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Reacting to feelings of anger

Anger essentially forces the mind to rely on shortcuts to make rash decisions

02 November 2020, at 7:00am

It’s normal to get angry, right? Clients can be unreasonable, colleagues can be infuriating, family members can drive you to distraction and other road users are intolerable. So, getting angry is a totally “normal” response. But there’s a difference between feeling angry and getting angry.

Feeling anger is a normal part of being human. Most psychologists agree that anger is a healthy emotion. Great novels have been written by angry authors in the throes of high emotion. However, “getting angry” can also be the out­ward demonstration of undigested emotions by someone who lacks self-awareness and self-regulation.

Anger essentially tells our brain there is a need for quick action, short-circuiting our neural pathways, prompting a quick and dirty processing of information instead of com­prehensive and systematic processing. This processing is what we call self-regulation, and without it we may make rash decisions brought about by a surge of anger which we will regret once the feeling has subsided.

Is anger a temporary feeling or a perpetual state of mind or mental disorder? It varies from person to person. Most of us feel anger from time to time due to events. Some peo­ple feel a background anger for most of the day most of the time, often not in response to any stimulus. Some personal­ity disorders make a person more likely to feel and express anger irrationally and destructively than others.

So, what’s normal? It is hard to differentiate normal feel­ings of anger from unwarranted and disorderly anger. Does “normal” mean the healthiest mode of behaviour or behav­iour that is simply representative of the majority? Anger plays an essential role in the human emotional spectrum. Anger allows individuals to advocate for themselves and others, and to avoid compromising their needs and goals in order to achieve what they want. It is the fuel behind many individuals’ striving for success and has played a role in many great achievements in history. As stated by Bede Jarrett, “The world needs anger. The world often continues to allow evil because it isn’t angry enough.”

On the other hand, however, anger has a quintessential role in many horrific events and catastrophes. This push and pull of the benefits and consequences of anger makes it hard to determine what is an appropriate amount or level of anger.

In using our emotional intelligence which we discussed pre­viously: self-awareness means we recognise when we are feeling angry. “I am aware of situations which have angered me previously. I know what scenario is likely to anger me even before it happens.”

Self-regulation is where I have used the space between impulse and reaction to pause and to make a conscious decision about how I want to react both outwardly and inwardly. “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom” – Hans Selye.

By self-regulating, I know that my expression of anger, if any, is a well-thought-out expression which I will take full ownership of, which will achieve what I want it to achieve and which I will not regret. It’s a personal choice. Here are some pointers to guide you.

Rage is the external symptom of unregulated anger. We’ve all felt the light-headed, seeing-red, violent torrent of emotion rising within. Some of us have been at the receiv­ing end of it all too often.

Whereas anger can be constructed into coherent argu­ments to reach or achieve goals, rage is destructive to the self and often to others, and without clear goals or solu­tions, it rarely ever achieves the solutions necessary to ease this intense emotion or dissolve the problems.

Pick your battles carefully and remember that how you fight your battles makes a huge difference. For example, raising your voice will only worsen the situation because people will focus on the fact that you are yelling, not what you’re yelling about.

So, if you really feel the need to say something, be sure to express yourself in such a way that you will be heard by the other person. Use good cognitive empathy to channel the energy of anger into a ferocious eloquence which cannot be ignored.

Laurence J. Peter once said, “Speak when you are angry, and you will make the best speech you’ll ever regret.” As mentioned earlier, anger short-circuits the neural path­ways used in thinking, so everything automatically gets simplified in your mind, becomes either black or white; as everyone knows, the world is hardly ever black or white. The best thing to do, however difficult it may be, is to wait it out, let your anger fall by the wayside of rationality. If you’re still upset after your anger subsides, then think of a logical way to advocate for a solution to the problem. Not only will you be more confident of your right to fight, but those you are fighting against are much more likely to listen to you if you’re able to argue coherently.

Anger has been the catalyst for many great and greatly destructive events throughout history. While suppressing anger can lead to resentment and embitterment, express­ing it can be socially isolating, embarrassing and perhaps even socially and physically destructive.

Laura Woodward Counselling

Laura Woodward has been the surgeon at Village Vet Hampstead for over 10 years. Laura is also a qualified therapeutic counsellor and is affiliated with the ACPNL and the ISPC. She runs Laurawoodward.co.uk – a counselling service for vets and nurses.

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