Originally published in Divorce Magazine.
In one form or another we will all experience anger.
- Anger is an intense emotional response. It is a normal emotion that involves a strong uncomfortable and emotional response to a perceived provocation.
- It is the natural emotional response designed to protect us from danger (i.e., a dog growling in response to protecting his territory).
- It often happens when we feel helpless and powerless. Anger can stem from a feeling of abandonment because of a death or loss. It is a necessary phase of the Kübler-Ross stages of dealing with grief.
Anger can be “healthy” or “unhealthy”
“Healthy” anger is demonstrated when someone takes a stand against any form of injustice and offers a constructive resolution.Anger can be good for you because it is designed to protect us, our relationships, and our way of seeing the world. In the everlasting battle between right and wrong, the bodily effects of anger are meant to tell us that something’s wrong.
There are things within our control and there are things outside of our control. If you have negative feelings over things within your control, it should motivate you to correct the situation within your abilities. This is a healthy expression of anger.
“Unhealthy” anger is complex and can be caused by a number of psychological traits or disorders. There are three types of unhealthy anger:
- Chronic anger. A person with chronic anger displays, on a daily basis, an irritability which can be ignited by the smallest of events. Families who have a chronically angry father or mother walk on eggshells. The children in these families are unable to relax, constantly scanning their environment looking for incoming artillery attacks. Emotional security and trust are the casualties in these families.
- Rage. Rage is anger which is totally out of control. It is the most destructive form of anger and is a risk factor for violence, including murder. Ironically, rage is almost always directed at the people who are loved the most: spouse, children, closest friends. Three sub-categories of rage are: public ragers (road rage, attacks on strangers); private ragers (only showing rage in the privacy of their own homes); self ragers (only hurt themselves).
- Low-level anger. This is the hardest type of anger to spot. The best way to tell is to ask the question, “Is there any family member whose anger affects your ability to have a good relationship with them?” If the answer is yes, then they probably have a problem with low level anger.
How to cope with anger
There are three broad categories of coping with anger:
- Problem-focused: directed towards reducing or eliminating a stressor, adaptive behavioral
- Emotion-focused: directed towards changing one’s own emotional reaction
- Appraisal-focused: directed towards challenging one’s own assumptions, adaptive cognitive
Cognitive reappraisal is an emotional regulation technique which can be a useful strategy for the super-stressed. It differs from the other two methods of coping because it primarily addresses an individual’s perception of a situation, rather than directly altering environmental stressors or emotional responses to those stressors. Your anger is often a response to the situation as you perceive it. Perceiving the stimulus in a different context may make you less angry. For example: if a driver cuts you off on the highway, you may get angry. If you knew they were taking an injured person to the hospital, however, you may be less inclined to be upset. By reappraising your situation, you can alter your own emotional response.
When you’re angry, rather than trying to push down your rage, try reappraising the situation. A change in perspective may help change your emotional response.
Let it go!
From my perspective, one type of “unhealthy” anger is harboring negative feelings. I have seen this many times in someone who has experienced trauma such as a divorce or other loss. If you harbor negative feelings over things outside your control, you are causing distress without having the ability to fix that situation. This is the true definition of suffering. You can acknowledge a sad fact outside of your control without the necessity of harboring negative feelings. It really is as easy as letting go.
Much wiser prophets/poets have spoken on this same issue:
- “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” -Buddha
- “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” -Mark Twain
- “Give away the stone. Let the oceans take and transmutate this cold and fated anchor. Give away the stone. Let the waters kiss and transmutate these leaden grudges into gold. Let go.” -Maynard James Keenan
The last quote resonates the most with me and I find it to be beautiful and inspiring. Just by making the conscious decision to let go, the leaden anchor (holding you down) turns to something beautiful and constructive.
The power is within you.