People ask me all the time, “What do I do with my anger?” And the answer is, it depends. There are different levels of anger which can range from annoyance, anger, and rage. There can be anger experienced in the here and now, and there can be rage which may be an accumulation of unprocessed anger and unmet needs from the past.

There can be raw, primal anger when someone is hurting you or violating your boundaries. This comes from our primal reptilian brain response of fight/flight when we think we are in danger or being attacked. This is a healthy protective response and one we can easily be enculturated out of (“I shouldn’t feel anger”) which leaves us unable to protect ourselves adequately and may lead to depression and victimization. Owning and honoring anger in response to personal violation is an important step towards healing, acceptance and forgiveness and cannot be bypassed or ignored. This type of anger may serve as a change agent and may help guide us in taking important steps towards self-care.

Chronic anger may be something we perpetuate with automatic trigger thoughts to life situations that perpetuate negative emotions, such as “other’s are out to get me”, “they’re disrespecting me,” or “they never ….” Examining our negative thought responses to events can help us develop alternative responses that allows for more ease and joyful living. See http://healthymind.com/s-distortions.html for a list of typical thought distortions and determine which ones are causing you the most distress.

The cycle of anger usually follows a course of elevated stress followed by a trigger event. We either respond either in healthy choiceful ways to address the issue and relax our physical being that gets activated with cortisol and stress hormones or we react in habitual negative patterns that can be damaging to not only our relationships but our physical body. Effects can include:

  • Hypertension
  • Headaches
  • Gastrointestinal problems, such as abdominal pain
  • Insomnia
  • Increased anxiety
  • Depression
  • High blood pressure
  • Skin problems, such as eczema
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

A key influencing factor to anger is stress. Being aware of stress levels, notice your symptoms for stress (elevated heart rate, increased rate of speech, can’t relax, worrying or ruminating thoughts, little things annoying you).

Anger can also become a manipulation having learned how to get your needs met as children. While being effective as a child or young adult, chronic use of anger as a way to get needs met can result in damaged relationships and resentment from others.

Change comes through doing something in the cycle such as changing thoughts, doing something physical, changing an action.

Things to Do

  • Manage Stress by Taking Steps Towards Self-Regulation and Balance.
    • Ongoing exercise, meditation, or relaxation practices are essential to maintain equilibrium and deal with life’s demands.
    • Engaging in pleasurable activities and allowing unscheduled down time are all helpful to balance life’s busy demands.
  • Evaluate your Anger Cycle
    •  Consider your last angry outburst and note the cycle of:

Thoughts->Feelings->Physical Symptoms->Behavior/Actions

Note any alternative responses you might do:

    •  Breathing – Breathing can calm down your physiological state which is useful before responding
    • Counting to 10 works!
    • Developing more positive self-talk – I’m doing the best I can, or They’re doing the best they can
    • Ask for what you want/need in a neutral positive tone – Turn gripes into requests!
    • Get more information – checking out assumptions
    • Walking away, let things go, pick your battles
    • Exercise, go for a long walk or hit the gym

Helpful Resources to learn more about your anger cycles:

  • When Anger Hurts by McKay, Rogers & McKay
  • The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships by Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.
  • Healing Rage: Women Making Inner Peace Possible by Ruth King
  • Mind Over Mood by Greenberger and Padesky
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