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Don't Let Anger Turn You Inside Out

Learn how to express anger in a healthy way.

Have you seen the movie, “ Inside Out ”? If not, meet the character Anger. This kids' movie – that is just as appropriate for adults – illustrates the complexity of human emotions better than just about anything I've seen.

We might try and pretend we're rational, reasoned, and logical in all that we do, in how we approach the world around us. But don't we all know, if we're really being honest with ourselves, that that just isn't true?

Because, in the end, we are all, purely and simply, emotional creatures.

The psychologist Robert Plutchik boiled it all down to eight basic human emotions:

  • Fear
  • Sadness
  • Joy
  • Disgust
  • Trust
  • Anticipation
  • Surprise
  • Anger

In my years of practice, I have found that the emotion that gives people the most trouble is anger. Anger scares people. Anger feels bad, frightening, ugly, and maybe even embarrassing.

We're not our best selves when we're angry. When we get angry, it feels as though we are exposing the worst of ourselves. Our culture tells us, especially women, that anger isn't okay, that we should sweep it away and ignore it. Anger is thought of as an “unsavory” emotion.

The truth is that anger is actually healthy and natural. We all know how good it feels sometimes to vent, to ease the pressure cooker of frustration just a bit. It's okay to feel angry. In fact, trying to suppress or deny your aggression can lead to a host of physical symptoms, such as headaches, depression, stress, sleep disorders, and eating difficulties. Poor anger management can also lead you to erupt into violent behavior if your temper has been simmering without an appropriate outlet.

Expressed appropriately, anger can be healthy. It can protect you from dangerous situations, energize you to resolve problems, or lead you to make positive changes.

Learning how to effectively express anger is the key. Because anger can be destructive if not expressed appropriately.

Take, for example, a client I had a few years back. When “Stan” came to my office for his first session, I could FEEL the anger pouring off him like cold winter air when a door has been opened. His body language was rigid, his jaw was clenched, his fists were tight, his manner short, clipped, and evasive. His wife had suggested he come in; she made the appointment for him, in fact, insisting that he needed to talk to someone about how angry and unhappy he was.

He didn't see it that way at first. He admitted that he was a bit on edge, but didn't see it as a big problem. As we worked together, and as I asked him to tell me about his day, his work, his family life, and to tell me about the things that got him fired up, we soon uncovered a list of offenses which he felt righteous in his anger. He was so angry once, when a colleague was late for a meeting, he erupted in front of his entire staff; yelling, screaming, cursing. He was angry about a lot of things: someone was consistently parking in his spot at work, his co-workers were slacking off and leaving him to do the lion's share, his kids were entering the snotty teen years and refusing to listen to him, his wife was constantly on him about a to-do list that was getting longer by the day.

As we talked we were able to uncover that yes, some of these things were worthy of a bit of frustration, maybe even legitimate anger. Most, though, were what I call irritants, frustrations that boil up and then go away. The problem was that my client made ALL these things equal: the garage door not being closed was the same as a work project being substandard, a light left on in the basement was the same as someone rear ending his brand new car.

My work with Stan didn't revolve around telling him that he shouldn't be angry. Rather our sessions focused on giving him tools that he could readily access, especially in the lighting-the-match-stick moment of intense rage, that would help him defuse the situation. Stepping away for two minutes, walking away, breathing exercises, more effective language to use to express himself…these were all things we worked on.

After only six or seven sessions Stan was more able to recalibrate his emotional furnace. Things still got under this skin, but in a short time he learned to change his responses and to channel that prickly anger emotion in more healthy ways.

I f minor irritations send you over the top, or if you feel that you're always in a bad mood, that everything sets you off, consider counseling. Anger that is out of control can be destructive, and it can lead to problems in your personal relationships, at work, in your enjoyment of life, and with your health.

If you are living with someone whose level of anger is high or who expresses unhealthy aggression, you may need to help them see that an anger management counselor can help him understand what's driving his aggression and handle feelings in a healthier, more productive manner. A simple call to Foundations Counseling can lead to a better quality of life.