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  • Writer's pictureGeorgina Sturmer

Coping with anger

Updated: Jun 17, 2023

What makes you angry?

And what happens inside? Does your head hurt, your blood boil, your jaw tighten?

Or maybe you don’t ever feel angry at all. In this article for Counselling Directory, I explore some of the images and myths around coping with anger, and offer some tips on how to manage it.

Do you struggle with anger? For some of us, anger feels frightening or unacceptable, and we struggle to express it or release it. For others, it feels like anger controls us, and we find ourselves feeling explosive or violent.

Anger often brings people to counselling. The first step is to get to know your relationship with anger. It’s likely that your feelings about anger were formed when you were growing up.

Does anger seem unacceptable? In some households, anger is unacceptable. Problems are swept under the carpet. Anger becomes frustration, disappointment, or resentment. Other emotions are praised, and we are encouraged to hold things in.

As an adult you might go to great lengths to seem diplomatic and likeable, to avoid confrontation. You might hide your true feelings and opinions for fear of seeming angry. You might think that you never feel angry. Or that you don’t deserve to show anger.

Does anger seem frightening? If you grew up around anger then it may have left you feeling scared. Perhaps it was an unpredictable or violent household. As an adult you might feel an urge to hide or make yourself invisible to avoid anger. You might feel an urge to please others, to avoid making them angry.

Does anger seem strong and powerful? In some families, anger may have been prized as a sign of strength and control. As an adult, anger might become your ‘go to’ emotion. As if you don’t know how to respond in any other way. You might find yourself seeking out confrontation, or opportunities to explode.

Of course, these are all stereotypes.

But they make a powerful point: anger is different for all of us.

What happens if you suppress your anger? This is something I often ask. If we don’t acknowledge or release our anger, where does it go?

We might skilfully hide it behind a mask. But if we sit on top of a feeling for a long time, it can become a burden. It can manifest itself in other ways, in anxiety, sadness or a sense of being invisible or unheard. If we can’t effectively communicate how we are feeling, then it’s difficult for us to really know what we need and what we want.

What happens if you are quick to get angry? If anger comes quickly, it can be damaging to our relationships with those around us. If anger feels like the only emotion that is accessible to us, then it can get in the way of our other feelings too.

Tips for understanding and coping with anger:

  • Tune in to what your anger really feels like in your body. What happens inside? Does your head hurt, your blood boil, your jaw tighten? Do these physical changes take control over you? Or is there an opportunity to pause and challenge them. Drink a glass of water, massage your jaw, take a deep breath.

  • Notice how you display anger to other people. Perhaps your fists are clenched, your jaw is tight, and you are coiled like a spring, ready to pounce. Or maybe you look calm and serene, masking your anger from the world. What does it tell you about how you’re feeling? There’s no right or wrong way to be, but it’s interesting to notice whether you reveal or hide your anger. And if you do try to hide it, does it seep out anyway. Maybe your voice changes, your face reddens, your hands begin to shake.

  • Remember that our emotions are there to tell us something. This is something that we often explore in counselling. Here are a few simple ideas that might help:

    • If you’re quick to anger, maybe the anger is trying to protect you. What are you frightened of? And is it a real threat? Or is it something that you can let go of?

    • If you find it hard to show your anger, is there an underlying worry? Maybe you’re concerned that people won’t like you or take you seriously. Perhaps you dislike it when other people show anger. Sometimes we dislike things in other people because it reminds us of things that we really dislike about ourselves. Consider what it would be like to share your true feelings.

    • If you don’t think you ever feel angry, be curious about it. Are you able to connect with other emotions, like joy, fear, disappointment, jealousy, and so on? Have you ever felt angry? Do you deserve to feel angry? Often anger eventually comes when we realise that we haven’t been treated in a way in which we deserve to be treated.

  • Understand your triggers.

    • Do certain people or situations make you angry? Ask yourself whether it’s the actual person/situation that is triggering you, or perhaps it reminds you of something from the past. If so, try to stay in the present moment and focus on where you are right now.

    • Universal triggers. This isn’t a technical term, but here I’m thinking about things that make lots of us angry. Crime, war, poverty, injustice, climate change. In our complicated modern world, it would be easy to feel overwhelmed by these topics and feel angry all the time. Think about your boundaries. How can you protect yourself and draw a line so that they don’t seep into your life too much? Switching off from difficult conversations or from the endless scroll of news and social media can be helpful here.

    • Longer term causes of your anger. Jealousy? Sadness? Disappointment? Frustration? Maybe a general sense that life isn’t how you would have wanted it to be. There isn’t a magic wand or quick fix. In counselling we look at what’s beneath your anger. We might look at acknowledging or accepting the things that have happened to us. The people who have caused us challenges. The things that we cannot change.

  • Deescalating anger. If you are quick to anger, rage, or violence, think carefully about your own resources. How can you manage your responses. What is your support network like, what can you do when you feel the anger rising.

  • Releasing anger. Different things work for different people. It could be voicing your thoughts and feelings to a counsellor. Or it could be a physical or creative activity like drawing or journaling. Something to get the feelings out of your head and out of your body in a safe way.

  • Consider lifestyle factors. Do certain substances or activities make your anger more difficult to understand or control? Perhaps a lack of sleep, or the use of drugs or alcohol.

Keen to explore more?

I love working with people to help them to understand themselves, and look at coping with anger. In counselling we build a relationship where we can look at your sense of who you are, so that you can feel more comfortable and confident in everyday life. If you’d like to learn more, click here to contact me or click here to book a free 30-minute introductory chat.

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coping with anger

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