Anger is something we all experience – but not everyone knows how to manage their anger effectively.
Often it is difficult to acknowledge if anger has taken control of your thoughts, or if aggression has become the easiest way to respond to others. It is important to know what help is available.
What is Anger?
Anger is a natural human emotion – and in fact it can be very helpful in mild doses, as it can:
- indicate that something is wrong, hurtful or needs change;
- provide motivation.
Appropriate anger can also be a protective factor, as the biological responses to anger (increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, release of adrenaline, and increased breathing rate) are what prepare our bodies to respond to imminent threat. This is more commonly known as the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response and can be very beneficial in the right circumstances.
Unfortunately, anger isn’t always expressed in a beneficial way.
Commonly, intense anger results when a person’s belief, a certain right or entitlement, may have been violated. In these situations, high levels of anger lead to aggressive behaviours such as yelling, criticising or emotional abuse, verbal abuse, physical violence, or shutting down and retreating, among other behaviours.
Mismanagement of anger becomes a serious problem if it impacts on one’s personal wellbeing, performance at home or work, relationships of any kind, and even safety.
How do you know if you need assistance with anger management and aggressive communication?
Does your experience with anger lead to:
- Long periods of anger or irritability;
- Use of yelling, put-downs or sarcasm to communicate your point of view;
- Not listening to others or considering their needs;
- Using alcohol or drugs as a method of management;
- Physical damage to yourself or property;
- The intimidation of partners and/or work colleagues;
- Finding that it is taking a long time to ‘cool down’;
- Often feeling like you are going to explode and need to escape.
In the past it has been thought that ‘just letting it out’ in a controlled environment was the most effective way of managing anger. For example, boxing a punching bag or screaming into a pillow were commonly suggested as ways of relieving feelings of anger.
Subsequently, this has been found to do little to reduce the frequency (and in some cases only serves to increase the intensity) of anger.
The same can be said for repressing angry feelings or ‘sitting on them.’
These two strategies, whilst effective in redirecting anger, do not target the triggers. They also do not provide strategies to help regulate your response to normal human emotion and experience.
In counselling, you have the opportunity to learn new ways of managing anger, usually by:
- Recognising the impact of your behaviour;
- Identifying your individual triggers of anger;
- Identifying beliefs that enable aggression or acting out;
- Developing self-regulation techniques to help you calm down;
- Learning to express your point of view in an assertive way.
This last point is especially important as aggressive communication often leads to an aggressive response from the receiver, escalating already volatile situations.
Aggressive vs Assertive Communication
For example, a good indication of an aggressive communication style is the use of absolutes eg “you are always late,” “you never help,” “you are completely useless.” This style doesn’t acknowledge individual differences, the needs of both parties, and is both dismissive and labelling.
Learning to effectively and assertively communicate is a primary strategy in reducing aggression and stress in everyday life.
Assertive communication helps facilitate the expression of an individual’s needs in a clear and respectful way, while not harming the recipient.
Using assertive communication involves naming an event or behaviour that has triggered us, the impact on us, and stating what we would like to see happen differently.
It also involves inviting the other person to express their position.
The desired outcome is for both parties to have a sound understanding of the situation, the impact on each other, and to negotiate outcomes.
Body language, tone and volume should be calm and direct, for example looking the other party in the eye and keeping arms uncrossed.
As a counterpoint to aggressive communication, an assertive style of communication will avoid absolute statements in favour of specific examples. This communication is often referred to as ‘I Statements’. Rather than aggressively saying ‘you are messy and never help clean up around the house,’ an assertive approach might sound like, ‘I had to clean up the kitchen area four times this week after you used it. As a result, I feel less appreciated and less respected than I would like.’ ‘I would like to see us share the kitchen duties. What do you think?’
Assertive communication also benefits from the inclusion of how a specific situation made you feel. The notable contrast in this example is that no negative accusation has been made about the other individual’s character (‘you’re a messy person’), an implied acknowledgement has been provided that there are occasions where the other person is not messy, and there is now room for the other individual to empathise with how their actions have made you feel.
Anger is an automatic reaction to triggering situations, so techniques such as assertive communication can take a lot of practise to become effective in better managing anger.
It is also important to remember that other people may not have the same insight into the benefits of assertive communication, and may respond in less positive ways. Understanding that we can only ever be in control of our own behaviour, is a key part of becoming an effective communicator and gaining a sense of personal control.
Author: Jayani Jayatilake, BA (Soc Sc), M Social Work, AMHSW.
With a Masters degree in Social Work and a strong interest in the cultural considerations in counselling, Jayani considers each individual client to be the expert in their own life. As such, she encourages her clients to take an active role in therapy. By helping them to recognise and draw on their own strengths, resourcefulness and resilience, Jayani supports them to overcome obstacles and create the life they want. Jayani is able to provide English and Sinhalese counselling.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.