Everyone has been “mad” before. There are different levels of what being or feeling mad is like. There’s what I like to call “slightly pissy,” which often happens when you’re stuck in traffic. “Highly irritated” is when you’ve been on hold with that dang company for thirty minutes. Downright mad is when you find out someone at the office has been spreading a rumor about you. And full-on, full-blown rage is when you – not your coworker – are fired for that rumor.
There’s justification in most anger. Sure, we could all get over our annoyance at slow drivers on the freeway. But when something happens that our gut tells us is just plain wrong, that anger comes from a place of justice, of a need to change it. Anger is a human being’s reaction to something that adversely affects them.
However, anger isn’t totally arbitrary. You could see it as a chemical reaction, where you can’t control what will happen when you mix two substances together. But I see it more as a tool. You can choose how to manifest and use it. Oftentimes (regrettably,) my anger manifests itself on the highway as a middle finger. Or a loud, prolonged honk. Anger can quickly become bitter and untamed, causing you to do and say some damaging things.
Several things have happened to me this year that have flown me straight past anger and right into rage. This past winter, a close friend of mine hurt my best friend badly. I saw how it affected her and the term “white with rage” wasn’t enough to describe how angry I was. I lashed out hardcore at that hurtful friend, enough to get me blocked on social media. I regret the things I said to this day and wish I could have thought a bit more before I let my anger get the best of me.
Anger oftentimes goes hand-in-hand with sadness, disappointment, or guilt (all emotions that adversely affect you.) Anger can face inward or outward – it’s probably safe to say that everyone’s experienced both.
It’s not wrong to react angrily to injustice, pain, or unfairness. That’s the kind of anger I’m talking about here – that “pit of your stomach” anger, not just the fleeting annoyance of your fellow drivers, or sigh-inducing hold music on the other end of the phone line. But that real, raw feeling when you know it’s not just going to “pass.” The problem arises when we wield our tool the wrong way. There are two extremes that most people turn to when they’re angry:
Bottle it up. You might be the kind of person who doesn’t express anger. You just stew in it for awhile until it goes into hiding. But if someone pokes the bear, the claws come out in a nasty way.
Take it out on someone or something. Maybe all of your anger comes out unbridled and untamed – all at once, on whomever happens to be around to bear the brunt of it.
Obviously, neither of these are good ways to work through your anger. But unfortunately, most of us revert to one of these two extremes when we’re angry. So what’s the solution? Is there a sweet spot between the two extremes? How do you communicate and work through your anger healthfully?
It’s sort of like exercise. Doctors don’t recommend that you stay glued to your couch with your eyes on the TV all day. But they also don’t often recommend working out seven days a week every waking hour. They recommend balance between work and rest to maintain a healthy lifestyle. In the same way, we can balance between shutting off and spouting off when we’re angry.
I’ve come up with four steps to release your anger without hurting yourself or others. There are lots of anger management methods out there, but here’s what I came up with after a bit of thought and research.
1. Calm. Think of the last time something made you really angry. Your initial reaction was probably something like clenched teeth or a spike in your blood pressure. You may have been tense and snippy for the rest of that day. The next time something makes you mad, let your gut react. A lot of times we can’t control the physiological, knee-jerk reactions of our body. But once your body has reacted, take three deep breaths (in through the nose, out through the mouth, all that.) This will naturally calm the physical effects of your anger. If you’re able to, separate yourself from the person or situation that made you angry. Stay off social media, don’t check your email – do whatever you have to do to make sure you don’t come in contact with the conduit. Do something that makes you feel calm. That might be hard to do in a workplace surrounded by stressors, but even something like squeezing a stress ball or taking a walk on your lunch break can free your mind from whatever is making you angry.
Conversation. Once you’ve cooled your jets, talk to someone about how you feel. You don’t even have to go to a full-blown therapist. Talk to a parent, spouse, roommate – someone who is willing to listen. And I’d encourage you not to merely “vent.” Ask for advice. Ask them what they do when they feel the way you do. And really listen when they respond. Make it a conversation instead of just a therapy session. A lot of times, conversations like these can help you see the situation from a different point of view.
Compassion. When I’m navigating anger, I go back to the wise words of our good friend Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird. “You can never understand someone until you consider things from his point of view.” If you’re angry at someone, it might be pertinent to examine why you’re angry (unmet expectations, an insult to your character, etc.) and also why the person acted the way they did. Most people are looking out for their own interests, and that’s usually a good thing to keep in mind. Understanding that can turn your anger into your power to negotiate.
The next time you’re angry at someone and have to talk to them about it, first express how they made you feel. It’s okay to be up front about that. “When you said/did this, it made me feel [blank].” Follow up with your perception of the issue. “I understand that you might see it differently, and I want to talk about it.” This kind of conversation avoids cheap shots and arguments that get nasty fast. Do this after you’ve had time to calm down and think about it. Reacting with your knee-jerk reactions is never a good idea.
Note: Have this conversation with the person you’re upset with, not with anyone else. Gossiping is not a healthy way to express anger!
Comprimise. When you’re angry, there are two ways to comprimise, depending on who/what you’re angry with. Both of them involve resolving the situation so you can go on with your life feeling good about that situation. You can comprimise:
With the other person. Comprimise is the best part of every conflict. Find a middle ground instead of one or the other (the whole two extremes thing) and resolve the issue. Shake hands and be friends/coworkers/aquaintances again.
With yourself. Sometimes you’re not able to confront the person or even the situation you’re involved with. It may be that the person simply doesn’t want to talk, or it’s a project/issue at work that you simply don’t have the power to address directly. Decide for yourself that you won’t go to the two extremes – shutting down or spouting off. Determine what middle ground you’ll use.
Anger will always be tricky. It tends to catch us off-guard, which is inconvenient and frustrating in and of itself. However, anger isn’t something we should be afraid of. Just because something makes you angry doesn’t mean you’re an uncontrollable rage-monster. It means you have a gut that cues you into what’s right and what’s wrong. And that is a very good thing.
If you know how to use it.