Anger Part I: Three Common Anger Myths
Anger is an emotion that many of us struggle to manage. Despite the common challenges we share regarding anger, we rarely talk about it. Despite the silence, there are many traits we share regarding how we view anger.
We relate to anger as if it is something separate from us, something that we breakout when all other resources have been exhausted. As an example, if we think that we have been reasonable with a request we've made, and our request is not obliged to our satisfaction, we might get angry. And along with that anger can come aggressive and passive aggressive behaviors we use to get the results we prefer.
We feel ashamed when we are unsuccessful in managing our anger. When we lose control of our anger and say something or act out in ways that are unbecoming, we regret those behaviors and feel ashamed of them afterward.
There is a tremendous amount of denial when comes to anger. Despite the havoc unmanaged anger can have on our families and professional relationships, we often forego seeking help. Convincing ourselves that if only a "few people" know that our anger is out of control we are managing it. Even though those "few people" typically includes our families, who are most impacted by unmanaged anger.
As a licensed professional counselor, I help clients to understand the negative impacts of unmanaged anger, the emotional and cognitive aspects of anger, and in developing skills for successfully managing their anger. The following blog post will be one of several blog posts focused on anger, the challenges unmanaged anger presents, and helpful tips and tools for managing it. We will start the series by describing some common myths about anger.
Myth one: Anger is a bad thing
Anger as an emotion is no different than happiness or sadness. But anger does have unique characteristics that separate it from other emotions. For one, Anger is necessary for our survival. We are not always aware of its protective factors. But, anger kicks into effect when someone or something presents itself as a threat to our well-being or safety. Anger also kicks in when the well-being or safety of those we care about is threatened or placed at risk.
When such threats or “perceived” threats present themselves, anger motivates us to act to protect ourselves and or those we care about by confronting those threat(s) whether they are real or "perceived". This is also known as the fight response when you hear people talk about “fight or flight” responses.
Fight responses even kick in when society poses a threat to the well-being of the individual. From Gandhi to Mandela; to Susan B. Anthony and Fannie Lou Hammer, activists have reacted to the anger they felt towards the discrimination they experienced in their societies. Their anger motivated them to effect change over their circumstances. Such examples highlight the positive aspects of anger.
Despite this positive attribute, we rarely acknowledge the motivating aspect of anger. Nevertheless, when we find ourselves in a circumstance or situation that we are not happy or satisfied with, it is the anger we feel towards such circumstance or situation that initially motivates us into action to change it!
Myth two: My temper is just part of who I am, and there is nothing I can do to change it
It is understandable how we perpetuate this myth. It may be true that a person has struggled so long with their anger/temper, that they feel helpless concerning their ability to manage it. Some people will go as far as to assert that they have inherited their anger/temper from their parents. It is not true that we inherit anger from our parents, nor is it true to think that we cannot manage the behaviors we outwardly display as our reaction when we feel anger.
However, it is true that we tend to repeat or perpetuate behaviors we repeatedly observed as children. If your parents were prone to displays of unmanaged anger (yelling, name-calling, getting physical by grabbing, shoving, hitting or direct confrontation) you are prone to engage in similar behavior as an adult.
When we accept the myth that our anger is inherited, we dismiss the active role we play in controlling our behaviors when we get angry; making challenging and actively changing aggressive behaviors all the more difficult.
Myth Three: My anger works for me
It is natural for us to conclude that when we intimidate others through various forms of active and passive aggression, and actually get the results we seek (our child or spouse complies with our demands, an employee or co-worker meets our expectations), we falsely assume that this approach to getting others to meet our expectations is working for us, nothing could be further from the truth. When we draw such conclusions we are falsely equating fear with respect. We are also failing to see the long term harm such aggression will have in our personal and professional relationships. Due to the implications, it can have on personal, and professional relationships, this myth is one of the most destructive. When people accept this myth, they can go years before they ever acknowledge the damage they have caused.
Recognizing when you have an anger problem:
If you have heard your inner voice in the myths discussed it would be prudent to have a talk with your family or a close friend and ask them how you are handling your anger? There are some common signs that typically indicate you may need to seek professional help. The following contains a list of some common warning signs that your anger is managing you, instead of you managing your anger:
• You have felt guilty about your behavior after an angry outburst
• Family or coworkers have expressed concern about your anger
• You have become physical either with someone or something when you are angry
• Anger seems to be your go-to expression of emotion
• Your response to small slights is disproportionate to the circumstance
• You feel angry most of the time
• You are using substances to suppress your anger
True Impact Counseling Services, PLLC provides confidential counseling services in a private, no judgment space. Our counseling services take place in an office setting, evening and weekend appointment times are available.
Travis E. Williams M.A., M.Ed., LPC, CRC
Travis E. Williams M.A., M.Ed., LPC, CRC is Lead Counselor and Owner of True Impact Counseling Services, PLLC. Travis is a licensed professional counselor and a nationally certified rehabilitation counselor. Travis is a solution-focused counselor that specializes in men's issues, couples’ therapy, and teens. In his spare time Travis enjoys walking in local parks, greenway bike rides in Wake and Johnston Counties and spending quality time with his wife of twenty years and his son.