Disagreements, frustration and conflict will always happen in any serious relationship.
That’s because anger is a normal part of being human. The emotions we feel when we are angry are a part of our evolution, so much so that if people weren’t capable of anger, we probably wouldn’t have lasted as a species.
Anger that is directed at someone close to you can take many forms. It could come about because of an irritating habit (they didn’t wash the dishes), resentment (they came home much later than expected after a night out at the pub), disappointment (they forgot an important occasion), mistrust (you feel let down yet again), or any other number of reasons.
Anger is a consequence of conflict. In most cases, that anger is a short-term response. The issue (hopefully) then gets dealt with and the result is a return to ‘normal’.
However, anger can be a problem when it becomes more than just a passing feeling. Anger is, after all, an emotion that’s powerful enough to make us lose control. When that force becomes destructive, anger is a problem.
“Anger needs to be dealt with if it is affecting your life.”
Is my anger a problem?
Anger needs to be dealt with if it is affecting your life. That’s when it’s no longer a feeling during moments of great stress that eventually goes away, but is something that happens regularly.
Anger that has grown to be part of your character can damage your relationships with family, friends, your wider social life and even workmates. In some cases, anger can even lead to violence.
None of these situations are helpful, to you or those around you.
That’s when it’s time to take a step back and consider how you can deal with these strong feelings.
So where do you start?
Here are some common signs that your anger could be getting out of control.
- Have you been called (or do you think of yourself) an angry person?
- Do you find that your arguments seem to constantly happen with the same person?
- Do you end up shouting or losing it? Do arguments degenerate into “shouting matches”?
- Do you get so worked up that you get angry about a whole range of other things?
- Does your anger get so intense that you barely remember why you started arguing?
- Do you often find that small, trivial things make you angry very quickly?
- Do people around you actively fear your anger? Do you notice people getting defensive or cautious (maybe someone said they feel like they are “walking on eggshells”) when they spot your ‘warning signs’?
- Do you often feel resentful or have constant vindictive thoughts about getting back at other people?
- Does anger make you break and smash things, hurt yourself (such as punching walls) or drive aggressively?
- Do you find your anger comes out in a way that’s passive aggressive?
- Do you find you ‘internalise’ your anger by saying or thinking harsh things about yourself, or muttering or talking out loud about it?
- Does anger lead you to unhealthy coping techniques like drugs, alcohol, smoking or self-harm?
- Does it take you a long time to calm down or forgive?
As mentioned, these are just some of the many symptoms of anger. No two people’s excessive anger symptoms are the same.
Even so, there is one common fact — excess anger is very unhealthy.
Constant or recurring anger can have a damaging effect on your mental health, potentially leading to depression and anxiety. Excess anger can also affect your physical health, from raised blood pressure to potential injury from risky behaviour.
However, one of the most damaging results of anger is how it can affect relationships. Quite simply, being constantly angry is less likely to led to happy and fulfilling relationships.
Good and healthy relationships, it should be pointed out, are the most important things in our lives after our physical health. That’s because they are closely linked to happiness and fulfilment. This was demonstrated in some very in-depth studies that found happy relationships can directly affect your physical health and even your life expectancy.
What can I do about my anger?
It is never too late to start working on your anger. Here are some tips on how to start that process and work toward conflict-free relationships.
- Instead of blaming, think about listening, resolving and compromising. Focus on dealing with what is so upsetting or frustrating, instead of just attacking or criticising. Digging your heels in and not giving any ground will most likely mean the problem remains where it started.
- Is there a constant or recurring source of anger? If so, then consider talking about it when you’re both calm. For example, finances and sex are two very common causes of problems among couples. These sensitive issues won’t get resolved if the only time you ever talk about them is during heated exchanges. Instead, make an effort to talk about them when you’re both calm and in control.
- If something does annoy you, try solving it by staying in control and talking about it. How would you respond if you did something that someone found annoying? Would you respond better to someone who blew up at you, or to someone who calmly asked you to not do something?
- Do the words “You always…” and “you never…” come up often during an argument? You might feel “righteous” or justified in venting your frustration during the moment, but escalating one problem into many more won’t get them resolved. Instead, try focussing on the issue at hand. Stay in the present and don’t derail a solution by bringing up unrelated problems or the same old arguments.
- Actively listen to the person to understand what it is like for them. How you listen is just as important as what you say.
- Be honest with yourself. Accepting responsibility for your actions is not a sign of weakness or something to be ashamed of. Just do it. Then think about solutions.
- Remind yourself what is good about the other person. What brought you together? Then focus on that. It’s easy to get blindsided with anger and hyper-focus on the negative.
- Most importantly, be patient. If conflict was easily resolved, it wouldn’t be such a problem. It can take a while to work through a problem. While that might be frustrating, it’s better to work towards a better situation than to be stuck in perpetual conflict with no happy solution.
- Your ultimate goal is to aim for a better relationship. This, more than anything, will make you a happier person.
Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.