When my former wife confronted me about controlling anger, it made me angry! After all, anger is a normal human emotion, I argued. It was hard for me to see the way I was expressing my anger in our relationship was causing problems for others and me.
Would others say I have an anger problem?
While I strongly disagreed with my wife’s suggestion, I secretly wondered if she was right that I had an issue controlling anger. Maybe you’ve wondered the same. Here are some telltale signs that others are having a problem with the way you express anger:
- They comment on your reaction to a stressful situation or criticize your behavior. Keep in mind that most people won’t share their feelings about our actions. So when they do, it usually means the problem is fairly serious.
- You feel embarrassed after an angry outburst. Don’t ignore these feelings. They may be telling you that you have crossed the line by expressing excessive anger.
- A friendship or intimate relationship is strained or has been lost. People often avoid those who struggle with controlling anger. They may even cut off the friendship or relationship altogether.
People often avoid those who struggle with controlling anger.
I experienced all three of these indications. Perhaps she was right.
The problem with anger
If our anger is a problem for other people, then it’s a problem for us. We risk inadvertently pushing the ones we love out of our life. Expressing anger, especially at levels that seem inappropriate for the situation, can cause people to feel uncomfortable, put off, intimidated, or even afraid. It makes others defensive, leads to arguments, and can even result in physical fights and domestic violence.
In addition to relationship issues, not controlling anger hurts our health. Frequent anger creates stress hormones that are dumped into our bodies, wearing them out sooner than needed. Headaches, digestive problems, inability to sleep, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokesare all linked to unmanaged anger.
Anger negatively affects our work and athletic performance.
Anger also negatively affects our work and athletic performance. If I get angry about a bad golf shot, my body tenses, which works against the relaxed, natural swing needed to hit the ball well. Anger reduces our creative thinking and communication abilities—two essential ingredients needed to solve problems with co-workers or loved ones.
Methods for controlling anger
I was right when I argued that anger is a normal and sometimes even helpful emotion. Well-managed anger motivates us to make positive changes. Anger itself is not a problem; expressing it to others in an unfiltered way is. However, there are right and wrong ways to try to “control” anger.
One misguided strategy is suppressing it. Bottled anger often turns into depression and anxiety, or we end up venting it later at innocent parties. Neither of these outcomes will benefit us.
On the other hand, expressing anger through good communication skills like assertiveness and active listening releases our emotion in a productive way. The only way these skills work is if we are calm enough to use them, however. That may mean we use the time-out technique first so our brains can access parts associated with rational thinking.
The only way good communication skills work is if we are calm enough to use them.
Recognizing and accepting the emotion as normal and part of life also helps. Often, certain events trigger our anger, but it is our struggle with that situation that really amplifies it to excessive levels. Learn relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga, or simply exercise regularly.
A counselor can be a tremendous resource for uncovering the source of our anger and learning better ways to process it. It’s very difficult to see ourselves objectively, so their outside and professional perspective can help us get unstuck. I know I would not have made as much progress toward controlling anger as I did without my counselor’s guidance.
Controlling anger helps us gain confidence, improve our relationships, solve problems, and feel at peace. Short-term strategies like time-outs are an effective place to begin controlling anger. In the longer-term, however, discover the unresolved issues that cause your anger to be a frequent problem.