Accepting Difficult Emotions Part 5: Anger

Purpose of the emotion

Anger is an essential boundary emotion. When someone makes us angry, they have “crossed the line.” Anger sends the message that something in the environment is unacceptable or that something in the environment interferes with an important goal. Anger mobilizes actions hence the saying “up in arms.” The action urge with anger is usually to engage in quick, thoughtless activity often involving lashing out against people and things in the environment. Anger also severely narrows the attention, i.e., “seeing red.” 

Ways to Deal with the Emotion 

Anger is one of the most common secondary emotions. A secondary emotion is an emotion that is created by our reaction to having another feeling. For example, when you are cut off on the road, you experience an initial spike of fear; many people quickly cover over the fear with the emotion of anger. The process usually happens so fast that we are unaware that we ever experienced anxiety! Slowing down and noticing that anger may be pushing away fear, sadness, shame, disgust, or even boredom is an essential step towards coping with feelings of anger. 

Use acceptance

When you experience anger as a primary emotion, one of the most powerful techniques to reduce anger is to accept the feeling. For additional information about acceptance, visit the following blog post: 

Use perspective-taking techniques

When we are angry, people often work themselves into greater anger by justifying or reviewing their reasons for being angry. Usually, we try to develop an airtight case to validate our own hurt feelings. Broadening your perspective by trying to imagine what the other person is feeling in a conflict situation can lower your levels of anger. Taking another’s perspective can also help with problem-solving solutions and working towards reconciling with the person or avoiding the situation in the future. 

Use opposite action 

One of the most effective ways to deal with anger is to do the opposite of what anger tells you to do! Anger narrows your attention, makes you want to lash out, and makes you want to confront the person or the barrier that is in your way. Doing the opposite action to anger would then mean to broaden your attention (maybe by using perspective taking) and gently avoid the person or thing that is causing you anger. With enough practice, opposite action can be the most powerful way to cope with and reduce problem anger. 

Related Mental Illness and How Anger Can Become a Problem 

Everyone gets angry. Periods of anger during specific events such as romantic breakups, interpersonal conflict with friends, marital difficulties, being cut off in traffic, being deliberately slighted by others, and facing injustice are typical events that can lead to feelings of anger. However, it is not normal to be angry all of the time or even regularly without clear external causes. Intense anger that causes you to hurt others physically is also not usually in the normal range. If you find yourself consistently angry, have difficulties controlling your anger, or if your anger is so intense that you hurt the people around you, it is crucial to immediately seek help from a qualified mental health professional. Many conditions such as depression, generalized anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and personality disorders can cause problems with anger. Treating the underlying conditions or emotions in these cases is essential to removing difficulties with problem anger.


By: Christopher Grandits, PhD

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