A few weeks ago, a patient explained to me the following situation: «After having had a very bad day at work, I came home, and my partner asked me to cook dinner. I found this quite annoying. Still, I started to cook dinner with no complaints. While I was cooking, I could feel the anger growing inside me. Later, I exploded and told them I was fed up with always cooking dinner. I got up from my chair and left the table”.

The patient then said to me that this was something that frequently happened to them. They sometimes felt that they were unable to control anger and that these bursts of anger were deteriorating their relationships and causing them great discomfort.

I am sure most readers agree that this example does not represent the best way to deal with anger. However, it is likely that most of us have had difficulties managing our anger at some points in our lives. Perhaps the patient doesn’t need to learn how to «not get angry», but to understand their anger and learn to express it in a more intelligent and effective way. Throughout this article we are going to look at anger and how we can manage it in a healthier way.

What is anger?

Anger is considered one of the five basic human emotions. It arises when a desired goal or need is not achieved, or when harm is perceived. According to this conceptualisation, anger can be understood as similar to frustration. However, while frustration is directed at events we dislike (e.g., not passing an exam), anger is usually directed at the people we consider to be the «perpetrators» of these events (e.g., the teacher). In other words, anger often has an important interpersonal component.

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It’s normal to feel angry

It is very important to differentiate anger from other responses that have this interpersonal character, such as aggression or hostility. Despite the existence of a clear relationship between these responses, anger, on its own, has an important adaptive function and does not necessarily lead to aggression. Anger helps us to become aware of events that upset or hurt us and prepares us to set limits or escape. But it does not imply harming others.

These conceptual differences are of great relevance, since we tend to associate the emotion of anger with impulsive behaviour that is harmful to others. For this reason, we culturally learn that it is better not to express anger, as it is considered «bad» due to its association with aggression. This has led to a general tendency to repress or hide our anger.

Of course, aggression is not a good way of managing our anger, as it has a harmful impact on others and shows a great lack of emotional maturity. But neither is suppressing or hiding anger, since, as in the case of our patient, it often leads to explosive behaviour and long-term discomfort.

Here are the steps to follow to manage anger in a better way. The main keys in this process are self-knowledge and assertive communication.

Listen to yourself: become aware of your anger

When we recognise in ourselves a tendency to experience anger, it is very important to connect with this part of ourselves to identify the moment in which we’re starting to feel irritated. Paying attention to our physiological responses (muscle tension, heat, sweating, palpitations…) can help us identify this emotion when it first arrives. Doing this awareness exercise prepares us to manage anger. It also allows us to notice what kind of situations make us angry so that we can modulate our exposure to them. To carry out this exercise it can be useful to use self-registers that help us to analyse the causes, characteristics, and consequences of our episodes of anger.

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Release energy

When we feel angry the adrenaline in our body increases preparing it for fight or flight. This physiological component of anger causes a lot of tension that builds up inside us. It is very important to discharge all this energy consciously, so that our body can return to a state more suitable for problem solving. The accumulation of this energy is what causes uncontrolled behavioural explosions. In our example, the patient tries to contain their anger until they finally explode.

The best thing to do is to find the most effective way to discharge your energy. This process takes a bit a time. Most people use movement or sport, others listen to music, walk or create art.

Self-analysis: Understand your anger

Once we are in the right state of mind to reflect, we should try to understand what it is that makes us angry to put it into words in the best possible way. In our example, perhaps the patient felt angry because the household chores were not properly distributed. Or perhaps they would like to have been able to share with their partner their frustration from work. In order to deal with anger, it is necessary to have a reasonable explanation of its cause.

Communicate assertively and seek solutions

Finally, it is important to communicate this explanation assertively to modify or improve the situations that generate this emotion. Perhaps, in the case of the example, we could talk about a fairer distribution of tasks, or about a better communication in the relationship. Sometimes it is not possible to change the situations, so we must try to fix the way we approach them.

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From a young age, many of us learn that feeling or expressing anger is something negative. However, it is one of the basic emotions that help us to orient ourselves in life. Neither repressing anger nor expressing it in an explosive/aggressive manner are appropriate ways to handle this emotion. It is preferable to give ourselves the opportunity to understand where it comes from and what it is demanding from us.

Some people who tend to experience anger frequently find it very difficult to understand it’s origin. Sometimes people even accumulate this emotion because of past situations that have left a strong emotional scar. In these cases, it is recommended to see a therapist who can guide the patient to discover the cause of their anger and help them to manage it through cognitive behavioural therapy techniques, such as cognitive restructuring, thought stopping or progressive muscle relaxation.

About the author

Emma is a health psychologist at Sinews. She treats adults and adolescents who come for consultation for problems such as anxiety, depression, grief, self-esteem, emotional self-esteem, emotional dependency… In addition, she is a specialist in the treatment of trauma. She performs her interventions from an integrative approach, which includes an exploration of primary bonding relationships from the perspective of the attachment theory, as well as an approach to the problem from a cognitive-behavioral approach to the problem from a cognitive-behavioral perspective, using effective techniques according to each patient’s needs.

Emma Chancellor Díez
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Emma Chancellor Díez
Adults and adolescents
Languages: English and Spanish
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