I am interested to see how different people deal with feeling angry. Here’s some of what I’ve seen:
- Ignore or deny the feeling. I know at least one person who simply does not show anger, no matter what the provocation. It’s difficult to believe that they don’t feel angry at times, as I know they are exposed to injustice and unfairness. However, they never show it. I can’t help wondering how healthy this is!!
- Lash out at others. Many of the people I see professionally are either the recipients or perpetrators of this response. Feelings of anger are dealt with by physically assaulting another person. Sometimes this is the person who precipitated the anger, but often it’s just the next available target such as spouse or children.
- Lash out at things. These are the people who come to the ED with hand fractures from punching a wall, or lacerations from kicking a glass window or door. It’s probably safer for other people, but can be life-threatening or fatal for the angry person.
- Lash out at themselves. Some people cut themselves or stab themselves to “let out the bad spirits” when they feel angry.
- Drink the problem away. Alcohol complicates things, almost never helps, as it acts as a dis-inhibitor. People who would normally cope well with anger feelings tend to cope less well when intoxicated with alcohol. The grog doesn’t make normally placid people into monsters, but rather it unmasks the monster that is normally well-controlled by civilised behaviour.
- Become withdrawn. Some people, especially those who feel unable to do anything about the situation that causes them to feel angry, withdraw into themselves. I suspect that these are the same ones who lose it when they get drunk.
- Express their feelings in words. Swearing and raised voices may be habitual, but can also be an expression of anger. The angry feelings are defused by the outburst and dissipate, until the next event that precipitates angry feelings. The damage from this coping technique comes from what is said and to whom, as in the classic ‘career-limiting move’ where the angry outburst is directed at the boss, or the relationship-straining effect of yelling at your spouse. Some people have a safe place to express their anger, such as a ‘yelling tree’ or a workout at the gym with a punching bag.
- Grumbling. This is related to swearing and yelling, but more low-key. It can be seen in people who always seem to be complaining about something or other. Sometimes it is due to other feelings, but unresolved anger can lead to chronic whingeing. It is hard to be positive about life when you’re angry.
- Any combination of some or all of the above.
So, I hear you asking, how do I cope with anger? Well, let’s see … I don’t ignore it. I never lash out at others, after seeing my parents violence when I was growing up and deciding that such behaviour is despicable. I don’t lash out at things any more, as I’ve come to realise that I have to pay to replace them which means I have less resources to do enjoyable things. I never lash out at myself because, well, I just don’t. I never drink alcohol or use any of the other popular escape substances. I do become withdrawn especially when I’m at work or somewhere else that expressing negative feelings is detrimental. My main coping mechanism is swearing, which works really well for me but probably less well for those around me. They do tend to recognise that it’s a short storm, it’s never physical, rarely malicious, and there are no grudges held onto afterwards. I have been called a ‘grumpy old man’ but of course that’s not me … much.
Anger is one of those things that scares a lot of people, including me sometimes. It often means the person is out of control, and when dealing with an angry person I try to empathise and help them regain control. One thing I learned as a child was that anger can be a powerful tool if used appropriately. When I was being beaten with a stick by my father, I would use anger to make it pain-free. Then when I was old enough, I used anger to give me the courage to stand up to him for the bully that he was. Anger must be kept under control though. It’s a bit like fire. A good servant if properly trained, but a very poor master.