Anger shows up at some point in all close relationships. You may feel it at a mild intensity, such as getting annoyed with your spouse for leaving the cabinets open in the kitchen. Or, you might feel it more intensely, such as becoming furious with a friend for dating your ex. Even if these experiences don’t happen often, they will happen. And part of keeping a healthy relationship is coping effectively with those feelings.
People are better at managing their anger when they identify it early and at lower levels of intensity. If you have trouble doing this, you might find it helps to create an anger scale. Draw a line, writing in the numbers 1 through 10 below tic marks at even intervals. Then think of how you might feel at particular levels of intensity and assign a word for each one. For instance, 1 might be annoyed and 10 might be enraged. You do not need to assign a word to all 10 levels, but do be sure to assign words for several levels of intensity along the line. Some other experiences that I’ve seen people include are peeved, irritated, irate, and white rage.
Consider the number that best indicates when you begin having difficulty thinking clearly and circle that number. You will want to practice being aware of your anger and doing something to lower it before it gets that high – or at least prevent it from getting higher.
Dr. Paul Ekman, a noted emotions researcher, offers a clear description of how to cope with emotions – including anger – on his Atlas of Emotions website. He describes many levels of intensity of anger – from mild to intense – and offers “antidotes” for each one. Some of them are below, along with examples of situations that might trigger them:
Annoyance: “Caused by nuisance or inconvenience”
- Example: Jack’s co-worker got caught in traffic, making her late to their meeting.
- Antidote: Remind himself to be patient and to consider her experience.
Frustration: “Caused by repeatedly failing to overcome an obstacle”
- Example: Steve worked hard on a project, but his boss only seemed to notice areas that needed to be “tweaked.”
- Antidote: Let go of wanting immediate recognition and see the bigger picture, that his boss asked him to do the job because they respect his work.
Fury: “Uncontrolled and often violent anger”
- Example: Wendy’s spouse has an affair with her good friend.
- Antidote: To the best that she can, she could get away from the situation mentally and physically. One general suggestion that Ekman makes is to look “at fury itself with the eye of awareness as if gazing at a raging fire and slowly letting it calm down.”
While you need to find your own “antidotes” for each level of anger, some good general guidelines are to find ways to:
- Calm yourself
- Understand yourself so you can have empathy and compassion for yourself
- Understand the other person so you can have empathy and compassion for them
Finally, practice thinking about your anger along this scale. As you do, think about the causes of your anger and whether there are certain themes that lead you to feel certain ways. The more you do this, the better you will become at recognizing your anger early and understanding it. Having this kind of clarity can help you to think about your anger and choose a response (hopefully a healthy one), rather than just reacting. In the end, the better you become at recognizing, understanding, and responding in healthy ways to your anger, the happier you will be in yourself and in your relationships.