Anger is the feeling of displeasure and antagonism towards something or someone that has wronged you. It is one of the basic human emotions, along with happiness, fear, and sadness. Anger can be felt as mild frustration to intense rage.
Anger can be such a dominant, overpowering feeling. However, there are usually feelings that are masked by anger. Common other feelings include: anxiety, jealousy, shame, embarrassment, guilt, fear, hurt, and/or vulnerability. These feelings exacerbate and fuel our anger. For example, someone who is stuck in traffic and will likely be late for work may feel angry. Underneath that anger may be feelings of fear or stress of being written up at work for being late again, which help intensify the angry feeling.
Anger is often labeled a “bad” emotion, which implies that it is a feeling we shouldn’t feel. This is simply not true. We’re supposed to feel angry sometimes! Like every emotion, anger is sending us a message about something. The message can be difficult to interpret and depends on the person and the situation. That being said, anger is usually telling us that there has been some kind of violation. It can be a violation of our safety, our needs, or our boundaries. This message can be helpful because we can use this information and act accordingly. For example, perhaps anger is telling you that a boundary needs to be set again or maintained.
It’s important to note the differences between a few anger-related terms. Aggression is a behavior or set of behaviors with intent to harm or damage someone or something. Hostility is a set of beliefs or attitudes that motivate aggression. Anger is the emotion or feeling that does not automatically lead to aggression or hostility.
A common anger myth is that anger and aggression are inherited traits, and therefore cannot be changed. This myth blends the anger emotion with the aggressive behaviors. Feeling anger is an inherent part of being human. It’s the aggressive behaviors that are learned, and are not genetic. No one is born with the automatic instinct to punch and scream when angry. Unlearning this myth means being open to the idea that there are other ways to express anger and different to the ways you grew up with.
Many people also believe that venting about anger is always a good thing. Have you ever been told to punch or scream into a pillow to release the anger? While this may help in the short term to relieve the discomfort of anger, it isn’t very helpful in the long term. If we punch or scream into a pillow every time we’re angry, we teach ourselves to automatically punch or scream when we’re angry. What happens if we get angry and there’s no pillow around? We punch or scream at whatever is closest, which may lead to punching a wall and breaking a hand, or the police being called because a fist fight broke out. The more we express anger with aggression, the more habitual aggression becomes. There are other ways to express and manage anger that are less risky and less tiring, like taking time outs and consequential thinking exercises.
Another common anger myth is that aggression is the only way to get results. It is often said that in order to get what you want or get things done, one needs to be aggressive. While you will definitely get results with aggressive behavior, they most likely aren’t sustainable, healthy results. Aggression is a form of attack, and only considers the aggressor’s needs with no respect to the other person. Relationships, no matter what type, strengthen when there is mutual respect. It’s incredibly difficult for relationships to strengthen when there is fear of the other person. To counter this anger myth, try assertive communication to get results. With assertive communication, there is respect for everyone in the conversation. An example of assertive communication is “I feel frustrated when you leave dirty dishes in the sink. Please either wash your dishes or put them in the dishwasher.”
Anger does not have to be your enemy! You can partner with our anger and learn what message it is trying to tell us. There are strategies (ie: ABCD model, consequential thinking, mindfulness, etc…) that help manage anger. If you feel angry often and are having difficulty managing anger, then please consider speaking with a mental health professional for help!
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Sara Mattina works with clients in NY and NJ who carry the weight of high expectations for themselves, have self-doubt or low self-esteem, and struggle with making decisions about their careers and relationships. She helps her clients who feel overwhelmed with work stress and burnout, and who are struggling to set boundaries or say “no” due to worries about rocking the boat.
She uses various therapeutic frameworks to create a personalized approach for each client. She believes that effective therapy is a collaborative team approach between the therapist and client, as every client has their own therapeutic goals and preferences!