I originally intended today’s post to be about forgiveness. You know how sometimes you learn a new word like kerfuffle (a disorderly outburst or tumult) and all of a sudden you start seeing it everywhere? That’s how I feel about the concept of forgiveness; I’ve been running into it everywhere both in my personal and professional life.
Forgiveness is a good thing; when done right its salve can bring inner-peace, harmony and empowerment. But for very unique and complicated reasons, many people struggle to reach a place where forgiveness is possible. A big correlate to this, especially for grievers, is anger and after thinking about it I quickly realized I couldn’t write a post on forgiveness until I first address anger.
So this post is all about anger – take a seat and get ready to practice some deep breathing (just kidding).
First things first, let’s de-stigmatize the concept of anger. Everyone gets angry - I know it’s not pretty or delicate or flattering to admit – but it’s true. Sometimes anger can be a good thing and sometimes it can be bad, its classification usually depends on how it’s dealt with.
Although anger looks different on everyone – some grit their teeth, some remain calm, some turn red, some even laugh – what goes on inside the brain is generally the same for everyone. Very simply, chemicals are released and a quick and careful balancing act plays out between the amygdala who wants to throw this pair of scissors across the room and the frontal lobe who says "now now lets not be brash."
Why we get angry:
The answer to this depends on the person, the time, the day, and the weather. The anger bell curve is pretty wide because we all have different tolerance levels for adverse events and what one finds infuriating another might take in stride. In general though, anger does serve a purpose and often times this purpose is one of the following:
1. As a defense mechanism: Sometimes we choose anger as a means for ensuring the trigger doesn’t happen again. It’s a way of saying, “I’m not going to take this” to both yourself and to the offender. If you’re afraid to let your go of your anger, perhaps it’s because you don’t want to risk falling prey to the wrongdoing again.
Anger is also a way of trying to assert control, even though sometimes it's aimed towards events we have no control over such as the death of someone we love.
2. To change behavior: Asserting anger towards someone else might result in the other individual changing their behavior. If I give you the silent treatment for forgetting my birthday, perhaps that will teach you to keep a closer eye on the calendar.
This also applies to injustice and/or circumstances that don't seem fair. Anger is a red flag response that tells you something is wrong or out of balance and ought to be changed. Keep in mind, often life just isn't fair and circumstances can't be changed, in these cases you have to find something else to do with your anger.
3. To deal with problems in a relationship: Getting angry often serves as a jumping off point for fixing problems in interpersonal relationships.
4. To deal with guilt, shame, and regret: Sometimes people harbor resentment towards themselves for being inadequate or making mistakes. Grievers are especially susceptible to feeling angry at themselves because of regret, guilt and blame that can't be resolved with deceased loved ones.
5. Because you’re already late and you got in line behind a disorganized coupon lady. Crap.
Anger can be beneficial:
Whether or not anger can be classified as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is dependent on what you do with it. If you react by creating a kerfuffle and refusing to talk calmly then we might classify your anger response as ‘bad’ - lamps have been broken, Jason Priestly posters have been torn clean in half, and all involved parties are left to stew. On the other hand, if when you feel the anger bubble up you identify the trigger and allow it to serve as a catalyst for positive change, then we might classify your anger response as ‘good’.
The benefits of anger echo what we have established as its ‘purpose’. Anger can serve as a catalyst for constructively:
- Addressing negative circumstances and events in your life.
- Resolving differences.
- Identifying and fixing problems and maladaptive patterns in relationships.
- Protecting and avoiding undesirable or threatening events, individuals, and circumstances.
Additionally, studies on anger have shown that:
- The anger response can be preferable to other responses such as fear because it may give you a stronger sense of control over the situation.
- Anger may help you focus on what’s important when deciding between options so you are better able to make choices that meet your needs.
Anger can also be harmful:
Anger can negatively impact our physical and emotional wellbeing, our ability to interact in society and our personal relationships if it is triggered too frequently, bottled up, or dealt with poorly.
Also, the natural but constant anger response can cause damage if you experience prolonged anger due to constant triggering and/or the inability to let go. Chronic anger overworks your nervous system and inhibits your bodies ability to deal with some of the more severe effects of adrenaline.
- Poor physcial health: Those who experience anger regularly are at a higher risk of experiencing coronary artery disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, stiff arteries and muscle tension. The risk of liver and kidney damage is also increased
- Poor emotional health: This is most common for those who turn their anger inward resulting in depression and anxiety. Women are especially at risk of this, I guess because of societal pressure and internalized expectations about behavior.
- Isolation/poor social support: Directing anger in-ward can lead to bitterness and passive-aggressiveness; anger expressed outwardly is just plain aggressive. I mean honestly, if Oscar the Grouch didn’t live in a world of muppets do you think he would really have any friends?
- Feeling out of control: When you feel like you can’t control anger triggers or deal with them properly your feelings and emotions can start to feel chaotic and frantic.
- Constant emotional arousal: An inability to focus on anything but your inner emotional state may leave you feeling out of touch with the outside world.
How can I positively deal with anger?
The anger response is as individual as, well, the individual; but not all anger responses are created equally. Here are a few suggestions for dealing with anger in positive ways:
- When you’re angry with someone else: Don’t just vent and yell, instead identify why you are angry and communicate your reasons. Self-awareness and communication will help you find a clearer path towards a solution.
- When you’re angry with a circumstance that can be changed: Identify what about the situation is making you angry and set out a plan to change those aspects of your life.
- When you’re angry at a circumstance that can’t be changed: Being able to identify the things you can’t change is an important step in finding acceptance and making peace. Many people find themselves banging their heads against a steel wall and grow frustrated and angry. You can’t break down that wall so find a way to go around it, under it, over it, or love it.
- Count to ten: This sounds way too simple but the anger response happens in seconds, give your complex brain a chance to process the anger and calm down.
- Find constructive ways to calm down: Exercise, meditate, listen to music, dance, shut yourself in the bathroom - whatever works.
- Talk to someone: Discussing the incident can help you to calm down and find perspective.
- Take a deep breath (or two or three or four): Breathing deeply will bring you into the present with your emotions and ease your body tension.
- Take a minute: Running away from your problems may not be the best plan, but when your so mad you can’t see straight it doesn’t hurt to take 5.
- Avoid anger triggers: If you know that looking for a parking spot at the mall on a busy Saturday afternoon is enough to ruin the rest of your day, then don’t go to the mall on a Saturday afternoon. There some things are really not worth the frustration.
- Let go of negative or corrosive relationships: Some people will, without fail, find a way to make you mad. There are those who you'll want to keep in your life because you love them anyway, but there are others you can let go - sayonara.
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