Anger is an emotion, aggression is a behaviour and hostility is a behaviour style. Anger does not necessarily have to, or need to, lead to aggression. It is important for us to understand that we can become angry without acting aggressively. There is an often quoted phrase from the play ‘The Mourning Bride’ by the 17th century playwright, William Congreve, “Hell hath no fury as a woman scorned or Heaven a rage as love to hatred turned”. Our rage can be righteous and constructive.
Anger can be a healthy, normal emotion but if we do not understand our anger we will allow it to take over our life making us destructive and violent, which is when it becomes a big problem. Not only does the anger eat away and destroy us but it also affects everyone and everything around us. It can emerge from one or a variety of causes and part of the process of therapy is helping to sort out the cause of our anger. In order to do this our anger must be acknowledged and felt. Naming our anger is a crucial stage in the healing process.
Our resistance to anger is no more wrong than the experience of our own anger. Both are very healthy human reactions. Once we learn to recognise that resistance we feel we need to look at it, try to understand it and then discuss it with a professional. Gradually, as we begin to acknowledge our resistances to anger it looses its power over us and we find it becomes easier to work through it and let it go.
Outbursts of anger, irritableness and being aware of having a short temper are very often symptoms of a form of depression. Often, when we feel depressed, we will feel angry that things are going so wrong for us, angry that we are in so much emotional pain and angry at the seemingly hopeless situation in which we find ourselves. As a child we may have been discouraged from showing the helpless, vulnerable sides of ourselves but we would still have had that urge to express how we feel. Examples around us as we grew older may have shown us that anger is a more acceptable way to us of expressing emotional pain than crying, or asking directly for help.
When we act out our anger other people see our breathing becoming more rapid, an initial reddening and then our face turning white, our voice will become louder and we will speak more quickly, our movements becoming erratic, our muscles tensing up, our face becoming distorted, our shoulders hunching up and we may probably clench our fists. If we continue down a path where we are constantly angry, whether we either suppress it or act it out, it will eventually cause major problems with very serious consequences to our health. We may also experience increasingly longer periods before we recover from illnesses.
Anger is designed to be our natural emotional response to protect us from danger. Anger is an essential part of our instinctual system for protection and preservation. Anger can be used as a force of energy to be expressed when we need to push away or combat a threat. However, if the threat is not real, anger will become a means of destroying our life and our relationships and cease to be a form of protection and
We need to use our intellect and discernment to identify whether a threat is imaginary or real. There is nothing irrational or wrong with experiencing anger from imagined scenarios and beliefs, it shows us that our emotional response system is working properly; our emotions will respond the same way in either scenario. We need to understand that the scenarios which the mind project are often not rational at all which is where problems arise. It is the thoughts, beliefs, and scenarios that our mind has become conditioned to which generate a response in anger.
Anger becomes a very real problem when we become dependent on it as a primary means of self expression, when we use our anger inappropriately or the threat of violence as a weapon to try to exert our will. Uncontrolled anger is harmful for both the targets of anger and the angry person. Inappropriately used, anger will destroy relationships, makes it difficult to hold down a job, and, as mentioned above, it takes a heavy toll on our physical and emotional health.
In some families, the expression of anger is not permitted. The children are taught that expressing anger is bad, selfish, etc. Children brought up in anger intolerant homes develop suppressed anger. Since the anger energy is not allowed to be channeled externally, the child learns ways of suppressing the anger inside.
A popular analogy for anger is the use water which is a good one as water is necessary for life. When water is channeled effectively, it sustains life, it allows us to drink, cook, bathe, etc. However, when water is channeled improperly, it causes massive damage. Water, as the equivalent of suppressed anger goes undetected, leaking from pipes that are behind walls. This leaky water creates mould, which will damage the supporting structures of the house. In a similar manner, suppressed anger harms our own being. It leads to feelings of guilt, depression, poor self-esteem and passive-aggressive behaviours such as seeking to get back at someone through passive-aggressive means.
It is a popular misconception that we inherit our anger, this is totally untrue. All this misconception achieves is to allow us to fool ourselves that our anger is an inevitable reaction over which we have no control. Our primary experiences with anger will be as children and, not only is the expression of anger learned, but it can become a routine, familiar, and predictable response to a variety of situations.
We need to learn the difference between being assertive and behaving aggressively. Assertiveness establishes our own authority and is respectful whilst aggression is threatening, bullying and intimidating. People listen when someone is speaking assertively but not when someone is being aggressive, they will only hear the anger
Many people believe that venting our anger is a positive thing in ways such as screaming at the wall or beating a pillow. This theory is absolutely wrong. The more we vent anger in an aggressive manner the more we learn to deal with situations in that manner. It does not achieve a positive result from others or within ourselves. Although we may feel better after an angry outburst, everyone else will feel worse. This is called an “apparent” payoff because the long-term negative consequences far outweigh any short-term gains.
With Counselling we learn to own our anger and allow it to manifest in ways which are healthy and positive. This can be a wonderful and powerful thing when learnt correctly. However, it can be counter-productive if not taught well. For example, a common approach to anger management is simply teaching people to control and repress their anger. This is not healthy! This will often redirect the anger to a different outcome which, as described above, could be depression, physical or psychological problems, or more serious physical ailments.
Counselling helps us learn to speak out, in ways that are safe and productive; this is particularly helpful when we suffer from suppressed anger. If we suffer from explosive anger, Counselling teaches us to learn how to calm down, think and find ways to discuss our thoughts and feelings in a productive manner. Counselling also helps us work out why we become angry and teaches us to make friends with our emotions and not be a slave to them.
In conclusion, anger is a natural part of our lives. There are many causes of anger and there are many ways to deal with anger. Once we recognise we have a problem with anger we should discuss this with a trusted professional.
Richard Gosling www.sustainable-empowerment.co.uk
– About the Author:
Richard Gosling founded Sustainable Empowerment on the Psychodynamic Perspective which is a generic term that embraces all Psychology therapies of an analytical nature. These include Gestalt, Psychosynthesis, Psychodynamics, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Humanistic Psychotherapy.
“Psychological skills alone are not enough to effectively do this work. In addition, the client must feel that the therapist is totally accepting of them. And no therapist can fake genuine regard for a client for long.” I work in an entirely non-judgemental way and absolutely accept you as you are in that particular time.