Different expressions of anger
When someone insults you, it’s natural to feel angry. The urge to launch a counterattack in a show of power is strong—especially when you experience injustice. In rare instances, an aggressive response can be a lifesaver. In our day-to-day interactions, however, our survival triggers can mean that we behave more strongly than a situation might warrant. That’s when we end up saying or doing things in the heat of the moment that we later regret.
It’s not uncommon to struggle with anger. Society and culture play a role in the difficulty many of us have in managing this complex emotion. As a group, Americans tend to regard anger as a “bad” emotion, making it less acceptable to express than, say, sadness or anxiety. The result: we don’t always learn how to handle our anger constructively.
Some people also have a shorter fuse than others, what psychologists call a “low tolerance for frustration.” People with a low tolerance for frustration feel like they don’t deserve whatever barrier, inconvenience, or annoyance they are facing. They don’t take things in stride as easily as some, and may be particularly infuriated if something doesn’t seem fair, like being singled out for a common or minor mistake.
Family background can also play a role. If you come from a family that doesn’t communicate well or lacks structure and routine, you may not have had the opportunity to learn how to express anger assertively and constructively.
There are three basic approaches to responding to anger: expression, suppression, and management.
Expressing anger can range from having a calm, reasonable discussion about your feelings to blowing up. It can include everything from swearing when you stub your toe to road rage, yelling, punching a wall, or breaking something. Expressing anger can also be about talking through your feelings, negotiating an apology and change in the relationship, and taking action to change a situation or solve a problem.
Suppression involves holding anger in, letting it go, or changing your focus to something else. Suppression can mean seething and bottling up your emotions, and refusing to talk to someone and ending a relationship. It can lead to a sense of something “eating away” at you inside. It can also be a positive choice to let something go and forget about it, take a time-out, or avoid and ignore the irritation.
Neither extreme -- blowing up or holding it in -- is healthy. Managing anger well is about acknowledging anger as a normal emotion, paying attention to it, and making choices that allow us to improve our situations.
The best tactics for anger management are:
- Delay, such as counting to 10 to allow the arousal from anger to dissipate (Thomas Jefferson said if you are really angry, count to 100!)
- Relaxation, such as taking deep breaths or listening to calming music
- Distraction, such as working on a crossword puzzle or taking a walk to get your mind off the situation causing the anger
- Doing something incompatible with anger and aggression, such as petting a puppy, kissing a lover, watching a comedy, or helping someone in need