Throughout this blog, we have been learning about some of the characteristics shared by those who abuse others. We learned that, sometimes, abuse occurs in the form of an unhealthy, deconstructive expression of anger. In this lesson, we will learn the difference between healthy and unhealthy expressions of anger, how to recognize anger, and how to communicate anger in constructive, effective ways.

Expressions of Anger

Anger is a perfectly natural and quite common emotion that occurs when we feel threatened. Used effectively, anger can be used to escape danger or set boundaries. However, at times, our anger can be quite explosive, and easily become destructive. Sometimes, anger may seem to blow up inside of you, disrupting concentration or causing physical pain such as headaches, and/or stomachaches. Anger may build up when you feel denied or ignored, only to come out in confusing ways, such as overreacting to something insignificant. Unhealthy expressions of anger can be harmful both to yourself, and your relationships with others.

Here are some examples of unhealthy expressions of anger:

  • Instigating arguments

  • Allowing your mood to negatively affect others

  • Attempting to make others feel guilty

  • Holding grudges

  • Rolling eyes or sighing heavily

  • Giving the silent treatment to others

  • Physical violence, either toward yourself or others

  • Frequent disregard for the feelings of others

  • Acting in passive-aggressive ways

  • Feeling justified in anger, even when you are not

  • Speaking condescendingly to others

  • Manipulation of a given situation

  • Suppressing anger and/or other difficult emotions

  • Giving an ultimatum in a given situation; “it’s my way or no way at all.”

  • Intimidation

  • Vengeance

  • Blaming someone or something else for how you feel

When we talk about expressing anger in healthy ways, we’re referring to learning to act, versus react. Any given situation must be analyzed objectively, striving to keep in mind the following: the other person’s feelings and experiences; your feelings, thoughts, intentions, and expectations; and your physical vulnerabilities. Physical vulnerabilities can be a poor night’s sleep, lack of adequate nutrition, dehydration, hunger, stress, any illness, a change in hormones (for both men and women), and/or a lack of physical activity.

Any of these factors can contribute to how you might feel and act. Think about, for example, when you don’t get a good night’s sleep. The next day, you’re likely to not only feel excessive tiredness but also generally irritable and perhaps maybe short with others, as a result.

Healthy expressions of anger do not seek to place blame on another person or thing. Instead, you attempt to take ownership of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This may mean using “I” phrases, such as, “I feel angry when…”

Instead of instinctively reacting to an unwanted situation, you take the time and make the effort to respond, or act. Learning how to express your anger (and other difficult emotions) can be quite challenging inner work, particularly if you were raised in an environment in which unhealthy expressions of feelings were all you ever witnessed. This inner work requires the ability, or at least the desire, to pause: to increase your self-awareness, and to try to see alternate perspectives.

Recognizing Anger

A big part of anger management is self-awareness. Put simply, this refers to having a greater understanding of what is occurring both in your mind and in your body. Anger management isn’t about getting rid of anger, nor is it about suppressing anger. As we mentioned above, anger is a perfectly natural and common emotion. Anger management is about using anger as a warning system, meant to sound the alarm and let you know when something is out of balance, when a personal boundary has been crossed, or when we are hurt. The next step is to heed the warning: use this knowledge to determine appropriate action.