How to talk about anger
What is Anger?
Anger: a normal human emotion originating in the hypothalamus area of the brain, which is also responsible for our other basic emotional reflexes like pleasure, sexual satisfaction, hunger and thirst. Our fight and flight mode is also located in this area of the brain, along with the regulation of our blood pressure and the control of our breathing. When we have been bitten we bite back, our default mode is to survive but in our day-to-day lives we must find ways to express our anger in appropriate ways—beating the copy machine with yet another empty toner cartridge isn’t a great way to raise questions about equipment policy.
Suppressed anger can impair your judgement and, if left, can result in aggressive outbursts or passive aggression, potentially damaging your relationships and getting in the way of your happiness. Need some help taming the beast? Read on.
How to read the signs
The first port of call in assessing and dealing with anger is to consider how you get angry. How we were raised, or how we experienced our parents express anger affects how we deal with these feelings later in life. Some of us will sacrifice articulating our anger so we don’t rock the boat and make relationships fraught, and others have no trouble getting it out there but perhaps don’t anticipate the consequences.
Catching anger as it rises takes practice. Honestly acknowledging what happens in your body is the first step to making a change. Think about your body and try to draw up a mental anger map. Has your breathing changed, or does your skin become clammy? Are your fists and jaw clenching? Can you feel your shoulders tighten or do you feel the urge to pace about? Charting the physical effects of anger will help you identify the early stages in future and prevent you from following your usual path unconsciously.
Figuring out which sorts of situations make you angry can help you move forward. If you have a hard time compromising, you might be linking anger and toughness with a sense of authority and control. Or perhaps your anger is masking other feelings such as embarrassment, insecurity or shame. Working out what feelings and experiences lie behind the rise of anger is likely the most difficult process for anyone, particularly as most of us would rather forget difficult feelings and pursue pleasurable ones. It takes some soul searching and there is plenty of support online to help you on your way.
What to say?
Working out the best way to tell someone how you feel is difficult at the best of times and infinitely harder when those feelings are negative. You have to ask yourself not what to say, but why are you telling them anyway? The purpose of telling someone that you are angry as a result of their actions is not to dump on them and see how they respond, but rather it is to restore a balance to your damaged relationship, even if they don’t realise it is damaged. This is as relevant to friendships and familial relationships as it is in the workplace. Once you can identify your anger and understand where it comes from you should be able to confidently pinpoint what went wrong, and, be in position to take the next step: telling the people involved.
It’s me not you
When emotions are already high it is imperative that our attempts at restoring harmony don’t accidently inflame the situation. Avoiding being clumsy and focus on how you feel now and how you felt at the time, rather than centring your thoughts on the behaviour of the other person.
Remember about biting back? If the other person feels accused they will become defensive and you might end up in the vicious circle of bickering. In the first instance, let the person know you need to talk to them and ask them when a convenient time would be. This means they will be prepared to listen to you when the time comes.
Tell them how you feel now not just how angry you felt then. You need to let them know that you have been reflecting, it will encourage them to do the same. Let the person know that your feelings were in response to something they said or did. And don’t leave it there. Ask them why they behaved in such a way—you need to know why not because you ‘deserve an explanation’ but so you can work how you really feel and maintain your relationship with them. Working out how best to avoid such flare-ups in the future will lay the groundwork for stronger communication in the future.