By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
Anger is a complicated emotion. Like many people, you might respond to even the thought of getting angry with an immediate desire to get rid of it. True enough, anger can be painful when it burns within you. Yet, feeling no anger would be like not feeling the heat as a flame licks the palm of your hand. The pain you would normally feel in both situations are signals that something is wrong and needs attention. So, while numbness saves you from such pain, it does this at the expense of not dealing with a problematic situation.
Not only does anger signal that there is a problem, but it is also motivating because it is an unpleasant emotion. When you turn that motivation toward fixing the problem (rather than ignoring the anger), you have the opportunity to make a positive change. Rather than suppressing your anger or lashing out with hostility, try coping in these ways:
Exercise: While research shows that acting out your hostility tends to increase your anger, venting the energy generated by your anger can be helpful. By going for a run or taking an indoor cycling class, you can relieve yourself of that energy. Then you will be free to think more calmly about the situation.
Calm Your Body: As intense anger lessens, you will have more ability to calm yourself. To facilitate this calming, focus on your breath or do a relaxing activity. Then you will be in a better frame of mind to think about what is angering you.
Understand Your Current Anger: Take the time to gain a full appreciation of what is triggering your anger. Keep in mind that the only way to fix a problem is to understand it. You might find that journaling or talking with a close friend can assist you in reducing the physical symptoms of your anger and gaining a better understanding of your distress.
Talk It Out: When you are feeling relatively calm, talk with the person who has angered you. Rather than just venting or trying to hurt the person who hurt you, help the person understand your experience and work to solve the problem. To accomplish this, ask the other person to really listen until they understand what you have to say. Then be specific as you explain what has upset you. Also, just as you have asked the other person to listen to you, you must really listen to that person. The only way to truly bridge the divide between you is through such open communication.
Take a break when necessary: Sometimes people’s anger gets the best of them. When you feel that your anger is clouding your ability to talk rationally, explain that you need a break so that you can calm down. Then, once you are calmer, it is essential that you return to the conversation.
Anger can be an intense emotion, and so many people are overwhelmed by it. However, you can harness the power of your anger to repair problems in your relationships. And when you do this, you will find that those relationships often grow stronger.
The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.