Anger and Emotional difficulties
Seeing red, blowing your top and flying off the handle are ways we use to speak about that universal emotion of anger. When we experience injustice, stress or failure, we can experience that physically (with clenched fists, faster heartbeat and tight, tense muscles), mentally (thinking about who to blame and how unfair things are), emotionally (feeling frustrated, isolated and misunderstood) and behaviourally (through shouting, ignoring, hitting and hurting or sulking).
We know that anger is something people experience across different genders, cultures and age ranges. Anger has a role to play in keeping us safe as a human and can support our wellbeing. For example, when we are angry, our bodies fight-flight mechanism is activated, giving us the energy and resources needed to tackle an injustice or a problem and take steps to protect ourselves. Feeling frustrated and resentful about how someone is treating us can alert us to that emotion of anger and give us the motivation to say or do something to respond to mistreatment. Of course, the expression of anger can lead to negative consequences. Punching or lashing out at someone we are angry with who has, for example, pushed in front of us in a queue could lead to difficulties. Another response that might also lead to negative consequences is turning our anger inward – blaming and chastising ourselves when we experience anger. Learning how to acknowledge our anger and then take steps to respond rather than react to our anger can be helpful in making anger work for our benefit. Developing assertiveness and finding ways to communicate can be part of such learning, as can teasing out what our experience of thinking patterns, physical sensations and behaviours are in response to feeling anger.
Anger can also be a way of adapting to and managing other emotions. For example, a person may experience sadness. However, perhaps their culture or their own internal beliefs tell them that sadness is not an appropriate emotion to express. Perhaps sadness feels too overwhelming or painful to consciously acknowledge. In this case, it may be that a person uses angry outbursts as a way of expressing emotion in a way that feels more acceptable and/ or defends against more painful feelings.
In terms of dealing with anger, there are immediate self-help steps we can take to help to restore a sense of calmness to our bodies and brains that give us the time and ability to think more clearly so that we can respond rather than react. For example, counting to 10, breathing exercises and engaging in physical exercise can support regulation. It can also be helpful to speak with a therapist to explore patterns in relation to how you experience anger. A therapist can work with you to gain a greater awareness of the role anger had played and continues to play in your life, and what choices you have available to you when you experience resentment, frustration and anger, as well as other emotions such as sadness.