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How to Deal With Anger

angry man shouting into phoneAnger has never hurt anyone.

You read that right: Anger has never hurt anyone. “But what about homicide? Domestic violence? Bar fights?” you ask. “Those are the results of anger, and people definitely do get hurt.”

People are hurt by physical aggression, not by anger.

Aggression is a behavior, and it can definitely hurt people. But anger itself is only a feeling, and like any other feeling, it’s harmless in and of itself.

However, there are people who don’t know what to do with their angry feelings.

Some of these people learned early in life that when they’re angry, the thing to do is to lash out at people, things, or themselves. They do damage with aggression and violence because they don’t know what else to do with their anger.

Others who never learned how to express anger in a healthy way just keep it inside, turning it on themselves and therefore becoming depressed or anxious.

Or they develop a negative outlook on life that feeds the simmering anger inside.

Feelings that can’t be expressed do internal damage, but they never hurt anyone else. Only behavior is hurtful; and a feeling is not a behavior. (See my book, Constructive Wallowing, for MUCH more about feelings.)

Because so many people have difficulty expressing anger appropriately, our culture has an inordinate fear of anger. There is even research “proving” that expressing anger leads only to more anger, and is counter-therapeutic. A close reading of such studies reveals no such evidence.

The fact is, angry people get more and more angry when they feel like nobody hears or cares about their feelings. When your expression of any feeling is acknowledged, understood and accepted by others, de-escalation occurs naturally.

If you’re uncomfortable with anger because of your own, or someone else’s, fear of this emotion, below are some do’s and dont’s for dealing with anger.

What to Do With Your Anger

DO:

  • Acknowledge that you’re angry
  • Take responsibility for your feelings: Use “I” statements like “I’m angry” instead of “You’re ticking me off.”
  • Find an appropriate physical outlet, such as running or pushups
  • Wait till you’ve cooled down before having important conversations
  • Ask for what you want, specifically (e.g., I would like a full refund)
  • Write it down; express your feelings in writing
  • Use assertiveness skills to stand up for yourself

DON’T:

  • Expect others to respond well, even to an appropriate expression of anger
  • Use violence to express yourself
  • Resort to name-calling or insults
  • Assume that your feelings are someone else’s fault
  • Drive a vehicle before your head has cleared
  • Take any action you might regret later
  • Try to suppress or ignore your anger indefinitely

What to Do When  Someone Else is Angry

DO:

  • Listen to an angry person’s account of why they are angry, even if you don’t agree about the facts
  • Try to see the situation from their point of view, and let them know you understand
  • Remove yourself from the situation if you see the person is getting out of control

DONT:

  • Tell the person to calm down
  •  Allow their anger to ignite yours
  •  Refuse to listen to them*
  •  Taunt, shame, insult or ridicule them
  • Attempt to engage them in a debate

* This depends on your goal. If you’re working on setting boundaries around how people treat you, you may want to inform the person that you’ll speak to them when they’re calmer, and leave. However, if your goal is to facilitate their healthy expression of anger, letting them know you’re listening is the right thing to do.

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado.
She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting and other resources, and offers assertiveness training and executive coaching for organizations.
The author of “Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them” and the “Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children,” Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships.
Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called “Constructive Wallowing.”

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