Everyone gets angry – it’s a natural human emotion. Healthy anger gives us the energy to make a constructive change and helps us stand up for ourselves. The difficult skill is either to be able to quell our anger, or to use it constructively. The trouble is when anger turns to aggression and violence or festers on the inside.
It can be deeply humiliating to ‘lose it’ at work, overreact in a social situation or hurt someone we care for. Inappropriate anger can result in people hurting themselves or hurting those around them or damaging their relationships. ‘Losing it’ can be very painful – it can take some people several days to calm down after becoming upset.
Holding on to anger can burn us up on the inside, taking a toll on health and wellbeing. It may not be obvious on the outside, while eating us up on the inside, resulting in frustration, stress, tension, insomnia, digestive problems, headaches, intimacy problems, anxiety and depression. Some people deal with this in unhealthy ways such as alcohol, drugs, bullying, controlling or risk-taking.
Outward symptoms of unhealthy anger include:
- Relationship problems & break-ups
- Violence or aggression
- Lashing out — verbal or emotional outbursts
- Using alcohol or drugs to calm down (or wind up)
- Impulsive acts you later regret
- Overly controlling or critical behaviour
- Your kids or partner becoming afraid of you
Inward symptoms of unhealthy anger include:
- Anxiety, tension, stress, being wound-up, headaches, etc
- Blame, self-pity, remorse
- Guilt, shame, low self-esteem, loneliness
- Using anger to cover over shame, guilt or insecurity
- Withdrawal, passive aggression, nursing grudges
- Emotional shutdown, fear, avoidance or depression
Patterns of anger include:
- Becoming angry when self-esteem is threatened (the more vulnerable we feel, the more threat we perceive)
- Often feeling frustrated and on the edge of anger
- Blaming others for ‘making you angry’
- Feeling angry but afraid or unable to communicate it
- Feeling out of control when upset
- Difficulty calming down
Anger can also be a result of a specific life situation. For instance those suffering a bereavement or trauma may be uncharacteristically reactive and angry for many months. Similarly stress from profound life changes or challenges can leave some vulnerable to emotional outbursts. Alcohol or drugs can of course fuel anger, particularly if there are underlying life stressors.
Uncharacteristic anger can be a great wake-up call alerting you to issues in your life that need addressing such as grief, trauma, addictions, historic sexual abuse or relationship issues. (Better to seek therapy on your own terms than find yourself arrested and before the courts).
There Are Solutions
There are two steps required in working with anger. The first is anger management; that is, practical help in controlling unhealthy anger and finding constructive alternatives. Anger management requires an understanding anger triggers so that early warning signs can be noticed and strategies developed for handling these. Clients are often surprised when a few simple changes in their life make a dramatic difference.
The second step is understanding the underlying reasons for anger and making sense of the unresolved feelings. Counselling offers a non-judgmental space to explore underlying issues while at the same time developing practical skills for anger management, assertiveness and communication.
Why Addiction Counselling Auckland
All of our team are experienced in working with anger issues. As psychotherapists we have a deep understanding of unconscious process, the impact of the past, relationship dynamics, and the interplay of thoughts, emotions and behaviour. We have the skills and knowledge to work with you respectfully and constructively.
Congratulations on getting this far. Now it’s time to take the next step. Therapy provides a safe space to make sense of what is happening. It can help in identifying anger triggers, developing new strategies, resolving underlying issues while improving interpersonal skills. Do yourself a favour, if not for yourself then for those you care for. The time is now!