Dealing with Anger

"It is easy to fly into a passion - anybody can do that - but to be angry with the right person to the right extent and at the right time and with the right object and in the right way - that is not easy, and it is not everyone who can do it." --Aristotle

Most of us won't admit being angry. It is like admitting you have cheated at something. In truth, being angry is cheating. We want an advantage. Being angry can at times give one a sense of empowerment. The other day a coworker of mine told me of her raising her voice at a salesperson. By raising her voice, she felt stronger and more determined to get the results she wanted. She also admitted that while it was a little scary; it was also fun in a childish way. Another woman told me she had never been angry; never had been violent toward anyone. She felt "being angry" was only when one acted angry. But, as I told her to act angry is different then being angry- acting angry is called rage. Being angry is like frustration, in which the frustration is unacceptable and unresolvable in the mind of that individual.

Frustration occurs when we have a vision of how life could be, and the realization that life isn't that way. It becomes anger when there is a strong desire to change the current situation to fit ones own viewpoint. This vision I speak of may relate to one's personal opinions about oneself, their friends, family or others. It may also involve your view about life or your personal opinion of God. Again, these opinions are strongly held personally beliefs that in someway differ from the thoughts generally shared by those around you, but more on that later.

I like to think anger arises in an individual as the result of that individual being hurt in some way. When we are young, we are often told what to do, how to do it and what to think. When we feel hurt by the actions of others, we begin to think- "if things were different, I wouldn't get hurt again." Personal opinions arise about how life would, could, or should be different. From there it is only a couple of simple steps to becoming angered. Mark Twain once remarked- "An honest person is the meanest person you'll ever meet." This is true for once you form strong opinions- If you express them (being honest about your thoughts), you are seen as being mean, angry or rebellious. If you don't express your thoughts, you can become bitter or resentful. This is referred to as "stuffing" one's anger.

Anger often occurs when one feels threatened. This can be a threat to one's person, to one's self-image or to what one holds dear. Usually, those things that threaten us are not dangerous to us physically, but instead they are threats to our pride or our possessions. Often we feel when others are threatened, we ourselves are being threatened, and we respond accordingly. If one can identify that the perceived threat isn't dangerous and that regardless of the outcome of events, you will be able to deal with the results, then you won't need anger or fear. Instead of feeling threatened, see the situation as one of being an inconvenience, that it is a problem that will just take time or money to resolve.

Anger, when it occurs, needs to be dealt with. We can often recognize when we are angry because we feel hurt and want to do something about it, such as to fight back. We think of things as being right or wrong, good or bad, our way or their way. We think things could be better if this or that is changed. Anger is like grief. When someone close to you dies, you face a challenge accepting the loss or becoming hurt. One woman told me after the death of her husband, "I miss him, but I will go on." It would be easy to feel angry about the loss- an anger that could be directed against doctors for not saving him, about herself for not doing more, or toward God for taking him away. By accepting loss and by not trying to second guess it, one can move on. One can heal. If the loss is not accepted, one gets stuck and finds moving on in life quite difficult. Anger that is stuffed or ignored doesn't disappear. It is like the old saying, "those who ignore history are doomed to relive it."

Internalized anger comes out in many different ways. It can be expressed as a headache, tension, irritability, stomach problems, sleep problems, or tiredness. There is also the problem of passive aggression in which the anger is expressed as disinterest, apathy or an active ignoring of an individual that the anger is directed toward. So, how are you to stop being angry? There isn't a quick fix. It first takes acknowledging that anger isn't needed- that it is a bad habit. Then, talk with someone, even if it is God, about your desire to accept life, yourself and others as they are. It's not that you lose your desire for change, but that you accept life first as it is, and realize that if life doesn't change, you can keep on going and see it through. In the areas of past hurts, it is important to forgive. Forgiving is healthy and self-serving. What forgiveness means is that you aren't holding yourself responsible for getting someone back for having hurt you. It doesn't mean what they did was right or that they shouldn't suffer in some way; it means you don't have to try to fix the problem by yourself. In all relationships, you will get hurt. What is important is to realize that the hurts can heal. This healing is most easily done when you work on your problems by talking with healthy people and by being in healthy relationships. Another factor in healing is to realize ruminating and dwelling on problems doesn't work. And last, it is easy for past hurts to surface from the back of one's mind. You have to keep a constant awareness and deal with the hurt feeling, the frustration, or anger as soon as you become aware of it.

Jame A. Rusch, M.D.
Renaissance Counseling Center