Dealing with Anger
Q: What causes a person to experience anger?
A: There are basically two ways of experiencing anger. You can feel angry with yourself over not having done as well as you had hoped on an examination, or you can have the other kind of anger which is directed at someone else or some object. In other words, you can stub your toe walking over a carpet and be angry about that, or you can be angry at a sales person in the store, or with a spouse of girlfriend/boyfriend as a result of an argument or dispute. Internal anger is directed at yourself for something that you have done or not done and external anger is the result of an interaction with another person.
Q: What are some ways of dealing with anger?
A: Probably the most productive way is taking your angry feelings to the source, in other words, directly to the person involved. If your angry feeling are directed at yourself and you are angry with yourself about something, try to express those feelings to a friend, a colleague or a counselor. In other words, to kind of get it off your chest. It is very important to get out angry feelings regardless of what kind of anger you’re feeling.
Q: What are some of the non-productive ways of dealing with anger?
A: Instead of expressing feelings, the non-productive way would be to bottle them up, keeping those feelings inside. An expression that is frequently used is “sandbagging.” Sandbagging your angry feelings means to avoid the person for whom anger is directed, sidestepping the issue, keeping the anger inside, instead of being direct with a person. Sandbagging results in being indirect and sarcastic. Many people fear hurting someone else’s feelings if they share angry feelings. Yet by holding on to anger, the other person ends up feeling hurt and relationships are damaged. Having a lot of angry feelings that are pent up could lead to punitive kinds of behavior or resentment, directly or indirectly. People that you are involved with, a boyfriend of girlfriend or a spouse, know when you are angry. There are ways that you show it indirectly. And when you don’t express that anger directly to them, usually they resent it, and the frustration can cause people to withdraw from each other.
Q: Many people are not even aware they are angry, or that they’re not expressing it. How does a person become aware of whether they’re expressing their anger or not?
A: One way for people to tell whether they are angry is if they are short tempered. If you find you are honking your horn at traffic, if you are not able to concentrate on your work like you want to, these are all ways of knowing that something is wrong. Agitated feelings are good clues to unexpressed anger. Also, there are occasionally some physical symptoms that go along with unexpressed anger, such as migraine headaches, peptic ulcers, upset stomach, tension headaches. Usually your body tells you that something is wrong. You are bottling something up, and you are not expressing those angers.
Q: Is there a decision-making process related to expressing anger?
A: When you have angry feelings, you have to decide if this is the right time and the right place to express these feelings. You may in fact be in the company of others when you have these angry feelings, and you may want to find a nice quiet place where you can explain and express those feelings, or tell those feelings to the person you feel has caused them or at least is directly involved with you. So, it very much is a decision.
Q: How about the trust factor? Would you have to trust somebody before you express angry feelings to them, or does trust have anything to do with it?
A: Expressing anger is a lot easier if we trust someone. On the other hand, level of trust is not imperative. We may feel angry toward a clerk in a store or a salesperson, and we don’t know what the level of trust is. I think the most important thing is to trust yourself. Trust your feelings and let your feelings out.
Q: For the person who hasn’t learned too much about expressing anger, are there preliminary steps that one can start taking to learn more about their angry feelings?
A: Yes, there is and considering it a series of steps is the easiest way to look at it. The first step is to be aware if something is going on where you are finding yourself agitated, if you are snapping at friends, if you’re not doing well in your work. You know something is wrong. Give yourself time, take a few moments, locate the source. Locating the source is the second step. Is it something you have or haven’t done? Is it something inside that is going on? Or is it the result of an interaction with a friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse? The third step would be to choose the right time and the right place to express that anger. If it is anger that is inside you directed at yourself, then find a friend and check it out. See if they have the time to listen to you. Get it off your chest. If it is the result of an interaction with a certain other person, then find the right time and the right place and let them know that this is something important to you to express. And finally, number four would be to tell them your anger in the most simple, direct way you can think of. And always remember that you have the responsibility to express your anger. The other person may not respond the way you want them to–they may not be willing to hear it– but the important thing is that is their responsibility. You only have the responsibility to tell them, and that’s about it. If you have further questions about anger or how you deal with it, please contact the University of Tennessee Counseling Center at 1800 Volunteer Blvd.
Note: This document is based on an audio tape script developed by the University of Texas, Austin. With their permission, it was revised and edited into its current form by the staff of the University of Florida Counseling Center. It is published here with the University of Florida Counseling Center’s permission.