One of the first things you should do when you’re angry is sort out why you are feeling that way. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes, it’s complicated. Sometimes it’s reasonable to get angry but you’re feeling much angrier than most people would in that circumstance.
We all have different hot-button issues. For some, it’s being slowed down. For others, it’s not being recognized for their work. Trying to figure out why you’re feeling a certain way and what it says about you can go a really long way to helping you deal with your anger.
We usually get mad because there’s a problem. We want things to be different than they are and we get angry when we decide that someone is to blame for that difference.
A good way to manage anger then is to think about how we want things to be and what we can do, if anything, to make things how we want. Are you angry about the way you’re being treated by a friend or family member? Is there anything you can do to get them to treat you differently? Are you angry about how long it takes your kids to get out the door to school each morning? Are there ways you can work with them to solve that problem?
Note that the way to the desired outcome is rarely to yell, scream, or swear at people. There’s nothing wrong with a good rant every now and then, but usually the solution to an angering problem is some sort of level-headed focus on the solution.
Last week, I asked people on Facebook and Twitter seven quick questions, including one about how they handled things the last time they were angry (those stories are scattered throughout) about their anger via an anonymous survey. More than 100 people responded.
Here’s what I found:
1. Most People Get Angry Once a Week or More.
Anger Story: Drunken (both of us) argument with my wife. I yelled a lot and punched a hole in a door.
2. Physical Fights Are Common.
Anger Story: Being hurt by someone very close to me. I vented about the situation to my close friends, but I often find myself ruminating over the thoughts as well. Eventually I just sucked it up and moved on without this person in my life anymore.
3. Most People Don’t Argue Online.
Anger Story: I held it in.
4. People Ruminate More Than Anything Else.
Anger Story: The only incident I can recall is from a month ago. I found out my ex-boyfriend had been dishonest with me about something (which has been a pattern) so I texted him immediately. I expressed that I was very upset and that I was tired of him repeatedly being thoughtless about my feelings and being disrespectful toward me. That was about the extent of it….I really try to stay calm and express myself in a neutral, calm way when I am angry.
5. But Plenty of People Seek Out Support Too.
Anger Story: Someone at work second guessed be despite me being a supervisor. Talked it out with her. It was awkward as hell, and I wish I could have beat her ass.
6. About 1 in 6 People Think They Have an Anger Problem.
Anger Story: At my husband, I gave myself space within our home (went upstairs) to cool off and we talked it through a few hours later.
The Angry Cognitions Scale (Martin & Dahlen, 2007) measures five types of angry thoughts: Overgeneralizing, Catastrophic Evaluating, Inflammatory Labeling, Misattributing Causation, and Demandingness. There’s also an Adaptive Thoughts Scale designed to measure those types of thoughts that are less likely to lead to maladaptive anger. We’ll give you your scores and provide you with information about how those scores compare to others who took the test.
Anger suppression, when we feel angry but don’t express it, has long been associated with a variety of psychological and physical health problems. Recent research, though, shows that it also might be associated with aggression and violence. A 2015 study in Psychology of Violence looked at 64 criminal offenders who were asked to complete measures related to anger, other emotions, verbal attention, and past aggression. The findings showed “that participants reporting difficulty attending to their emotions had more extensive histories of aggression than those who did not report such difficulties” (Robertson, Daffern, & Bucks, 2015, p 74). In other words, those participants who suppressed their anger rather than finding some healthy outlet were more likely to be aggressive or violent.
According to the authors, a failure to attend to emotions (what they call “overregulation”) leads to violence in several ways including an increase in general negative affect, encouraging a more superficial thought process, decreasing the quality of interpersonal relationships, preventing resolution of any problems, and leading to an increase in physiological arousal.
What then is the solution? The authors suggest that an important way to control aggressive behavior while angry is to attend to the anger rather than attempting to avoid it.
One of the best things you can do if you think you have an anger problem is to keep track of your angry feelings. At the end of each day, write down the times you got angry, what caused it, what types of thoughts you had, and what you did with your anger. A journal like this, sometimes called a mood log, can shed some light on the types of situations that make you angry and help you find ways to deal with those situations.
As an anger researcher, a teacher of a Psychology of Emotion course, and a parent, I couldn’t have been more excited to go see Inside Out, the latest Pixar movie about emotion, this weekend. The movie takes place mostly in the mind of a young girl, where each emotion is a character that controls her memories, thoughts, and personality. It did not disappoint and, most importantly, it really did a great job of providing a fun, entertaining, and powerful message about the value of emotions.