For the most part, anger is a part of everyone’s lives. Handled positively, anger can act as a “red flag”, as a warning that something is wrong or as a catalyst for change. Not dealing with anger, however, gives rise to health and relational problems and results in hurt people – negatively impacting yourself and others. For many, especially those who didn’t have positive role models for managing anger during their childhood years, dealing with anger can be really confusing – it’s tough to know what to do with such powerful and potentially destructive emotions. Some counsellors suggest that you handle your anger by getting in touch with your feelings and getting them off your chest – say what you feel! Others have noticed how destructive people become when they express anger and have thus suggested controlling mechanisms to “manage” the emotion – viz.: psychotherapy, medication, exercise and meditation. Just learning calming tricks, however, to control how one is feeling does not really address the purpose for which we have the anger emotion – anger needs to be acknowledged and expressed in a positive way as a form of doing what is good or right.
It would seem that anger is a created human capacity to respond to a wrong that you think is important and always expresses two things:
- It identifies something in your world that really matters to you
- It proclaims that you believe something is wrong
Some people get angry about issues that don’t really matter to anyone but them (over things that are not true wrongs perhaps – a cold cup of coffee or getting stuck in traffic). Instead of asking for the coffee to be warmed or finding an alternative traffic route, they curse everyone around them and generally become objectionable human beings. Underneath much anger, there is something that you wanted, but didn’t get (for example, money, comfort, pleasure, respect, safety, identity, etc.). “I want it my way” is what is really being expressed. This is anger that one can’t justify.
Sometimes, however, you are absolutely justified in being angry because you are experiencing a real wrong (being abused, disrespected, attacked, reckless driving that endangers your family, etc.). The issue here, then, is how to express this anger in a constructive fashion that will keep everyone’s dignity intact and be up-building in approach. This implies a redemptive angle – by being forgiving, being humble and seeking workable solutions. Here one needs to be firm on the issue, but gentle with the person. Effective communication skills, like reflective listening and using “I” messages, are imperative if one is not going to reignite emotion and grow discord. The task is to find a suitable resolution to the issue and restore the relationship in the best way possible.
In order to find workable solutions, the following steps could be applied:
- Create space to enable calming – clear thinking is enhanced when the human being is relaxed. Logical thought processes are necessary to distinguish between feelings and the actual issues at stake. Initially attempt to be alone for a while to think through the feelings and issues.
- Understand your anger – what are the root causes of your emotion regarding the issue? Do you feel violated, disrespected, overlooked, abused, manipulated, not listened to, etc.? Being able to pinpoint the real feeling helps you express it accurately.
- Express your anger constructively – with the use of “I” messages, which is the use of non-threatening language, carefully explain how the issues have affected you emotionally, choosing words that best depict the depth of your feelings. For example, the following two sentences “When you talk about me behind my back, I feel hurt and betrayed” or “When you accused me of negligence in front of the client, I felt very embarrassed and deeply hurt that you could think that I had dropped the ball”, are representative of the use of “I” messages.
- State that you would like to explore and find a mutually-acceptable solution – the co-creation of a solution produces joint ownership of the way ahead. It avoids demands and belittlement. It looks for meaningful and logical options that will solve the issue with no repeats in the future.
- Express gratitude for the collaboration – saying “thank-you”, if the discussion was helpful, will go a long way towards re-establishing the relationship.
Anger, when unchecked, can be extremely debilitating and destructive. Discussing your anger constructively, however, can lead to strengthening of relationships and progress in overcoming issues that constantly weigh you down. A redemptive intent is necessary for a meaningful resolution.