Attack, Hurt, Destroy, Defend mode!
This can lead to your hurting someone, or hurting yourself if the other person isn’t around to hurt!
It can lead to damage to property and making really stupid choices that may lead to lasting problems in the future.
Stop and ask yourself why you are really angry.
Is it because you fear something?
Do you feel you have been treated unfairly?
Did someone say or do something that embarrassed you?
Did something hurt your feelings?
Did you feel a lack of respect for you and your needs?
Does it remind you of another experience where you were hurt?
Expressing anger in hurtful ways
When people are not aware of how they are feeling, they can sometimes let anger cause an unhealthy outburst. Anger then becomes negative, destructive and can harm you or other important people and things in your life.
If you frequently lose your temper, you may find it can:
be hard to keep friends, partners, family or employment
make both yourself and other people miserable
hurt yourself or others (often loved ones)
lead to loneliness and unhappiness
lead to violence - this is harmful to others, illegal, you may be charged with assault, or other crimes.
Anger can take over your life!
If you feel low or have little control in your life, you can sometimes use anger to manipulate or make others afraid of you. This can give you a sense of strength, power and control over the people around you. Using anger this way can hurt other people and yourself. It makes it difficult to keep friends or other relationships and can lead to feelings of guilt or shame. These feelings can lead to low self-esteem, and increased anger and loneliness. It becomes a vicious cycle! It is never OK to use anger to hurt people in any way!
On the other hand, when people ignore their anger, it has nowhere else to go, and can often turn upon its owner.
When you bottle up your anger, you may:
find this method only works for a short period of time
have depression, low self-esteem or anxiety
use drugs and alcohol to "cover it up"
feel ugly, horrible and hate yourself
hurt or punish yourself
explode - often over little things that wouldn't normally worry you
aim it at people who had nothing to do with the original cause of the anger
let anger take over your life!
Bottling it up means anger continues to lurk like an emotional monster, waiting for opportunities to hurt you or someone else.
Starting to take control
Strong anger is not related to sensible thinking or working things out, which is why you need to learn how to deal with anger in a positive way.
Anger produces a lot of power and energy. To be able to manage it you may need to work out ways of reducing it until it is controllable and you are able to use it to make things change.
You could learn to channel that energy into useful physical actions like:
getting away from the person you are angry with
cleaning your room
scrubbing the floor
mowing the lawn
screaming as loud as you can into a pillow or outside in a place where you can be alone
writing all your angry thoughts down on a piece of paper then tearing it up into satisfyingly small pieces
counting down from ten to one (in your mind if you are not alone) starting with a screaming 'ten' and bringing down the volume to a whispering 'one'.
exercise - do push ups and sit ups, leg bicycling lying on your back, practise throwing or pitching a ball or hitting a ball with a racket or bat into a blanket hung on the clothesline (not into a wall as your aim might be off and you could end up breaking something).
It is not a good idea to drive, ride a bike or operate machinery when your anger is out of control.
Getting help to sort things out
If you are angry because of harassment/bullying or discrimination, there are laws and policies at work, school, college or university to deal with this. Make an appointment with a counsellor or equal rights representative and find out the steps you can take.
If you're angry because you are the victim of a violent crime, ring your local police station or legal advice service to gain further information.
If anger has become a problem in your life, you may want to visit a counsellor. They can help you explore personal issues that help you to stay angry most of the time. Sometimes life experiences can hold you back from moving on with your life. Many people get help when they feel the things they're trying on their own aren't working.
Coping with the anger of other people
If you can see that someone is getting angry and out of control:
your safety is most important, so step back and stay quiet.
speak quietly and calmly if the angry person is asking questions.
if the situation looks like becoming violent then go and get help from a trusted adult.
If someone in your home is often angry that is not your fault.
No one can make someone else angry. Everyone needs to control their own anger and not allow it to take over their minds and bodies.
If you are living in what is sometimes a violent home then you need to talk with a trusted adult.
It is not 'dobbing' on someone if you are in an unsafe situation. You and the person who is unable to control his or her anger need some help.
Work out what you will need to do to keep yourself safe.
Have an emergency fund stashed to get yourself out of there and round to your trusted friends.
Have a small bag filled with basic essentials ready to go in case you have get out in a hurry.
Don't lose your temper or react, just avoid eye contact, stay calm and quiet and walk away as soon as you safely can.
Call the police if you fear for the safety of yourself and others who are there.
Skills to learn and practise
Get to know yourself so that you can recognise when you are starting to feel angry.
Work out what it is that is making you feel angry and then think of how you can deal with it without losing your temper.
Being able to communicate calls for listening and speaking skills.
Practise being an active listener. Active listening involves:
giving the speaker eye contact
making 'listening noises' eg "uhuh" and "yes I see"
showing you understand by repeating what they have said using your own words eg. "Do you mean…?"
Practise thinking logically about what you want to say.
Speak quietly without getting upset.
Being assertive is about standing up for yourself without getting upset or losing your temper.
It is about listening, then saying things like, "I hear what you are saying but have you thought about…"
It is about being able to agree that you are not going to agree, but that it's okay for each of you to have your own opinions.
It is about toleration and compromise.
It is about knowing how to stand your ground without being threatening to anyone.
Being assertive is a very important skill that everyone should learn.
Anger is a strong emotion. Strong emotions can get in the way of clear thinking and commonsense. Conflict resolution skills are helpful when dealing with strong emotions
Conflict resolution is about:
working through the problem
listening to and respecting each other's opinions
finding a solution that is win-win. That is when there is no winner and no loser, but each person has to be prepared to give up something to get something that they want.