Anger is healthy. It can be an important indicator that something isn’t right.
Anger can be an overwhelming feeling too. When it runs white hot, our capacity for empathy is reduced and we can want to lash out, blame, shame or punish. Anger can make us behave uncharacteristically, saying or doing things we aren’t proud of.
“The first thing I always say about anger is that it’s normal and natural. It’s often helpful to know that we are angry about something,” says Seamus Sheedy, a psychotherapist accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. “However, it’s about expressing our anger in a positive way,” he says.
Don’t swallow it
Think of feelings of anger as a light on the dashboard telling you something is up. Ignoring the warning light, bottling up your feelings and pushing them down isn’t a healthy strategy. This can ultimately lead to an explosion of anger over a minor or unrelated matter. Hello, road rage.
If you are put out about something, practice articulating your feelings, says Sheedy. “What are you angry about? Are you swallowing your feelings, or are you able to be assertive in your rights – are you able to tell people what you want and what you don’t want?” he says.
Some of us hate confrontation and will swallow our feelings rather than articulate them and risk a barney. If this is you, practice expressing your feelings and wants using ‘I’ statements, says Sheedy. “You could say, ‘I feel annoyed when you leave the place in a mess’, or ‘When you said that to me, I felt hurt.’”
By using ‘I’ statements, the conversation is less likely to escalate into an angry blame-storm. Using accusatory ‘you’ statements like, ‘You are always so messy and thoughtless!’ can turbo-charge anger on both sides.
If you feel a constant low-level rumble of anger, or you are tending to fume or erupt over minor things, ask yourself some questions, says Sheedy. “It might be that there are a lot of things happening in your life. You might not feel you have the right balance in different areas – your work, family, friends, hobbies. Look at how balanced or satisfied you are in those areas,” he says.
If something someone said has really set you off, get curious about that too. “Look at why you are hurting so much – is it because of what that person said, or because of a lack of self-esteem in yourself,” says Sheedy. “When you are blaming someone else for causing you to be angry, look at the reasons why you are angry. Some of the time, it might be to do with how you feel about yourself.”
Change it up
If you have a feeling of overwhelming anger, try to step away from the situation.
“Often, it’s about changing your environment,” says Sheedy. If the kids have driven you over the edge with bickering and demands, leave the room and take a break for a moment, he advises.
When you feel a little calmer, talk to your child. “Come down to the child’s level and say, ‘I feel a little bit frustrated at the moment.’”
“We all shout. Forgive yourself and maybe say to the child, ‘I got very angry, I don’t know what happened to me’ – so name it,” says Sheedy.
If you find yourself frequently shouting at your children, reflect on that, says Sheedy. Look at the other pressures in your life which may be adding to your stress.
“Maybe you are angry because the house is always upside down. Maybe walk away from that. Then make a plan – how can I get a little bit of help around the house?” says Sheedy.
“It’s normal to be angry, but it’s about how you handle your anger.” Talking to a qualified therapist can help you get a handle on it.