We all get angry. Anger is a normal emotional response … typically experienced when we believe that we have been wronged or treated unfairly. However, too commonly we can then blame the other person (or the situation) for ‘making us angry’. Thereby feeling ‘justified’ in ‘being angry’ at the other person (taking our anger ‘out on the other person’), in behaving aggressively (with verbal and/or physical abuse), or in being passive-aggressive (withdrawing, withholding … giving them the ‘silent treatment’). As satisfying as this can be ‘in the moment’, the outcome is counterproductive, and often destructive. It hurts the people we care about. It damages our relationships. While this may be common, this is not healthy anger management.
Some individuals can have difficulty being able to ‘have the anger’. That is, in actually feeling the anger – because the anger (as well as other feelings) is suppressed. This can arise, if during one’s childhood, his or her anger was not accepted – but rather, it was disapproved of. In order to bond and get the much needed approval from parents, or sometimes just to be safe, the child learns to suppress his or her anger.
Some individuals have difficulty internally regulating their anger. This can arise if during the individual’s childhood, his or her anger was not empathically responded to with acceptance, understanding, and appropriately conveyed limits. This results in the individual not being able to develop the capacity to internally regulate the anger. In this case, the individual may experience anger intensely (i.e., rage), and/or may ‘hang onto’ the anger.
And some individuals may have difficulty with expressing their anger. They may express their anger aggressively or passively (‘righteously’ taking their anger out on others), rather than assertively communicating their anger for the purpose of openly and respectfully resolving the situation.
And in some cases, a difficult childhood can leave the individual with a ‘backlog’ of stored-up unresolved anger. Which, when ‘triggered’ by a seemingly incidental event (but which in fact may resemble or remind him or her of earlier events), this then taps into this ‘store’, and the individual experiences an intensity of anger way beyond what the situation would normally reasonably warrant. And typically, given that the individual is not able to manage anger, he or she is overwhelmed with the intensity of the anger and a rageful outburst often ensues.
Adequate anger management requires the management of one’s thinking, feeling, and behaviour. As with all emotional management, healthy anger management involves:
- adequate capacity for being able to identify and label the feeling of anger;
- being able to make sense of the situation and what is angering them;
- being able to adequately judge how much of their reaction/experience is appropriate to the situation, and to be able to take ownership of how much is their own past experience being triggered by the present situation (which requires considerable self-knowledge, self-awareness, and self-understanding);
- being able to connect to and feel the anger;
- being able to internally regulate the anger (to ‘sit with’ the feeling while processing it); and
- being able to express the anger through open, honest, calm, and respectful communication of how one is feeling.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can be very useful for changing irrational and distorted thinking that promotes inappropriate anger. It can also be useful for changing dysfunctional belief structures, such as inflexible perfectionistic standards, or unrealistic expectations imposed on oneself/others/and the world (such as demanding how others ‘should’ behave towards you) … leading to low frustration tolerance; or such as reading malevolent intention into other’s behaviour, and then personalizing it (i.e., what the other person is doing/has done ‘to you’).
However, some individuals may benefit more from, and/or require psychodynamic psychotherapy. This is particularly the case for individuals who suppress anger; and also for those with unresolved anger from childhood. But psychotherapy is also useful and necessary for developing an individual’s capacity to adequately regulate his or her anger internally while respectfully expressing and communicating his or her experience. Psychodynamic psychotherapy provides a safe and understanding relationship and ambience that allows and encourages the exploration of the experience of, and the expression of, anger (in addition to other emotions).