“Most of the time, I’ve got the patience of a saint and I’m able to keep my cool. However, there are some days when it doesn’t take much to make me mad. I find it pretty scary, it’s like a dam has broken and there’s this sudden flood of rage that just pours out of me. I say things I regret, sometimes I even throw things. There are more than a few occasions when I’ve smashed a mug or a plate and then instantly regretted it. That’s the worst part. Not only do I feel angry, I also feel guilty.”
Anger is normal. How does it feel to read those words? I’m sure there are some of you out there who have some difficulty accepting that sentence. From an early age we are conditioned to perceive anger as something unhealthy, something that we should avoid. We are taught that being angry is wrong and that if we feel that way, that we are somehow in the wrong. We have a tendency to only judge (and condemn) the fact that we feel angry instead of looking at the circumstances that led to the emotion.
The reality is, anger is normal. We all get angry from time to time. We might find ourselves getting angry when we’re stuck behind a slow moving car and we are late for work. We might get angry when we switch on the evening news and learn of a certain injustice in the world. We might even find ourselves getting angry with our own loved ones. There are a multitude of different reasons why we might get angry but the one guarantee is that it happens to us all. When discussing anger, what we actually tend to focus on is the behaviour that follows the emotion, not the emotion itself. The individual at the start of this article speaks of how they sometimes say things they regret or smash plates - that’s the behaviour, not the emotion. People expend an awful lot of time and energy telling themselves not to get angry. This is a fairly pointless exercise. You may as well tell yourself not to get thirsty or not to get tired. What we should actually focus on is how we behave when we are angry.
We can deal with our anger in destructive or constructive ways. A destructive way of dealing with feelings of anger might be smashing something or lashing out at someone with cruel words. We often fall into the trap of relying on destructive ways of dealing with anger because are they quick and provide immediate gratification. However, they are not necessarily the healthiest ways to deal with these difficult feelings. Reacting to feelings of anger constructively is harder but ultimately more rewarding. A constructive way of dealing with anger might be sharing our feelings with the person we feel angry with. We don’t lash out at them, but instead attempt to remain calm and explain why we feel angry. Discussing ways in which the situation can be rectified might be challenging and require some compromise, but it serves to strengthen relationships rather than weaken them.
Taigh Sàmhchair: professional counselling and psychotherapy
Hereward Proops MBACP, registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
01851 871094 / 07815662208