Why You Should Embrace Your Anger
By: Demet Çek, Ph.D. | August 5, 2022
Anger is a fascinating emotion because it can be good for our mental health, but it can also cause problems in our relationships. Anger provides us with energy, passion, and vitality required to fight for the causes we believe in and stand up for ourselves.
We all experience anger and anger does not go away when we deny it. It shows up when and where we least expect, in the form of lack of patience, irritability, or high blood pressure.
We cannot “unfeel” our feelings.
Anger Has a Purpose
Our emotions serve an important purpose. We rely on our emotions to communicate to others and to ourselves, and our emotions help motivate us for action. Emotions – including anger, are data. They tell us what we care about.
We feel angry when we perceive an event as negative, unpleasant, or undesirable in relation to our goals. Common anger cues include:
- Situations we perceive as threatening
- Being blocked from reaching an important goal
- Unpleasant physical sensations
- Physical and emotional pain
For example, if your goal is to get a promotion at work and you think your boss is not giving you enough credit, you may see the situation as being blocked from your goal and you may get angry. This situation may also get in the way of your goal to be treated fairly and with respect. Another example of an anger cue is the experience of chronic pain. Being prevented from doing daily activities with comfort and ease is very frustrating.
Use Your Anger
Emotions provide important information, but they are not mandates. Being angry does not mean that you need to act aggressively. Emotions do not justify behaviors that operate outside of our rational mind.
Let your values dictate your behavior, not your emotions.
Use anger to ask yourself questions like “What value is being threatened here?” and “How can I respond in a way that is in-line with my values?”
Tips to Manage Your Anger
Use the tips below to help you use your anger as an opportunity to connect with your values:
1. Understand Your Anger
Pay attention to the types of experiences that bring up anger for you. For example, does being told no make you angry? Or perhaps you get angry when someone disagrees with you, cuts you off while driving, when you are being insulted, or when your opinions are dismissed. Practice objectively labeling your experience and describing it by sticking to the facts. Leave judgments and evaluations out.
Keep an anger log to recognize your anger in the moment. Include information on the day/time, describe situation by sticking to the facts, rate your anger (0-10) and write down your bodily sensations, thoughts, action urges (what you felt like doing), and actions (what you actually did).
2. Reduce Your Vulnerability to Intense Anger
You can reduce your vulnerability to intense anger by maintaining a regular sleep schedule and a healthy diet, taking care of illnesses, getting regular exercise, avoiding mood-altering substances, and doing things that make you feel competent. Do your best to limit contact with anger-provoking situations (e.g., asking your partner or a friend to call customer service if you tend to get angry in these types of situations.) You can also take steps to make anger-provoking situations more tolerable by listening to your favorite podcast when you are in heavy traffic or taking breaks when you can.
3. Use Mindfulness Skills
Mindfulness can give you a sense of freedom from anger through the practice of paying attention to, but not acting on your anger. Start by mindfully attending to your experiences in easier or neutral situations. Pay attention to the sounds and sights of nature when you are taking a walk. Attend to the warmth of the water on your skin when you are in the shower. Observe and notice your breathing without trying to change it. Then apply your mindfulness skills to your anger. Practice mindfully attending to your anger without judging it.
4. Avoid Making Things Worse When You’re Angry
Most of the action urges associated with anger are destructive. It can be hard to choose not to act on your anger. When your action urge is not consistent with your values, use your distress tolerance skills such as cuing into your five senses. You can do this by holding a plastic bag of ice cubes, tasting something with a strong flavor, smelling a perfume, listening to loud music, or focusing on a captivating image. Other strategies include engaging in intense physical exercise for 10-15 minutes or using relaxation exercises like progressive muscle relaxation.
5. Manage Your Angry Thoughts
Use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques to name your angry thought patterns. Are you ruminating, thinking judgmentally, making assumptions, blaming yourself or others, or engaging in black-and-white thinking? Next, mindfully attend to your thoughts. Imagine these thoughts appearing on a stage and you are watching the show. Let the thoughts enter and leave the stage as they please. Do not engage with them. Try generating alternative interpretations for the situations. Don’t worry about believing your alternative thoughts. Just come up with as many as possible, positive, negative, or neutral. The goal is to increase the flexibility of your thinking rather than being invested in one interpretation.
6. Use Opposite Action to Reduce Anger
When your anger or its intensity doesn’t fit the situation or acting on your action urges will not be effective, practice opposite action. Identify your action urge (e.g., yell at someone) and its opposite (e.g., gracefully leave the situation). Opposite actions for anger include gently avoiding, leaving the situation, and being compassionate and kind (or at least a little bit nice).
7. Express Anger Effectively
When the situation that made you angry involves other people, as is often the case, express your feelings and ask for what you need. This will help you regulate your anger. Don’t strike when the iron is hot. Use the skills above to reduce the intensity of your anger, identify what you need, and assertively ask for it.
Building a healthy relationship with your anger is hard work. To learn more about your anger and how to manage it, contact your San Diego Psychologist today. Your therapist will help you uncover the values behind you anger so you can use it to inform your actions. Contact our compassionate team at Therapy Changes to get the support you deserve. Don’t let your anger control you!
Chapman, A. L., Gratz, K. L. (2015). The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for Anger. Using DBT Mindfulness & Emotion Regulation Skills to Manage Anger. New Harbinger.