I seldom experience anger. Frustration? Absolutely. Sadness? 100%. Joy, anxiety, apathy? Check, check, check. But true, blood-boiling anger would barely be a character at all if the animators of Inside Out were to draw the key emotions of my brain. Which is precisely why I'm caught off guard when I do feel it. The surge of adrenaline and thoughts of "it's not fair!" surprise me to my core and afterwards I'm left wondering how on earth I was able to feel such an unfamiliar emotion with such intensity.
I've learned, however, that these moments are a gift for me as a therapist (and blogger) as they provide me with a newfound dedication to finding answers to questions that weren't even on my radar. So, without further ado, today's post is all about how to handle anger.
First Thing's First: how do we define anger, anyway?
Here are the best definitions of anger in my opinion:
a. Anger is the energy of boundaries, a.k.a the emotion that shows up when we feel as though our boundaries have been violated
b. Anger is an emotional response to a perceived injustice
In the world of psychology, anger is often defined as a secondary emotion—that is, an emotional reaction to other emotions. (Conversely, primary emotions are those that arise as a direct response to some sort of cue.) However, other schools of thought consider anger to be one of the four core emotions of happiness, sadness, and fear.
I, myself, believe that anger can be anger in its own right. How many times have I been angry and asked myself, "Is it really hurt or pain that's here?" and realized, "No, Kristina, you're just straight up pissed off."
Signs of Anger
Here are some tell-tale signs that you're in the thick of anger (in case you couldn't tell from your clenching fists):
You're suddenly saying "should" a lot (they shouldn't have done that, they should have known better, I should be respected...)
You feel as though an unwritten rule has been violated
You start using global ratings to define people. Global ratings are when we use simple, over-the-top adjectives for others (i.e. "they're total idiots")
How to Cope
If someone comes to therapy with the goal of working on anger, I might have us informally go through questions from the Anger Disorders Scale (ADS), a 74-item questionnaire that assesses five specific domains of emotional experiences:
a. Arousal: how physiologically aroused do you become when you're angry? What is the intensity of the emotion and how long do you stay angry for?
b. Provocations: what usually stimulates your anger? Are there any themes or trends about what angers you?
c. Cognitions: what thoughts do you have about yourself, other people, and/or the world when you're angry? What "unwritten rule" do you feel has been broken? Here, we might also look at how likely you are to become resentful or how likely you are to ruminate (that is, go through a situation over and over and over in your mind).
d. Motives: what do you feel compelled to do when you're angry? Do you become coercive? Do you want to seek revenge? Do you want to release your tension somehow?
e. Behavioural expressions: what do you actually do with your anger? Do you become physically aggressive? Passive aggressive? Do you vent to other people?
Reflect on what patterns you notice when you become angry. What might others see when you're angry? What has the impact been of this on you and other people? Are you committed to changing these behaviours—and if so, why? What would be different about your life if you were able to control your anger?
2. Remember that anger makes you someone's puppet.
I listened to a lecture once by a man named Christian Conte, a certified domestic violence counsellor, who said,"Every time we allow someone else to determine how we feel or what we do, we actually become the person's puppet... Why would we give our power away to people who are mean to us?"
Conte suggests that people find an object that represents their "power" (even if it's just a rock) and that every time they feel angry, they look at it as a way of remembering to hold onto their power. I like this idea a lot.
3. Put. the phone. down.
Texting often makes it all too easy to say things that you'd be more likely to keep to yourself in person. There's a degree of detachment that comes with texting and a lot can become lost in translation, too.
When I was recently experiencing a bout of anger, I actually asked my partner to hold onto my phone for the night. It took the temptation to text away and enabled me to just cool off for a bit. If you don't live with someone, turn your phone off and put it in another room in a drawer so it's completely out of sight.
4. Find the humour in the situation.
I'm lucky to have two friends from when I was a journalist who I not only deeply trust, but who happen to be absolutely hilarious. The WhatsApp group between the three of us has become one of the most special and therapeutic places for me to talk about life without filtering myself, and they're always sure to find a way to make me laugh when I'm taking myself too seriously.
If you're lucky enough to have funny friends like me, vent to them as a way of gaining some reprieve from the intense emotions you're experiencing. TikTok is another great option as you'll find a plethora of videos of people unabashedly making fun of themselves and the annoyances of daily life.
5. Put things into perspective.
The most centring thing I say to myself when I'm experiencing any intense emotion is, "Will this matter in 5 minutes, 5 days, 5 weeks, 5 months, or 5 years?" This reminds me that what I'm experiencing is temporary and insignificant in the grand scheme of life.
6. Find people who "get it."
If there's someone who can relate to the situation you're going through, reach out to them. If you're angry about racial injustices, speak with someone who understands this with their whole being. Not the person who has read 2093823805 books about it or the person who wants to be an ally, but someone who has had a similar lived experience of what you're going through. Feeling seen and understood by another person in difficult moments can be the most healing thing in the world.
Online communities can also be really helpful here. Reddit has discussion threads about basically every topic you've ever thought of in your life. Frustrated about COVID? There's a