IntroductionAnger is a powerful and complex emotion. Many people find their responses to anger – usually volatile - difficult to manage and seek anger management to help them. Personally I don't work with a conventional anger management approach but rather work to help you uderstand your anger reactions, and how this can move into aggression or hostility. Once you can understand the pattern of your anger you can then differentiate between appropriate anger and what has maybe become rumbling rage. While some people can’t control their anger reactions, other people are frightened of anger and avoid any potential conflict, or bury their own feelings of anger; another response is to express anger to others but not directly to the person you are angry with, or to leak anger into regular interactions with others. These are different examples of how many people find it difficult to acknowledge and express their anger. The term anger management often implies that all anger is negative and it is an emotion to be 'got rid of'. Conversely anger is a response to feeling threatened. One its characteristics is that it carries extraordinary energy, so things can move very fast and frequently can tip into aggression.
How we use angerIn itself anger is neither good nor bad. Rather it is a normal, healthy emotion, which is there to protect us when we feel threatened, and can be used positively to address wrongs. It is what we do with our anger that can be harmful to both ourselves, and others.
I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
Verse 1, ‘A Poison Tree’, William Blake
Anger can quickly escalate into aggression, hostility or violence. Often we develop patterns of using anger, to protect us when we feel ourselves under attack or not in control. When we feel wobbly or under pressure, we can adopt angry attitudes and behaviour (eg cynicism and/or shouting) which come across as hostile to others. Anger ‘leaking out’ can lead to problems for us in our relationships at home, work or with friends. Some people find it hard to acknowledge anger, or find confrontation difficult and so anger is side-stepped or turned inwards, manifesting as calm passivity, resentment, martyrdom or bitterness, which may affect our physical and mental health. Suppressing or bottling up this energy, may mean that the pent up emotion gets released in another different situation, which comes across as an over-reaction.
What happens when we get angryAnger is an all body emotion; often we can feel the huge surge of energy. It helps us get ready for action, arousing the nervous system, blood flow to muscles and stimulating chemicals such as adrenalin. Anger also affects our cognitive, thinking capacity – going into emergency mode of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and shutting down other rational processes. For each of us this happens in an individual context: of our own life experiences, beliefs and the ways we have found of protecting ourselves from both emotional and physical hurt. An anger reaction often happens very quickly, sometimes resulting in us acting in ways we later regret.
Many people confuse anger and hostility or aggression. Anger and aggression are not the same, however when we block our anger – our energy - we feel so frustrated we become hostile either overtly (eg physical violence, shouting) or covertly (eg blame, smoldering, putting others down even if humorously).
Where there is anger, there is always pain underneath. - Eckhart Tolle
Some clues that anger may be a theme for you
- Other people tell you
- You get into rages when driving, in supermarket queues
- You fly off the handle easily
- You notice yourself feeling constantly bad tempered
- You are unable to let go of feeling wronged by someone or something
- You become defensive easily
- You blame others
- You avoid anything to do with anger
Understanding your own relationship with angerOne of the starting points in my counselling work is to explore your beliefs about and experiences of anger. Each of us is influenced by social, cultural and family attitudes and beliefs about anger. For example some families and religions see any anger as negative, which can be confusing for you when you do feel angry. So it is important to find a route that respects both your cultural beliefs and your bodily experiences. Other families use anger, and belligerent behaviors as the norm for communication; then when you encounter others who don't communicate this way, you are confused. Some people have experienced violence in their childhood and not surprisingly they associate any anger with danger. Many of us, especially, but not exclusively women, have been brought up to view any demonstration of anger as ‘not nice’, leaving us inhibited to express it.
Understanding the context of your anger helps you to find ways of supporting yourself in this journey. For example many people become angry more easily when they are tired, stressed at work, or under pressure in other areas of their life. For most of us there are certain types of situations or circumstances when we become easily angered, and becoming more aware of what ‘triggers’ your anger, gives you some options for taking alternative action. I am a strong advocate of taking a compassionate and forgiving attitude towards ourselves, as an integral part of taking full responsibility for ourselves. Beating ourselves up when we’ve been aggressive to others, tends to perpetuate a cycle of shame, and blame.
How counselling can help you with anger
- Exploring the reasons behind your anger responses
- Understanding what hurt your anger is smothering
- Building resourceful ways to manage anger crisis points
- Learning to recognise situations where you are easily triggered
- Finding ways of expressing your anger openly and constructively
- Exploring the beliefs about anger that you have ‘inherited’
- Understanding how anger impacts important relationships
- Taking responsibility for your own anger responses
Counselling for Anger: Annie RobinsonI offer a confidential space, away from family, work colleagues and others known to you, which allows you to explore your anger relatively safely. If you are struggling with finding ways to express and experience your anger appropriately – either because you do ‘it’ too much or because you don’t do anger - and you would like to start addressing this, please contact me.
I provide counselling for anger in North Somerset, on the city boundary with Bristol; my practice is in Long Ashton, North Somerset, within easy reach of many parts of central and south Bristol: Southville, Clifton, Ashton Gate, Hotwells, Totterdown, Knowle, and Windmill Hill; and the North Somerset towns & villages of Backwell, Nailsea, Failand, Wraxall, Flax Bourton, Pill, Abbott’s Leigh.