Anger is a feeling that most people would prefer not to have, and so they sometimes don’t recognize it in themselves – even when it is obvious to others. For instance, one of my patients once said, in a tone as casual as if he were talking about the weather, “My f***ing girlfriend went out last night…” I reflected that he seemed angry, but he denied it. But when I pointed out his language, he realized there must be truth in what I said. Just as with this patient, it’s not unusual for people to recognize their anger only after stepping back to see the signs of it from the outside.
As I explain in my 3-minute video, Understanding & Managing Anger, anger can narrow your awareness, making it hard to think clearly about your situation. If you choose to pay close attention to the way you communicate, you may start to recognize anger that you previously had not been consciously aware of. You might realize how your hostile words or behaviors hurt your relationships. To help increase your awareness, look for the following 5 common behaviors that indicate anger. Also, for each of these unhealthy behaviors, consider the suggestions for alternative, healthier ways to express yourself:
Barking Orders: When you loudly and abruptly tell people what to do, it sends the message that you are angry. As a result, people on the receiving end of your commands might respond back angrily, ignore you, or do what you say but with an emotional distance. If you want to maintain a good relationship with others, turn down the volume and soften your tone. Describe the problem and explain what you would like the person to do. You may be surprised to find out how well it works in getting what you want and in keeping your relationship positive.
Verbally Attacking: When you blame and criticize others, they will naturally respond by defending themselves. Instead, pause a moment and consider the positives in your relationship. Then include these thoughts as you tell the person about your anger rather than enacting it with verbal attacks. This approach clearly expresses your feelings without putting the other person in a defensive position. So, you might say, “I really value our friendship, but I am really angry that you did not call me back last night.”
Lecturing: When you are angry, you might find yourself going on and on about a problem. The other person will feel they are being “talked at” rather than you talking “with” them. As a result, they will likely shut you and your message out. Instead, take some deep breaths and maybe give yourself a little time to calm down. Then get clear on what you want to say so that you can state is succinctly. They will be much more likely to really listen to your message and to maybe engage in conversation with you about it.
Assuming the worst: When people get angry, their thinking often becomes polarized, tending to see others or situations as all bad. When you notice that you are thinking in terms of “all” or “none”, mentally step back. Do something to help you calm your anger a bit. Then check your understanding of the situation, allowing for others to clarify or correct your thinking.
Taking it personally: Anger often takes away people’s ability to take their own feelings out of the equation and think just about what is going on inside the other person. So, when you find yourself highly focused on how another person is harming you, consider whether this thinking is driven by anger. Then consciously choose to think about the situation from the other person’s perspective, or even the perspective of a third party. This can help you respond in a way that reduces your anger or puts it in perspective.
Anger causes people to become tunnel-visioned, and this causes many problems. By recognizing when your vision is limited, you might then also recognize your previously unseen anger and its effects. With this awareness, you can then choose to respond in a constructive, rather than destructive, way.