Anger has many costs. While it can feel so justified, so right in the moment, it is in the aftermath where it becomes a source of regret and guilt. What may of seemed so deserving and just, now leaves behind hurt, scars, and alienation.
If you get angry on a regular basis, every relationship in your life can be affected. Take a second and reflect on your life as of late. Do you find yourself getting angry with people all the time? Being more sarcastic lately? Acting very impatient with others? Or maybe you are feeling that your default mood is becoming pissed off? Or perhaps you find that you may even be struggling with being angry at yourself?
Our anger takes its toll on those around us—friends grow distant, coworkers avoid or try to sabotage you, your relationship can become a minefield with your partner walking on eggshells to avoid setting you off. Anger is an emotion that drives people away.
Anger also affects your health. It is well-known anger’s negative impact on your heart. Anger triggers our fight or flight response—pumping cortisol, adrenaline, and other stress hormones through our body. Our blood pressures rises. Our heart races. Anger can be deadly.
When we talk about the emotion of anger, we are talking about the emotion of self-preservation. You become angry when someone is not showing you respect, speaking ill of you, creating conflict, or bringing some sort of tension into your life. When someone or something activates your sense of self-preservation, you want to stand up for your principles, your convictions, for who you are.
If you are struggling with anger, then likely something in your life isn’t going quite right. Most people don’t get angry when things are going well. Anger stems from being displeased about someone or something. It can often mask other emotions—fear, sadness, jealousy, hurt, disappointment. Anger can be a way to deal with a situation when you aren’t ready to face your more vulnerable feelings.
Here are some reasons you can be feeling so angry
- Powerlessness. Anger can be viewed as a state of powerlessness. All of us on some level, feel the need to be in control. If you are struggling with a sense of no control over a situation, or a goal of yours is being thwarted, this can explain your state of anger. Anger can be an empowering emotion.
- Fear. Fear of loss, hurt, shame, weakness, embarrassment, and other vulnerable emotions. One can see that anger is an emotion that can be intimidating and threatening. If you are feeling afraid or threatened by someone or something, you might display anger as a way of protecting yourself from what you perceive to be a threat. Yet as the wise Yoda says, “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.”
- Hurt. Hurt and anger are just different sides of the same coin. Hurt is the vulnerable expression of the experience and feeling hurt is what usually leads us to anger.
- Pain from the Past. If you are holding onto pain from the past, it can be showing up in your life as anger. You can feel wronged or hurt by something someone did to you a week ago, a month ago, a year ago, OR years ago. Pain like this can mature into bitterness.
- Stress. Stress is likely to increase anger in those who are prone to it. There is strong link between anger and stress. Stress comes into play in the physiological response to anger—the hormonal response we have to this emotion. We see people acting out their stress and anger on the daily in our society–road rage, workplace violence, mass shootings. It is an epidemic.
- Jealousy. Jealousy is a naturally occurring emotion. If you ever watch kids play, you can witness how easily this emotion bubbles to the surface. A child’s jealousy is developmentally appropriate because jealousy is a sign of undeveloped thinking. As we mature and grow, we usually focus less on others, and more on our goals and our own values. Psychologically healthy adults know it is pointless to compare their lives to others. We all start in different places and are running different races. Yet many people still struggle with jealousy in adulthood. Jealousy can produce tremendous feelings of anger.
- People pleasing. Even if you are the most agreeable, nicest person on the face of this Earth, repressing your needs for others time and time again, is going to breed resentment. That repressed anger is going to spill out in one way or another–eye rolling, facial expressions, procrastinating, Freudian slips. People pleasers often share many traits with codependents. Codependency and anger go hand in hand (right alongside those feelings of powerlessness and yearning for control).
- Entitlement. A sense of entitlement often starts the vicious cycle of anger. When you expect others to do what you want, regardless of their own desires, you are setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration. Both of which lead to anger. Now adays, more than ever, we are living in an age of entitlement.
- Self-importance. Anger and resentment are self-important emotions. Anger and self-importance go hand in hand. Often you can spot a self-important person by their anger. If things are going their way, they can be charming and wonderful. If someone or something gets in their way, say hello to full on rage.
- Loneliness. The price of anger can be loneliness–no matter how caring or sincere a person may be towards them, the angry person can’t appreciate it. Angry people often have a general disdain for humanity. People who struggle with their anger tend to keep other’s at arm length and in doing so experience less fun, less support, and less joy in life.
How to Overcome Your Anger
Anger is always a choice. It is also a habit. For a person who habitually suffers from anger, they tend to blame shift another person for their pain. Many times when we experience emotional pain we may ask ourself, “Who is responsible for this?” An angry person never takes responsibility for their pain. Angry people look for someone to point the finger at and assign blame to. Once there is a target of blame, they can discharge their hurt with anger to this person.
There is a certain pleasure we feel in blaming others. It means in that moment we don’t have to look at ourselves, our shortcomings, our problems, our faults; we can put the spotlight on them. When we have someone to blame, we get to point out their sins and what is wrong with them, turning the focus completely off us.
The problem with doing that is we can’t make someone else responsible for what we feel including our pain. You and you alone are responsible for the quality of your life. Whether you are happy or not, whether your needs are getting met, whether the relationships in your life are going well, is determined by the choices you make. Thus the only way to stop being an angry person is to accept the fact that currently you are in fact an angry person. Then and only then can you begin to take responsibility for your anger.
Look at the costs of anger to your life, especially, in terms of your health and your relationships. Be realistic about the causes of your anger and begin to keep an anger journal to observe and monitor the patterns of your anger. The journal can be helpful in processing all the triggers and circumstances in your life that’s gotten you feeling so angry all the time.
Anger can only be controlled if you change the way you assess and interpret what goes on in your life. You can begin to control your anger by changing the thoughts that trigger it. These trigger thoughts are a bit different for all of us but they tend to be grounded in a lot of “should” thinking. We all have our own guidebook about how we and others should behave. When someone does not follow one of our “rules” we get angry. Stop policing other people’s behavior because it only leads to feelings of frustration, anger, disappointment and resentment. The word “should” inherently implies what you think you is correct and what the other person thinks is wrong, bad, stupid, etc. People are never going to act how you think they “should.” If you expect people to play by your rules, I can guarantee that you can find a reason to be angry every day, for the rest of your life.
Managing your anger is an active process–a process only you can control. I have faith that you can. But if you don’t learn to control your anger, it my friend, will come to control you.