Have you ever considered that the consequences of anger are often more damaging than what made you angry in the first place?
We all get angry. It’s a natural, normal part of being human. In fact, anger is a part of our survival instinct. It’s something we’ve evolved to help us deal with difficult and threatening situations, so much so that we experience anger not only as thoughts and emotions, but also as physical feelings.
Anger in real life
When we get angry, we are less able to control our actions. As a result, we may act out on impulses that we’d normally keep in check. Perhaps it’s an urge to mouth off to your incompetent boss, let loose at that condescending family member, or have words to another driver on the road.
These are, of course, impulses that occur in the heat of the moment. Our ‘blood is up’ because we feel wronged, threatened or frustrated and anger becomes a counter to these feelings.
However, as distressing as the anger-inducing situation might feel, anger for most people remains a state that is temporary and that can, to a large extent, be controlled.
One obvious reason for this is that all actions have consequences. At various times throughout your life you probably need to deal with stress, frustrations, set-backs, incompetence, or people who are difficult, inconsiderate or rude. Yet most of us do not immediately let rip or get aggressive, one of the reasons being that it would directly affect the future of your job or your relationship. Instead, we deal with it as best as we can until the situation hopefully passes.
This isn’t to say that anger doesn’t affect us — or to be specific, this isn’t to say that the stressors that induce anger don’t affect us. When we do feel anger and stress, we try to find ways of coping with those feelings.
You might vent verbally to a colleague or your partner, go for a run or a hard gym session, or talk it out with a friend or family member. These are coping mechanisms that help deal with the unpleasant emotions and distress that could lead to anger.
People who have not developed coping mechanisms for dealing with anger may be more likely to lose control and act out in the form of aggressive words and actions. It is in situations like this — when anger is not controlled or coped with — that it can become a problem.
Anger and self-control
Anger may be a problem if it becomes an ongoing feature of daily life. In particular, anger may be something that needs to be dealt with if it results in destructive consequences.
Examples of this include driving aggressively or dangerously, ‘lashing out’ at friends or family members, or entering into physical confrontations or violence. These are situations where anger has ceased being just a thought, and has instead become something ‘real’ which can lead to actual social, emotional and even physical harm to others and to yourself.
So is anger a problem for you? Consider the following.
- Am I regularly getting angry about things that are trivial or of little consequence?
- Is the way I respond to anger appropriate to the situation?
- Instead of getting angry, are there other things I could do about the situation?
- Is ‘winning’ or being right worth the cost or damage to my relationships, career or social life?
- Has my anger strained or damaged my relationships?
- Has it gotten me into legal trouble or adversely affected my career?
- Is my anger a regular feeling?
- Does it take up enough time and energy to prevent me from enjoying or doing other things?
There are many reasons why anger could be getting the better of you. The good news is that anger can be managed.
It’s a fact of life: stressful and anger-inducing situations will happen. You very likely cannot avoid traffic jams, rude or inconsiderate relatives and family, or difficult co-workers. But what you can do is change how you respond and deal with these situations. You can get on top of those feelings and impulses that result in aggressive behaviour and which can risk becoming destructive consequences.
The first step is to talk it out with someone who is trained to listen and who understands. NQ Connect counsellors provide free counselling over the phone and online. They are professionals (not volunteers) who will help you cope and work with you on strategies that will get on top of stressful and difficult thoughts like anger.
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.