Why Anger Management is for Everyone
If you never lash out with aggression, you may consider yourself a person who has absolutely no anger issues and no use for anger management. You may think that you have your anger completely under control or that you just don’t get angry at all. Nice assumption! But that doesn’t mean it’s true.
Everyone—including the most mild-natured among us—gets angry sometimes. Anger is a natural, healthy emotion. However, a multitude of factors like temperament and upbringing lead us to express anger in different ways.
Coping and Expressing Anger Issues
Some people break down and cry, some people explode into rage, but most of us fall somewhere in between these two extremes when it comes to expressing anger inappropriately.
In the article, The #1 Communication Skill, I introduced the concept of assertiveness as a critical skill for getting your point across in a disagreement. For many similar reasons, assertiveness skills play a vital role in helping us to appropriately manage and express anger.
Why Express Anger Inappropriately?
The inappropriate expression of anger takes on different forms in different people, but there is definitely a common denominator. It’s the apparent payoff, or temporary reward, that comes along with the method of anger management (or anger mismanagement) being used.
That payoff is generally temporary and it doesn’t take long for the undesirable, long-term side effects to negate the value of any benefits therein.
As children, we learn ways to express anger; but we have the ability to change these learned behaviors as adults. To do so; however, you must recognize your approach(es) to anger, the temporary payoffs that you thrive on, and the consequences that you’ve suffered. Only then can you begin to turn things around with effective anger management.
How We Express Anger
Here’s a quick look at 3 ways people approach anger issues inappropriately; as well as, examples of apparent payoffs and the resulting consequences:
1. Passive Approach to Expressing Anger
A passive approach to anger may include pretending that you aren’t angry, “laughing it off”, apologizing when you’ve done nothing wrong, doing things you don’t want to do, “stuffing” angry feelings deep inside yourself, or substituting sadness and tears for feelings of anger.
Unexpressed anger is still anger. It is real and it doesn’t cease to exist by being ignored; therefore, the passive person needs help with managing anger just as much as the person whose anger comes out in a disruptive manner.
Apparent/temporary payoffs of the passive approach to anger:
- Pacifies others
- Quickly ends or avoids conflict
- Gain or keep the favor of someone
- Gain sympathy from others
- Opportunity to play victim
- Ends or prevents confrontation
Long-term negative side effects of handling anger passively:
- Feelings of being disregarded, overlooked, taken advantage of
- Needs don’t get met
- Feelings of helplessness, loneliness, sadness
- Mental health issues (depression, suicidal ideation, self mutilation, etc…)
- Physical illness (high blood pressure, poor immune system, diseases)
- People run over you, cross your personal boundaries and treat you unfairly
- Always sacrificing and never being sacrificed for
2. Passive-Aggressive Method of Expressing Anger
This method of expressing anger includes the silent treatment, underhanded revenge, “forgetting” to do things you agreed to do, sarcasm or snide remarks, intentionally doing a poor job of something you don’t want to do. There are many other examples, but the common factor here is manipulation.
Apparent/Temporary payoff of the passive-aggressive expression of anger:
- Feelings of vindication and satisfaction from paying back or hurting those who “owe you” or “deserve it”
- Underhanded revenge. Opportunity to hurt a person’s feelings, pay them back, show them how you feel, or make them see things your way—seemingly unintentionally.
- Saving face. You get to appear to be the “good guy” rather than the angry person by acting out “quietly” and making people feel bad without directly “doing” anything to make them feel bad
- Avoids the feelings of guilt or discomfort that come with expressing your true feelings
- Reduced risk or rejection or being ignored by manipulating rather than being direct
- Relief of tension
Long term side effects of expressing anger passive-aggressively:
- People don’t connect the dots, so your underhanded message isn’t received
- Nobody gets your point
- You remain angry
- Nothing changes, issues that make you angry regularly repeat themselves
- You aren’t taken seriously
- People begin to expect and ignore your passive-aggressive behaviors
- Feelings of frustration, victimization or helplessness
- Anger turns inward, grows and manifests into depression and/or illnesses
- Loss of relationships. People are annoyed with your behavior, they don’t understand the point, and they leave
3. Aggressive approach to expressing anger
Aggression is the most easily recognized inappropriate expression of anger because it directly affects others. Screaming, yelling, cursing and name-calling; as well as, breaking, throwing and hitting things, are all examples of expressing anger aggressively.
Apparent/Temporary payoffs of expressing anger aggressively:
- The person you’re angry at notices you and realizes you’re angry
- Scaring or intimidating someone
- Release of mounting tension and anxiety
- Feelings of importance and accomplishment
- Feeling of control or power
Long-term side effects of aggressively expressing anger:
- Legal problems
- Property damage
- Damaged relationships with family; breakups and divorce; loss of friends
- Get fired from jobs or expelled from schools
- Permanent loss of attention from others because they no longer want you around
- Feelings of abandonment, loneliness, lack of control, failure, self-criticism, regret
As you recognize and understand your own anger issues, it becomes easier to understand their impact and to turn things around.
Anger management isn’t about not getting angry. It’s also not about getting your way or convincing people to agree with what you have to say. It is about expressing your anger in a clear, assertive and non-manipulative manner that doesn’t disregard the feelings of others. This is where assertiveness skills come in handy.
Nobody becomes a master of assertiveness overnight, but you can immediately improve your anger issues by simply being more mindful. Begin to pay close attention to your anger and make conscious choices about how to respond. When you realize that you’ve expressed your anger inappropriately, take some time to think back over the situation and write down how you could have handled it better. There is no more perfect starting place.
I’ll revisit the topic next week to look at awesome anger management techniques that work for even the most explosive forms of anger. But for now, I’ll close with a sample scenario.
Example: Your spouse promised to clean the kitchen tonight while you run a series of time-consuming errands. You return home exhausted after several hours only to find your beloved asleep and the kitchen in shambles. What do you do?
Option 1- Cleaning it up and keeping your anger to yourself would be passive.
Option 2- Loudly slamming cabinets and clashing dishes together as you clean would be passive-aggressive.
Option 3- Throwing a pot of food across the room would be aggressive.
An appropriate, assertive statement: “I feel deeply disappointed and angry because I expected to come home to a clean kitchen after running the errands as you asked. It means a lot to me that you keep your word on this. Please clean the kitchen as you promised. Okay?”
There is no guarantee that your assertiveness will get the results that you want; but the same is true for the inappropriate methods you’ve used in the past. The difference here is that you get your feelings out. You aren’t stuffing anger inside of yourself, you aren’t leaving someone there to wonder what in hell is wrong with you, and you aren’t risking a domestic violence charge. You are expressing your anger like an emotionally stable, respectful and respectable adult. Who doesn’t feel good about that?
It’s comment time….What inappropriate methods do you use to express anger? Do you find it hard to admit the payoffs that drive these behaviors? Have you tried improving your assertiveness skills? Do you find it difficult to control anger or to handle anger issues differently?
Photo credit: Valena David