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Anger Part II: Recognizing Anger

In the first part of our series on anger, we introduced common myths regarding anger, the professional and personal costs of unmanaged anger, and the warnings signs that indicate when our anger is out of control. In part II of this series, we will define aggressive and passive-aggressive behaviors, how to recognize the physical, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive signs of anger. And lastly, we will cover the role of self-awareness as a key skill you must develop in order to improve your ability to successfully manage anger.

Aggressive and Passive Aggressive Behaviors

In counseling, aggressive behavior refers to a range of behaviors that result in both physical and psychological harm to yourself, others, or objects in your environment. Typically, aggressive behavior centers on harming another person either physically, mentally, or emotionally. Aggression can also be a sign of an underlying mental health disorder (Bipolar Disorder as an example), a medical diagnosis (Traumatic Brain Injury as an example), or substance use.

Aggression is often mistakenly thought to be purely physical, but aggression can also be psychological. For example, bullying is often more about the mental and emotional aggression the bully extracts by the intimidation and the beratement of the victim. Although the physical aspect of being bullied should never be downplayed. It is often the mental and emotional aspects of being threatened, ostracized, and humiliated that causes the most harm. This feature of aggression is not limited to school age children but is also at the heart of a every hostile work environment, and every incidence of sexual and physical assault, as well as domestic violence.

Unlike aggressive behaviors, passive-aggressive behaviors are more nuanced but can be just as destructive. Examples of passive-aggressive behaviors include:

• Avoidance (keeping distance physically or emotionally to expressed one’s frustration at another)

• Denial (Even when it is blatantly obvious one is upset at someone or something)

• Blaming

• Procrastination

• Backbiting​​

Unfortunately, couples who are dealing with unresolved issues such as mistrust or past hurts, run the risk of exposing each other to passive aggressive behaviors. Passive aggressive behaviors between couples if unchecked can also become a negative emotional pattern compounding the very same unresolved issues the couple is experiencing.​​

Different Signs of Anger

The physical signs of anger are the “canary in the coal mine” that we are getting angry. The physical signs of our anger are one of the keys self-awareness focus areas we must develop to be skilled at checking our anger before it ramps up. Common physical signs of anger include:

• Faster heart rate

• Higher blood pressure

• A headache

• Muscle tension

• Shallow breathing

• And whatever else is unique to how you physically experience your anger

The emotional signs are what is underneath your anger. Anger is typically the second manifestation of another emotion you are experiencing but often unaware of, or actively suppressing. Common emotional signs of anger include emotions such as:

  • Fear

  • Sadness

  • Guilt

  • Shame

  • Envy

  • Worry

  • General lack of interest

The behavioral signs of anger involve your tone of voice, the cadence of your speech, and other actions and body language such as:

  • Clench fists

  • Slamming doors

  • Yelling

  • Getting in someone’s personal space

  • Road rage

  • Shoving, grabbing, or hitting

  • Substance use

  • Name calling

  • Black outs

Understanding the cognitive signs of our anger, requires us to focus on the negative self-talk that is associated with the emotions we experience when we are angry. When we get angry, our negative self-talk is where our anger escalates out of control. Put another way our thoughts often add fuel to the fire, making worse an already tenuous situation. Negative self-talk statements nearly always focus on the other person, instead of the actual person who is having them. When we get angry our negative self-talk statements also tend to negate our responsibility to regulate our emotions and our behaviors connected to those emotions. Here are some examples:

  • She / He had it coming

  • She /He hurt me on purpose

  • You think you're better than me

  • You're being unreasonable

  • I can’t trust you

  • You make me so angry

  • I deserve better

Self-awareness and anger

The process of self-awareness is the key to recognizing the warning signs in the afore-mentioned areas. Self-awareness is a skill that takes time to develop and requires us to come off automatic pilot. So much of our emotional lives involves just going through the motions. But in order to become self-aware we must learn how to switch off our automatic pilot and sensitize ourselves to what we are feeling and self-regulate how we react to those feelings.

As a Licensed Professional Counselor much of my work involves working with clients to help them become more self-aware of their emotions which are underneath their anger. If you or someone you care about is expressing concern about their ability to manage their anger True Impact Counseling Services, PLLC is here for you. 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.

Be blessed!

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 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 their son.

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