Anger is a natural response to perceived threats. It causes your body to release adrenaline, your muscles to tighten, and your heart rate and blood pressure to increase. Your senses might feel more acute and your face and hands flushed. However, anger becomes a problem when you don't manage it in a healthy way.
If you are thinking to yourself, “But I’m not an angry person! This doesn’t apply to me.” then I challenge you to keep reading, Anger isn't all about the yelling and the rage and the arguing. Anger is a defense, and we all have it. And it makes all the difference in the world what we do with it.
What is Anger?
Anger is a natural and mostly automatic response to either physical or emotional pain. The type of pain does not matter. We may not be consciously aware of the pain or what caused it. Anger can occur when people don't feel well, are injured, feel rejected, feel threatened or fearful, or experience some kind of loss.
Anger is always preceded by a physical or emotional pain, as a ''secondary'' emotion. It happens in the combination of a triggering event and your emotional state or perception of the event.
Imagine putting your hand on top of the stove. Touching the stove all by itself isn’t enough to burn your hand, but touching the stove when the heat is on can cause a burn. Pain all by itself isn't enough to cause anger. Anger occurs when pain is combined with some other thought or influence that triggers the anger.
Thoughts can trigger anger. As we go through the day we are interpreting the world around us, making personal assessments, assumptions, evaluations, and interpretations of situations. Sometimes those thoughts can lead us to believe that someone else is attempting to hurt us either intentionally or through some act of negligence or neglect.
Feelings of pain, combined with triggering thoughts motivate us to take action and face the perceived threats, and to act to defend ourselves by striking out against the target we believe is causing our pain. We tend to direct our anger at a target, whether it’s someone else, something else, or even ourselves.
Anger can also be a substitute for another emotion that may be difficult to experience. A person may change their feelings of pain into anger because it allows them to feel more powerful to be angry than it does to be in pain. This shift into anger is usually done subconsciously.
There is an underlying benefit to choosing anger over pain. First of all, it’s distracting. Instead of focusing on the pain, being angry shifts your attention to those other people or things that you perceive are responsible for the pain. This is how we use anger to temporarily protect us from having to recognize and deal with real painful feelings. Instead of processing the pain, you get to focus on getting back at the people you're angry with. Being angry can help to hide the reality that you find a situation frightening or that you feel vulnerable.
Not only does feeling angry provide a good smoke screen for your feelings of vulnerability, becoming angry also creates a feeling of righteousness, power, and moral superiority that isn't present when someone is only experiencing pain. When you are angry, you are angry with a cause. That feeling of moral superiority can lead a person to lash out at others.
The Costs of Anger
Some people develop a subconscious habit of transforming almost all of their vulnerable feelings into anger so they can avoid having to deal with them. The problem becomes that even when anger distracts you from the fact that you feel vulnerable, you still at some level feel vulnerable. Anger cannot make pain disappear - it only distracts you from it. Anger generally does not resolve or address the problems that made you feel fearful or vulnerable in the first place. In fact, it is much more likely to create new problems, including social and health issues.
In addition, anger can have a negative impact on your physical and your emotional health. This is particularly true of the relationship between anger and heart disease. There is a direct connection between being angry and early heart disease. Recent research suggests that men who have poor anger management skills are more likely to suffer a heart attack before age 55 than their more emotionally controlled peers.
Chronic anger, hostility, and aggression raise your risk of developing various forms of heart disease by as much as five times the normal rate. The more hostility you experience, the more prone to heart disease you are likely to be. If you find that you get angry when you have to wait in traffic or when confronted with a long line at the grocery checkout, or if you find yourself constantly yelling at your loved ones, you may be slowly killing yourself.
The Social Impact of Anger
In addition to physical health costs, there are significant social and emotional costs to being angry all the time. Hostile, angry people are less likely to have healthy supportive relationships than are less hostile people. Because they are constantly angry, hostile people tend to have fewer friends. Hostile people are also more likely to be depressed, and they are more likely to become verbally and/or physically abusive towards others.
Most importantly, chronic anger reduces the intimacy within personal relationships; partners and other family members tend to be more guarded and less able to relax in their interactions with hostile people.
How To Not Be So Angry
While anger is a legitimate emotion in the reality of how you feel at a particular time, this does not mean that your choosing to act on your anger feelings is always justified. Remember that being angry is bad for your health and destructive towards your relationships with others.
If you follow my articles, you know I’m a big fan of getting things down on paper. The process of managing emotional states is a lot like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. It’s nearly impossible if you can’t see all the pieces. Writing things down gets those ideas and feelings to a place where you can work with them.
A simple notebook can help you to keep track of the things that cause you to feel angry and how you react to that feeling. Begin by answering these questions.
What events/people/places/things make me angry?
Why do these things make me angry?
How do I act when I am angry?
How does my anger affect others?
What would I rather feel/do/experience?
Be sure to put the date on the page. It will be useful to look back over time and see how your feelings have changed.
As you answer these questions you will be discovering the primary emotions that trigger the anger. This is a process of understanding your feelings and where they come from. With this new understanding, you can begin to heal the underlying causes of the anger.
Getting Help to Better Manage Anger
While you are working on the underlying cause of anger, it can be helpful to learn ways to redirect anger before it begins. Anger management programs are offered through various sources including your workplace employee assistance program (EAP), support groups, and through counseling clinics. Anger management programs are designed to help you learn to control your anger responses in order to improve your relationships and health prospects. However, like any therapy or educational program, anger management programs can only benefit you to the extent that you decide to participate in them.
Breathing exercises like Abdominal and Square Breathing can help dissolve anger in just a few seconds. Mindfulness exercises can help to refocus your thoughts and calm your mind. This is an easy exercise you can begin using right away.
If you find your emotions beginning to escalate, or even after you are already upset, start by taking a deep breath. Next, look around and simply focus on three separate things. Maybe a passing object, a point in front of you where the ceiling meets the wall, or a spot on the floor. Now notice 3 things that you can hear. Maybe the sound of cars passing by, of an appliance running, of your own breath. Take another deep abdominal breath and begin again with three things you can see and three things you can hear. You’ll notice that your mind is clearer and you are calmer. Now you can either move on to something else or look at the situation in a new way.
How Hypnosis Can Help
There are a number of ways that hypnosis can help to manage anger, not only in the moment it happens, but also to prevent those angry outbursts from happening again.
We respond to events automatically and subconsciously. Hypnosis can change those automatic responses to something more calm and confident. We use hypnosis to help people change the way they respond to internal and external events. In addition, hypnosis can be used to heal past traumas and release negative emotions and feelings from the past that influence our behaviors today. This allows us to create new habits and patterns of behavior that are healthier and more productive. In hypnosis, these new habits and behaviors are given directly to the subconscious mind, so these positive and healthy responses happen automatically.
Anger-triggering thoughts occur automatically and almost instantaneously. Hypnosis is also used in deactivating your triggers without conscious work on your part to replace them with something healthier.
With hypnosis you may still feel a short moment of anger, but it will be far less intense than you experienced in the past. Those feelings of anger will immediately soften and disappear on their own, and you will have an easier time seeing the situation from a more positive angle.∎
Karen Gray is a Certified Professional Hypnotist, Certified Hypnosis Instructor, Registered Nurse, and Director of Green Mountain Hypnosis. For more information on how you can use hypnosis to change your life, schedule your free Strategy Call