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Is Your Anger A Problem (For You or Others)?

by Dave Decker M.A.

Sometimes it feels like anger is everywhere. Take a moment to imagine some scenarios you may have seen or experienced in your own life. The parent who yells at and jerks her child by the arm in the grocery store. The driver who screams at you and "flips you off" when he thinks you're going too slow. Or couples who verbally abuse and humiliate one another, all in the name of communicating their feelings.

But is this really anger? My answer to that question is an emphatic "no," after working in the mental health field with men, women, couples, and families for the past thirty years. In truth, anger is an emotion that everyone experiences. It's a fact of life and a normal and natural human response. The behaviors noted above are, in reality, distortions and perversions of anger.

Anger as an emotion often serves as a "warning signal" that something important is happening that needs to be attended to. It might be that you are feeling threatened. It could be that you are unable to control someone or something. It might mean that your wants, needs, and rights are not being adequately addressed or respected. Or it could mean that an old hurt from the past is being reactivated by a person or situation in the present.

Anger as an emotion is a part of being human. How your anger affects you and others depends on the way it is handled. Your anger can build self-confidence, self-respect, and self-esteem and enhance your relationships with others. Or it can create guilt and shame and destroy trust and intimacy with the people around you. It all has to do with how you experience and express it. When expressions of anger become shaming, punishing, abrasive, vengeful, and abusive or when you don't express your anger at all (withdrawing and "stuffing" it), the distortions of anger begins to take a toll on your emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being and on your relationships with others.

What are some signs that anger may have become a problem in your life? Take a look at the list below and see if what is discussed triggers any concerns for you about your own or someone else's anger.

When it occurs too frequently.
There are plenty of justifiable reasons to get angry. Everyone gets frustrated and angry at times. But there are also lots of other times when anger is not useful or necessary. If you find yourself stressed, tense, and angry much of the time, slow down and take a look at why this is happening.

When it lasts too long.
When anger is prolonged (often by what or how you are thinking or booding about it), your physical stress arousal is more difficult to handle and it is more difficult to bring yourself back to "normal" levels. This means that you are continually "on edge" and that you literally set yourself up for further aggravation by many of the minor annoyances and inconveniences in your day-to-day life.

When the intensity is too great.
Small or moderate amounts of anger can be helpful to energize you or motivate you to act in a productive way. But high degrees of anger cloud your thinking, decrease the potential for effective problem-solving and conflict resolution, and create unnecessary "wear and tear" on your physical self.

When it disrupts relationships.
Intense and explosive anger is often misused as a way to resolve
conflicts. Some people believe that, "If I just yell loud enough, I will be able to make my point, change others' minds, and get my way." In reality, this type of behavior creates hurt, resentment, fear, and intimidation in partners, children, and others. As a result, you may actually end up driving away the very people you say that you want to be close to.

When it interferes with getting things done or creates problems for you on the job.
Intense anger makes it more difficult to concentrate and harder to focus on and accomplish projects you want to do at work or at home. Explosive anger will also cause co-workers to shy away from you, limits your creativity on the job, and may even lead to quitting jobs abruptly or to being suspended or even terminated at work.

When it restricts your ability to have fun and relax.
Intense anger takes you out of the moment and often directs your focus to resentments or difficulties from the past or into the future. As a result, you can end up losing spontaneity, playfulness, joy, and the ability to "slow down and smell the roses" in your daily living.

When it begins to create physical symptoms.
Intense anger takes an enormous toll on your physical health and well-being. You can actually create significant physical damage by developing headaches, stomach upset, chest pain, back aches, and even major cardiovascular problems like heart attacks and strokes.

When it leads to guilt, remorse, shame, and low self-esteem.
Intense anger often leads to saying and doing things that you end up regretting later. It also may lead to some very real consequences and losses (e.g. getting divorced from your partner or having less time with your children). These sorts of changes inevitably affect, in a negative way, how you feel about yourself.

When it leads to throwing, hitting, or breaking things.
Intense anger can lead to making choices to destroy objects and property that are important to you and others. This not only costs money but these behaviors are also threatening to those around you and create fear in the people you care about.

When it leads to emotional, verbal, physical, and sexual abuse.
Intense anger and the hostile and negative thinking that accompanies it set the stage for acting out the anger in an aggressive and violent way toward other people. These kinds of actions are never helpful in addressing important issues and resolving problems between you and others. In addition, they always create fear, resentment, mistrust, and emotional distance in the relationships you have.

When it leads to legal consequences.
Your explosive and abusive anger has the potential to get you involved with the court system through disorderly conduct and assault charges or restraining orders. If you threaten others or use physical force with another adults, you're breaking the law and the result can be arrest, having to appear in court, and even ending up in jail.

Think about your own anger. Do you see yourself or others you care about in the list above? If you do, consider the option of attending an anger management workshop or seeing a counselor . In a workshop or in counseling, you can learn what anger is and is not, how and where you developed your attitudes and beliefs about anger, how to be more aware of your anger triggers and your escalation process, and what you can do to slow down and begin to address anger that does arise in a more respectful and productive way.

Anger does not have to be a "dark side" that comes in and takes over, ruining your life and destroying your relationships with others. If disrespectful anger has been a problem for you, take the risk and the time to try something new and different in this area. Learning how to handle your anger more effectively really can change who you are, how you feel about yourself, and how others (especially the people most important to you) feel about you.

Some things to think about related to this article

© 1998 David J. Decker, MA, LP
Phone: 612-725-8402 or 651-646-4325 -





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