Why Anger is So Important
Anger is one of those emotions that we don’t talk about openly or frequently. Anger is often looked at as a “bad” emotion and many times people have shame or embarrassment about feeling angry so it gets a bad rap more or less. As a society or culture, we are simply poorly equipped to deal with anger and most emotions to be frank. More people are unhappy because they just don’t know how to be happy or how to generate their own happiness and given that, it is no surprise that we don’t deal with anger. Anger can be healthy and healing and is definitely a component of healing your heart.
Anger can also be an underlying factor of low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and several mental health conditions including antisocial personality disorder, ADHD, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and more. From this list of mental health conditions that it is clear that getting ahead of anger and learning how to process and deal with anger in a healthy way is extremely critical to your mental health. Later on in this post you can read the list of physical health problems that anger can cause people, which is extensive and very negative.
Unidentified anger can be directed either inwards towards yourself or outward at other people. When anger is directed inwards it can cause shame, self-blame, self-attacks, self-loathing (when you don’t like yourself), self-harm and addictions to name some of the consequences of not dealing with anger. When anger is directed outwards, it can be put upon the people in your life – spouses, significant others, children, coworkers and even strangers. This is another reason to learn to deal with anger because it is an emotion that doesn’t disappear when not dealt with – it goes inward or outward.
You want to be able to identify, process and manage anger and use it to your advantage and make sure that you heal your heart from any anger that lingers from the past. Anger can fall under the umbrella category of emotional pain so it’s helpful to understand emotional pain. If you are alive and living life you will from time to time have to deal with things that are painful or that make you angry. It is just part of life. Getting skills, habits, practices, attitudes and beliefs that empower you will help you stay mentally healthy and avoid the negative health impacts on your physical body.
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Types of Anger
Anger is defined as an intense feeling of tension and hostility in response to being hurt, frustrated, disappointed or threatened with respect to one’s self, property, rights or values. It can vary from mild irritation to intense anger or rage. It’s helpful to distinguish a few different types of anger and some emotions often associated with anger as you build your knowledge base and grow skills in managing and dealing with anger.
Denial of anger: It is important to note that some people go into denial when it comes to anger because they just can’t face their anger or there is some inconsistency with the anger that they can’t acknowledge or deal with. If you grew up in a family where you were not allowed to be angry then you would not be highly skilled or possibly not even be able to realize when you are or should be angry. Denial is one of the stages of grief that precedes anger and it is part of the grief process, which is normal.
Displaced anger: When you don’t feel safe directing your anger at the person, organization or individuals with whom you are angry you instead place your anger on a “safe” target. This is a coping mechanism or strategy that is unconsciously done where or when it is either unsafe or somehow unacceptable to be angry with the actual person involved. It is extremely valuable to understand this concept because you can then determine when someone is being angry with you whether you might be the target of their anger inappropriately or unnecessarily. The more self-aware you become the easier this will be. To give you an example: you are mad at a family member yet you don’t feel like you can express your anger with them so instead you take your anger out on someone else. It’s like the phrase – who kicked the dog.
Projected anger: Projection in the field of psychology is where you attribute feelings that you actually have onto others. In projected anger, you are angry with someone or some entity and since you don’t feel or believe that this is acceptable you then in turn begin thinking that the other person/people/entity are actually angry with you.
Suppressed anger: this is where anger is set aside to be dealt with at a later point in time. For example, something happens while you are out with your friends, which causes you to be angry with one of your friends and rather than hashing it out in the group, you make a mental note to talk to your friend privately about it later.
Repressed anger: This is anger that has been placed or pushed into your unconscious mind so that it is out of your awareness. This can happen when something is so traumatic or unexpected or is otherwise something that your mind simply cannot deal with. It is extremely important that you get to the bottom of any repressed anger because it can completely destroy your life and your future.
Acting out: This involves engaging in extreme behavior in order to express thoughts or feelings that the person feels that they can’t otherwise express. Acting out is an expression of unconscious impulses or desires that takes the form of action when the person acting out is not aware that there is an emotion driving their actions. Instead of using words and expressing feelings the person takes an action. Self-harm can be a form of acting out. Acting out can provide a pressure release to help the person feel calmer or more peaceful. An example would be an individual who goes shopping instead of telling his or her spouse that they are angry with them for X, Y, or Z.
Aggression: This is intentional behavior that aims to hurt another person. It reflects the desire to control and/or dominate another individual.
Rage: this is violent, uncontrollable anger or an explosion of emotion that is out of control.
Special Considerations with Anger
Emotional reasoning: A person who reasons emotionally misinterprets normal events and things as direct threats against their goals and needs. Aaron Beck, the founder of Cognitive Therapy (now Cognitive Behavior Therapy) defined emotional reasoning as whenever someone concludes that their emotional reaction to something thereby defines its reality. In other words, someone who uses emotional reasoning does not have a reality based in facts, rather their reality is based on their emotions. It is a false reality. It is a cognitive distortion. It is the opposite of living a true reality. This is important to understand because some people get angry because they are engaging in emotional reasoning. If you are dealing with a person who is angry it’s helpful to understand this concept because it could be the source of their anger.
Betrayal is frequently a source or cause for anger so it is worth mentioning. Betrayal is the sense that you have been harmed by the intentional actions or omissions of a trusted person, which could come in the form of infidelity, dishonesty, disloyalty, or disclosing information of a confidential nature that could be harmful. Betrayal can leave individuals with a huge loss of self-esteem and can have long-lasting effects, so it is worth understanding and serious attention. While betrayal is extremely painful, you don’t have to be wounded for a lifetime from a betrayal no matter how big or small. Growth and development is the path to healing from the pain that betrayals cause you.
Betrayal is often accompanied by a handmaiden called resentment so it is helpful to understand this frequent companion to betrayal. Resentment is a feeling of bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly. Individuals prone to resentment are unwilling or unable to deal with emotional pain of betrayal, dishonesty, sadness, abandonment and other emotions. Instead of processing and managing their emotions they lock them away – doing the opposite of what I recommend – and the emotions fester and can lead to hatred among other things. This is not healthy for you in any capacity.
While we are in the discussion of anger it is worth mentioning revenge. Revenge is taking actions to inflict harm or hurt someone because they hurt you or somehow wronged you. The research shows that the individuals who engage in revenge behavior are motivated by power, by authority and by the desire for status. Interestingly enough, the research also indicates that people usually don’t feel better after taking revenge on someone else. Revenge is the attempt to change shame into pride, and usually leaves people stuck in the wound as opposed to healing and moving on.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
This is definitely worth a mention in the discussion on anger because anger can be a sign or a symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder. PTSD affects between 7-8 % of the population at any given time and can be triggered by witnessing or experiencing a terrifying or horrific event. There is a fairly long list of the types of events or situations that can cause someone to develop PTSD, and a list of conditions that make some people more prone to it than others. Any work you do on growing and developing skills to make you highly functional in life – growth and development – will help you build resilience to make it less likely that you will develop PTSD.
What Causes Anger?
- Perceived or actual mistreatment
- Obstacles to getting what we want
- Past experiences
- Learned behavior
- Genetic predispositions
- Lack of problem-solving ability
- Internal cause: emotional reasoning
- Internal cause: low frustration tolerance
- Internal cause: unreasonable expectations
- Internal cause: people-rating (derogatory labeling on others, which dehumanizes them and makes it easier to be angry at other people)
- External cause: personal attacks (verbal abuse)
- External causes: attacking someone else’s ideas or opinions (cutting them down)
- External cause: threatening someone’s basic needs (work, life, family, etc.)
Negative Health Impacts of Anger and Chronic Anger
This comprehensive list was compiled by looking at both medical literature in PubMed as well as other reliable health websites online. It is interesting to note that most of the information I looked at on the negative health impacts of anger or chronic anger only listed between 5 to 7 negative consequences with not a lot of overlap.
- Heart disease or heart attack
- Eating disorders
- Increased risk of car accidents
- Adoption of unhealthy behaviors like alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine
- Low self-esteem
- Migraines or headaches
- Addictions – drug, alcohol, and others
- Lower quality relationships
- Increased chance of abusing others emotionally, physically or both
- Increased anxiety
- Decreased immune system functioning
- Possible increased risk of cancer
- Shortened life expectancy
- Skin disorders
- Digestive problems
- Lower back pain
- Brain fog
- Feelings of isolation
Benefits of Anger
- Builds confidence (affirms self-worth)
- Preserves dignity
- Upholds principles
- Catalyst for communication
- Can help clarify relationships
- Can increase sense of self-control
- Can help provide clearer thinking and a clearer mind
- Can help increase creativity
- Can lead to self-insight and self-awareness
- Can help reduce violence
- Often gets results
- Can make you feel powerful
- Can give people a sense of purpose
- Can help you overcome fear
- Can help you be more optimistic
- Can motivate change (personal, family, societal)
Signs of Possible Hidden Anger
This list is a list very widely circulated on the internet, which interestingly has no known author or citation of the source. I am sharing it because it has value although I am not happy that the author or source is unknown. If you know the original source for this list, which I believe was before the year 2000, please let me know!
- Procrastination in the completion of imposed tasks.
- Perpetual or habitual lateness.
- A liking for sadistic or ironic humor.
- Sarcasm, cynicism or flippancy in conversation.
- Over-politeness, constant cheerfulness, attitude of “grin and bear it.”
- Frequent sighing.
- Smiling while hurting or feeling angry.
- Frequent disturbing or frightening dreams.
- Over-controlled monotone speaking voice.
10.Difficulty in getting to sleep or sleeping through the night.
11.Boredom, apathy, loss of interest in things you are usually enthusiastic about.
12.Slowing down of movement; feeling lethargic.
13.Getting tired more easily than usual.
15.Getting drowsy at inappropriate times.
16.Sleeping more than usual.
17.Waking up tired rather than rested and refreshed.
18.Clenched jaws – especially while sleeping.
19.Facial tics, fist clenching and similar repeated physical acts done unintentionally or unaware.
20.Grinding of the teeth – especially while sleeping.
21.Chronically stiff or sore neck.
22.Chronic depression – extended periods of feeling down for no reason.
12 Tips for Dealing with Anger
- Make a commitment to grow your skills and abilities in the area of anger. Everything worthwhile in life starts with a commitment. Committing yourself to learn about anger, to learn how to recognize anger and then deal with it in a healthy manner might make some people uncomfortable because we do not live in a world where healthy expression of anger is the norm. Do it anyway because it is not only good for your physical and mental health, but also because it will help you live a happy, functional and powerful life.
- Ask yourself: Are you frequently or chronically angry? If so, this could be a sign of low self-esteem. It is a sign that something needs to change in your life or in your relationships with people who are in your life. If this is the case, then pause and look at what is going on. It’s time to take actions to get the source of your anger dealt with. It’s also time to work on growth and development, which will help you build the skills you will need to create a powerful life and move forward. Even if you are in a toxic family or relationship that you don’t have to power to change right now, you can still go to work on yourself and there is actually a lot you can do to improve your life and feel better.
- Ask yourself: Are you never angry? If so, you may either have low self-esteem, were raised that this is an unacceptable emotion to have OR you could be an anger denier and that’s not healthy or helpful. Denial of anger is a way to protect yourself from feelings or from acknowledging a situation or person for what it is or who they are. Denial of anger can come from being brought up in a family where anger was not allowed or tolerated and thus it was not an acceptable emotion. Denying anger can fuel depression, anxiety and addictions. If you never get angry, it is time to pause and see if that is actually a true reality or a false reality.
- Ditch any shame or embarrassment. Anger is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. There is power in being able to claim your emotions whatever they are even though we as a society or culture don’t do it.
- Start pinpointing the moments that you get angry. You will have to be awake and aware of yourself and your life to pinpoint the times where you feel angry. If you are new to anger this is a whole new experience so be patient with yourself.
- Start expressing your anger in a healthy and assertive way. That means you are not shaming, demeaning, bullying or being mean as you express your thoughts and feelings. This is a skill that you build and learning how to be assertive will help you communicate your feelings in a healthy way.
- Prepare for difficult conversations by making notes on the behaviors or statements of those involved. This will help you get clear about what happened and your reaction to whatever happened. It will provide an outline for having a healthy and assertive conversation.
- Practice difficult conversations with a friend, roommate, family member or someone before you actually have the conversation. Being able to have a difficult conversation with a good outcome is a skill that you build over time. While no one likes having difficult conversations, the more prepared you are and the more you practice – the better they will go.
- Learn the skills of identifying, managing and processing your emotions. This is a skill set not just for anger but for all of your emotions. You want to learn how to manage your emotions so that you are not at the whim of your emotions. You want to be in the driver’s seat of your emotions – all of them not just anger.
- Identify the healthy coping mechanisms or strategies that you can use while you are processing and dealing with anger. Examples of healthy coping mechanisms include going for a walk to clear your head, talking to a friend to sort it out, writing in a journal. You want to put in place healthy strategies for how you are going to deal with anger.
- Start talking to the people in your life about anger. One of the best ways to build your skill set in any area is to incorporate the people in your life on the journey. Start having conversations with the people in your life about anger. What do they think about anger? How do they handle, process and manage anger? Don’t be surprised if they lack skills in the area of anger because it is sadly lacking in the majority of the population. That’s not a reason to stop talking about it. It is the very reason TO start talking about it. You are on the road of growth and development – why not take the people in your life with you? I mean, why not?
- If expressing your anger doesn’t go well – shake it off and try again. Any skill, habit or practice worth having is worth failing at. You could celebrate that you failed. Get back in the game and try again. You can do this.
Suicide Warning/Mental Health Waiver
If you have any thoughts of suicide or harming yourself or others please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911 immediately. Please call someone, tell someone or post it on social media and ask for help right now! We have more people suffering from depression, anxiety, and negative emotions than ever before, which means that you are in good company. I am asking that you take a specific action if you are feeling suicidal or that harming yourself because your life matters more than you realize and because there is help available to you. I am not a licensed mental health professional or in the field of medicine. You should get your medical advice from a licensed medical professional. Although my posts are research and experience based, they do not constitute medical advice since I am not a medical professional in any capacity.
Call to Action
Learning to identify, process and manage your emotions is one of the most critical skills to learn and build if you want to have a happy life. It takes practice. It takes an open mind. Anger can be a helpful tool in life if you learn how to deal with it. Clearly, not dealing with anger can make you sick and unhealthy in a long list of ways as mentioned earlier. How do you deal with anger? Are you awake and aware when you become angry? How can I help you more effectively deal with anger? Who do you know that could benefit from this information? Will you consider sharing it with them? Please let me know with a comment below how I can help you with anger. I want you to have the best life possible.