Anger is one of the many emotions experienced by everyone, a natural response when we feel threatened or feel we are being treated unfairly, or when our needs desires and goals are not realized. We may also become angry when those close to us are mistreated or persons unknown to us with whom we identify are discriminated against. Anger ranges from mild irritation to intense fury and rage. Anger becomes a problem when the anger emotion is too intense, occurs frequently and expressed inappropriately. Many times anger is not the primary emotion but is an expression of other emotions such as fear, disappointment, grief and frustration. Recognizing the primary emotion helps in the management of angry behavior.
Distinction Between Anger Emotion, Aggression and Hostility
When we get angry we may lose control and act impulsively, aggressively and in a hostile manner. The anger emotion does not always lead to aggressive behavior. Many persons have not thought about alternative ways of responding to their frustration and therefore follow their natural instinct of taking it out on not only the source of their anger but also on other innocent parties, animate and inanimate.
The anger emotion is sometimes expressed through aggressive behaviors that may be fed by hostility. Aggression is therefore different from anger. It is behavior intentionally executed to cause harm to another person or to property. Aggression may include verbal abuse, threats or violent acts. Hostility encompasses attitudes of dislike and viewing others in a negative way.
The consequences of aggressive behaviors are far reaching and ranges from disrespecting others, creating distance in close relationships such as marital, familial, friendships and work due to fear and lack of trust and in some cases totally losing those you love. Negative consequences can include the loss of money from having to pay for costs accrued from physically hurting persons and replacing things destroyed during an anger outburst. Hurting others and damaging property can lead ultimately to imprisonment.
As you understand the distinction between anger and aggressive behavior you may be identifying some of these feeling, behaviors or attitudes in your life. You may be wondering how can I manage my anger feelings so that it does not lead to impulsive behaviors with dire consequences. Most persons express anger the way they saw it expressed around them from their early years of life and have never given thought to the possibility of responding differently.
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You do not have to accept the following misconceptions about anger:
Anger is Inherited – Many times you may hear persons saying that they inherited their anger from their family of origin and implies that they are not responsible and are impotent in changing their aggressive behaviors. Research studies show that people are not born with set ways of expressing anger but have learned the behavior primarily from observing their family of origin and other outside influential persons. Since the expression of anger is a learned behavior you can learn appropriate ways of expressing your anger.
Anger Automatically Leads to Aggression – Again, anger does not have to be expressed through aggression. You can learn anger management techniques that prevent the escalation of anger to the point of uncontrolled outbursts. Without alternative strategies aggression may be your natural default.
You Must be Aggressive To Get What You Want – Many persons feel that if they are not aggressive others will think they are ‘soft” and a “walkover”. Aggression says I am getting what I need at all cost even if it harms relationships, I am thinking only about me. The alternative response is being assertive rather than aggressive. Assertiveness involves taking the other’s feelings into consideration while expressing your thoughts, feelings, desires and goals. Assertiveness is a critical communication skill in anger management and can be learned and mastered with time and practice.
You Must Vent Your Anger – Research (Berkowitz et al) has shown that venting did not release anger and in many cases led to greater anger and aggression contrary to earlier beliefs that people who vent their anger aggressively (hitting the pillow or punching bag) get better at being angry.
You can learn alternative ways to manage your anger feelings and to break the cycle of angry behaviors in your family. The goal of anger management is to reduce both your emotional feelings and the physiological arousal that anger causes. You can't get rid of, or avoid, the things or the people that enrage you, nor can you change them, but you can learn to control your reactions.
You may feel that you are not an angry person and that this dialogue is not about you. You may view yourself as someone who keeps your anger emotion inside in order to ‘keep the peace” and is therefore not in need of help. This way of dealing with your anger may not hurt others but will hurt you as the storm is kept within you unresolved for years. If you keep suppressing your anger emotion it will explode some day or you may develop illnesses such as high blood pressure, heart disease and others or you may express your anger feeling in passive aggressive ways.
Seeking Shalom has trained and experienced therapists in the area of anger management. Seeking Shalom works with children, adolescents and adults and
offers you two contexts to help you manage your anger response. You can engage in weekly individual/family therapy or in a twelve-week group setting where you get to interact with persons like yourself and together learn helpful strategies and techniques to manage your anger. Learning to express anger in alternative ways reduces the possibility of having to deal with negative consequences that would otherwise result. To pursue any of these options you can contact us via telephone at 212-655-9605. We would be happy to help you on this journey to healthier living.