Managing anger is something that very few individuals, organisations or cultures do well. It is said to be the most talked about but least researched emotion. It affects all of us in some way, and our responses to our own anger will vary widely; some people express it openly, others make no public demonstration at all and in between these two extremes lie an unlimited number of reactions.
Emotions can be persuasive and hard to resist, and anger is one of the most seductive. But emotions are also transient, they pass. Therefore nobody can be an ‘angry person’ in the sense that it is wired into them and beyond their control. We talk about people being on a short fuse, their anger a constant threat, bubbling just below the surface. People who appear frequently or perpetually angry are keeping it alive in some way, re-triggering the emotions that underpin anger.
Thinking, brooding and re-visiting old hurts can keep anger alive, as can physical or emotional pain, stress, and grief. One of the insidious aspects of anger is its power to self-justify. When we lose it, rather than reflecting and learning, we employ a handy range of excuses to reinforce our sense of ‘rightness’.
Anger is a survival response so everybody is ‘right’ when they are angry. That’s why arguing about who is right is so unproductive. Both are, but anger won’t let them agree.
Though anger can be hard to control, how we express it is still a personal choice. If you want to get a better handle on your (no doubt rare) outbursts, here are five starting points.
The five elements of anger management
Thinking: Anger hijacks our thought processes. Learn to separate thoughts from feelings, reclaim your thinking and take control.
Emotion: Emotions are best controlled by changing the thoughts that help trigger them and keep them alive. See above.
Communication: Change how you express your thoughts and feelings, particular your anger or frustration. This may mean speaking up sooner, or explaining how you feel. But remember, when they are angry, people often sound harsher than they realise.
Mood: Mood is like a backdrop that sets the stage for emotional expression. Change the scenery or do something pleasant to alter your mood, and you will be able to loosen anger’s grip.
Behaviour: We usually have patterns of behaviour when we are angry, what are your ‘here we go again’ scripts? Recognising them can be a first step to changing them.
I could go on, but time to stop.