Does traffic piss you off? Do you get easily irritated at other people? Have you ever wondered if you need “anger management” classes? And what exactly is “anger management?” Let’s talk a bit about what anger is and how to work with it.
When someone treats you badly, it’s natural and healthy to feel angry. Instead of stuffing your anger until it builds (like a volcano), anger is a sign that you have needs that aren’t being met. When you act out your rage, usually it’s you who suffers the most. You may yell at someone else, give the finger to another driver on the freeway, insult a colleague at work, but, in the long run, it will come back to hurt you more than it will them. Out-of-control aggresssion is destructive. Anger expressed responsibly is constructive and healthy.
Being able to responsibly express ire is part of being assertive. If you can’t assert your needs, wants or desires, you’re going to get frustrated, annoyed and angry. This doesn’t mean you always get what you want: you ask for what you want and see what happens. For example, if your boyfriend does something you don’t like, you can be passive (stuff it and say nothing), aggressive (overreact and yell at him, “You stupid idiot, I told you not to do that”) or assertive: “Remember that I told you how much that annoys me. I’m starting to get angry because you’re doing it again.”
Anger management is about responsible and timely expression of anger. This doesn’t mean going off on people whenever you feel like it. It means finding a way to maturely and respectfully express yourself when someone or something is bothering you. When I work with clients on “anger management”, I help them figure out what to do with their frustration, how to control it (not vice-versa) and where it comes from. Where does your anger come from? Anger Management asks you to think before you react. Your thoughts create your emotional reaction, not vice-versa.
The next time you’re pissed off, think before you react. You could ask yourself: “What am I upset about?” “What need of mine is being ignored?” “What do I want to be different?” or “How do I want to be treated”? When you are clear on what you want, you can ask for it. You can let others know when you don’t like what they’re doing/saying to you.
However, if you’re angry almost all the time, this is different from situational anger. Chronic, ongoing anger is almost always a reaction to really old stuff; so it’s important to figure out where it comes from. This doesn’t mean that you blame your parents, teachers, or whomever for past poor behavior. It means that you take responsibility for yourself by: (1) admitting that you have valid reasons to be angry and (2) finding healthy outlets for that anger. The worst way to channel your frustration is to aim it at someone by yelling at or blaming them. Usually, our nearest and dearest get the worst of our anger. This can destroy a good relationship, so it’s crucial to find other ways to channel your anger.
Don’t see anger as a “problem”; instead, see it as a wake-up call. Anger clarifies what you think and feel; it can help you to identify the source of your conflicts with others. You can say to your partner, “This matters to me, I need to be able to talk with you about it, because if I don’t, I’m going to resent you.” Unexpressed anger causes resentment, and too much resentment results in emotional “explosions” that ruin friendships and relationships.
Let’s be real. If your goal is to express your anger responsibly, in all conditions, at all times. Good luck! No one I’ve ever met has pulled this off. But, it’s a good goal. “Anger management” is about gaining control over your emotions so your brain can short-circuit your impulsive reactions to say and do hurtful things. In the long run, learning to manage your own anger is one of the best things you can do for you…and, of course, all the people in your life will be happy too.