Pine Rest Guest Blog: What is Anger Trying to Tell You?
Although a natural part of life, anger is not an emotion we are usually comfortable with or know how to manage skillfully.
While often seen as “bad”, anger is the body’s way of signaling something is wrong and creating energy so you can effectively deal with a problem or get out of the way of danger.
Too many of us simply act upon our anger or avoid it. By leaving the underlying issue unaddressed, anger often reoccurs at inopportune times and with increased intensity.
Anger is a Secondary Emotion
Typically, we experience a primary emotion like fear, disappointment, vulnerability, sadness, hurt or loss first. Because these emotions create feelings of vulnerability and loss of control, they make us uncomfortable. One way of attempting to deal with these feelings is by subconsciously shifting into anger which provides a surge of energy and makes us feel powerful and in charge rather than vulnerable and helpless.
We often struggle to identify anger’s function in our lives. When I feel anger because my spouse is watching TV and while I’m doing the housework, I might stew internally or verbalize my immediate anger rather than trying to figure out what is under the anger and address the underlying issue. Another example is when parents yell at their teenager when he arrives home after curfew about how irresponsible he is rather than to own how frightened their son’s lateness made them.
How to Work with Anger
No matter how intense your experience of anger, acting without identifying why the anger is present may feel good for a moment or two, but often causes us to behave in ways we regret later and seldom helps to address the underlying issue fueling the anger.
Give yourself space to calm down
The emotion of anger releases chemicals within the body preparing you to flee, fight or freeze so you won’t be hurt. It takes a bit for these chemicals to dissipate and you can’t think clearly until they do. By deliberately taking time to calm down, you give your brain time to move out of the instinctual “protective” mode and into problem solving mode.
- Pause and take a few deep breaths.
- Repeat a calming word or phrase like “relax” or “it will be okay.”
- Picture a relaxing experience from your past.
Check what’s underneath your anger
Pause whatever it is you are doing and check to see if you can identify the primary emotion driving the anger. It is important to STOP and deliberately think this through as it is usually very difficult to identify anything other than anger initially.
Ask yourself, “If anger was like the congealed fat on the top of the roast in my refrigerator and I could skim it off, what would be underneath?” This gives you a way to begin exploring the thoughts which are fueling anger. The shift from the primary emotions of fear, disappointment, vulnerability, sadness, hurt or loss happens rapidly, so it takes deliberate thought to identify what lies beneath the anger.
If I am angry with my spouse for sitting on the couch while I clean, the underlying emotion might be fear…
- Fear the relationship is always going to be off-balance in this way…
- Fear my partner does not value me and sees me as a servant…
- Fear my need for downtime won’t be met.
By identifying the fear, I can decide how to talk about this with my partner rather than simply blowing up about not having help cleaning.
Think about how you can address what’s underneath
Once you have identified the underlying primary emotion, ask yourself, “What would help me address this emotion effectively?”
- Do I need to practice better self-care?
Have I been running myself ragged trying to be meet everyone’s needs and not stopping to exercise, eat healthy, spend time with friends or doing things I enjoy? Do I put myself last?
- Do I need to take some action?
Perhaps I need to make some changes in a relationship, living arrangements, work or other circumstances.
- Do I need to change how or when I do certain activities?
For example, I might need to schedule 15 minutes just for myself after work to do something I enjoy or avoid balancing the checkbook on Sunday night when I’m feeling stressed out.
- Do I need to change the way I think?
Perhaps my first reaction is to feel attacked, when it would serve me better to not jump to conclusions but be willing to slow down and listen.
- Do I need to talk to a trusted friend?
Opening up to a supportive person in your life can often help put things into perspective.
Work the problem
Taking time to work out a solution eliminates the need for anger just like taking an antibiotic kills an ear infection and eliminates the need for a fever. It is easy to avoid working through issues but until the underlying issues are resolved, anger will continue to pop up to tell you there is a problem you need to address.
How Pine Rest Can Help
Is anger affecting your quality of life?
If you experience frequent or intense anger that is interfering with the quality of your life, consider getting help. Warning signs include feeling out-of-control, becoming physically ill or violent, getting in trouble with the law, increasing your alcohol use or using drugs, and experiencing work or school difficulties and/or relationship problems.
Pine Rest’s highly trained clinicians can help you explore the reasons behind your anger, learn new strategies for dealing with your feelings and provide a safe place to practice your new skills for expressing your feelings.
To schedule a new outpatient appointment, call 866.852.4001.
Check out Pine Rest’s video on Anger Management if you want to learn more: