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Episode 41: Doing Anger Right

This is an edited version of a podcast episode. If you prefer to listen, click Make Me Whole Podcast to find this and all my other episodes.


Hello, everyone! Today I’m going to talk about anger, and how to start expressing it in a healthy way. I have gotten angry in my life, obviously. It’s a fairly common emotion, right? But I can recognize that there have been times in my life where I’ve been too mad. So upset I literally couldn’t see straight. I've been so angry that my heart pounded and my fists clenched and all I was focused on was making someone else hurt as much as I was. And I honestly never want to be in that place, but I recognize that it is possible. Anger is normal. It’s a natural emotion that we all experience, but I think what’s important is how we learn to manage it. So today we’re going to talk about why healthy anger expression is important, how to move through it in a safer and healthier way, and what to do when it becomes unmanageable. Ok, Let’s start by understanding what anger actually is. It’s a natural response to a perceived threat, injustice, or frustration. When we’re furious, our body releases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol which prepare us for that fight or flight. It can also be a result of fear, disappointment, or sadness.


Anger manifests in several different ways. Sometimes it’s passive, sometimes it’s assertive, and many times it’s aggressive. Passive anger is when we hold the feeling inside and don’t acknowledge it. It’s what I call The Volcano. Assertive anger is when we demonstrate our anger in a healthy and respectful way, and not many of us do that. And of course, aggressive anger is when we express our anger in a way that is disrespectful, threatening, or harmful. We pull back our hair, rip off our earrings, and get ready to throw hands. So why is it important to learn how to express anger in a healthy way? See, when we suppress our anger, or express it aggressively, it’s only going to lead to negative consequences like damaged relationships, physical health problems, or even legal problems. On the other hand, when we manifest our anger assertively, it can help us communicate our needs, set those boundaries, and advocate for ourselves.


So, how do you articulate outrage in a healthy way? When we strive for assertiveness in our anger, it means that we’re talking about our needs and our feelings. For example, instead of saying, “You always make me late!”, we can say, “I feel frustrated when we’re late. Can we leave earlier next time?” Another technique is active listening, which means taking note of the other person’s perspective and validating their feelings. For example, if someone says they are angry because we didn’t show up on time, we can say, “I understand why you’re upset. I’m sorry for making you wait.” We can also use I Statements to express how we feel without blaming the other person. Instead of saying, “You’re so irresponsible!”, we can say, “I feel worried when you don’t show up on time.” These techniques can be applied in different ways for different situations, such as the workplace or romantic relationships. For example, we can use assertiveness with our employer to negotiate for better working conditions. Or we can actively listen and implement I statements to resolve conflicts with our partners.


Unfortunately, not everyone works through their frustrations in a healthy way. Some people express their anger aggressively such as with yelling, name calling, or physical violence. Others take the passive route by giving the silent treatment, avoiding conflict, or suppressing their feelings. The consequences of choosing negative outlets when we feel mad can be severe. Aggressive anger can lead to physical harm, legal troubles, and damaged relationships. Passive anger can lead to resentment, depression, and anxiety.


So if you find yourself processing your anger in a detrimental way, what can you do? Well, one technique is to pause and take a deep breath before reacting. I find that that often works for me. I need to take a minute just to get my head together and focus my energy onto my goal at the moment. This can give us time to think and choose a healthy response. Another option is to seek professional help, such as therapy or anger management classes. A trained professional who is outside of the situation can often help us identify the underlying causes of our anger and teach us healthy coping strategies. One of the things I learned in my own therapy (Yes! Therapists go to therapy!) was getting out of the habit of compounding things. So, it’s kind of like an avalanche effect. I’m mad about one thing, and then I’ll think of another thing I’m also upset about, and then I’ll add one more thing, and then I’m spiraling and talking about all these things at the same time. It’s like an avalanche of emotions, and I’m not processing what it is that’s truly making me angry in this movement. I’ve learned to stop that momentum, pick it apart, think about what I'm trying to achieve and start focusing on action. See, coping with anger is important not only for our own wellbeing, but also for the welfare of those around us. There are so many healthy coping strategies we can use to manage our anger. One technique that is gaining popularity these days is mindfulness, being present in the moment and observing our thoughts and emotions without judgment. Mindfulness can help us become more aware of our triggers so we can be prepared with a response that will serve us. It’s pretty much what I was mentioning earlier. Taking a timeout within yourself just to say, What’s going on right now and what is it that I’m trying to accomplish?” Another technique is deep breathing involves taking slow, deep breaths to calm your nervous system. And I’m not talking about just one quick breath in and out. I’m talking about a full movement of your belly. You can also engage in physical exercise such as jogging or dancing to release pent up energy and reduce stress.


Now if our anger becomes unmanageable, we shouldn't hesitate to seek professional help. A therapist or counselor can provide us with personalized tools we need, and it will help us manage that anger in a significantly more healthy way. Anger is a natural human emotion that we all experience, but it’s important for us to learn how to show it. Remember, healthy anger expression is going to help us identify and talk about our needs, set up boundaries, and really advocate for ourselves. Unhealthy anger expression is going to lead to those negative consequences like damaged relationships and possible legal problems. By using the techniques of assertiveness, active listening,and I statements as well as coping strategies such as mindfulness, deep breathing, and exercise, we can learn how to be angry better and improve our mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. So how do you manage anger? Is it effective? Or are you a volcano waiting to explode? If so, how is that working out for you?


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