Anger. We associate the word with the color red, the heat of fire. We might picture an erupting volcano or the hot lava pulsing beneath. Anger can be explosive, resulting in reckless or impulsive actions and words. It can also be passive, leading to sarcasm, manipulation, or cynicism.
Those who display more overt signs of anger, easily triggered into outbursts by things that wouldn’t upset most people, may be diagnosed with one of five particular mental health disorders: intermittent explosive disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder.
But anger is not always easy to detect, even in ourselves. Anger can be a low simmer beneath the surface that keeps us in a state of unhappiness. Suppressed anger can cause mental and behavioral issues such as the following:
- Depression, anxiety, and guilt
- Emotional numbness
- Conflict avoidance
- Passive-aggressive behavior
It might seem that holding in your anger is better than having an outburst. After all, you’re not hurting anyone, and you know you won’t say or do something you’ll regret. But if you don’t express your anger, it may turn inward and cause problems ranging from hypertension to high blood pressure to the mental health issues listed above.
What Causes Anger?
There’s nothing wrong with anger–it’s a natural human emotion. But too often we either feed or suppress our anger, and that can debilitate us both physically and mentally.
The best way to start understanding your anger and where it comes from is to observe it. In most cases, anger arises when we feel that one or more of our needs are not being met. Maybe it’s a need for help around the house. Maybe it’s a need for intimacy. Maybe it’s a need for respect. Or privacy. Or connection. Or safety. You name it.
As Dr. Harriet Lerner writes in the first paragraph of chapter 1 in The Dance of Anger, “Just as physical pain tells us to take our hand off the hot stove, the pain of our anger preserves the very integrity of our self. Our anger can motivate us to say ‘no’ to the ways in which we are defined by others and ‘yes’ to the dictates of our inner self.”
So if you’re frequently angry, stop and reflect. It may seem at first like everyone around you is making you angry. It’s easy to blame others for our pain. But quite often some self-inquiry will reveal that we’re angry because we feel like we have no control. The best way to take back control? To know what you need and to express your anger clearly and effectively, without aggression.
What’s the Best Way to Manage Anger?
According to the American Psychological Association, the best way to manage anger is to express your feelings in an assertive way. To do this, you first have to know what you need and how you can get those needs met without hurting anyone. You also have to be calm. This means that, in most cases, before you express your feelings, you take some time to calm your heartbeat, slow down your breathing, and let any strong emotions subside enough that you can think clearly.
When you learn to control your anger and use it in a healthy way, for your own empowerment, you’ll realize that it doesn’t matter as much how people respond to you or what they say or think or do. You’ll know what you need, and you’ll know how to get that for yourself with or without their help.
Anger Management Therapy
If you are frequently angry, whether this is shown in explosive outbursts, depression, numbness, or a desperate attempt to keep the peace at all costs, consider meeting with a psychotherapist to learn how to manage the anger in a healthy way. If you’re diagnosed with a mental health disorder, medication may help balance your brain chemistry in a way that makes it easier to do the work you need to do in therapy.
A therapist can help you learn and practice relaxation techniques as well as how to counteract intense emotional states with rational thinking. You’ll learn how to solve problems, communicate, and even use humor to help yourself manage confrontation.
At Miramont Behavioral Health in Middleton, WI, we understand the power of anger–and how destructive it can become when allowed to take control. We provide compassionate psychiatric assessment and diagnosis to adults and adolescents who struggle with mental health issues, and we can help you too. Contact us today to learn more.