Anger is valid, like any of the other emotions we experience. However, it seems to have a much worse reputation than other feelings due to its potential to directly harm those around us. This makes learning to control it just as or maybe even more important than controlling other emotions we experience. Let’s start by destigmatizing anger.
Anger is a secondary emotion which means that every time we experience anger, there is another emotion we are experiencing beneath the surface that may be more vulnerable to share. The “Anger Iceberg” provides a great visual of this concept. Unfortunately, the society we live in has portrayed anger, especially for men, to be much more socially acceptable to show as compared to sadness by crying, guilt, shame, embarrassment, jealousy, and the list goes on. So what can we do with this information? How can we learn to control our anger? As with all other emotions, I always say – start with curiosity, asking yourself “what” and “how” questions!
How was anger shown in my family growing up?
In addition to society normalizing anger, maybe anger was seen as a more acceptable emotion as compared to sadness or shame in your family. Having awareness of what we have learned about what different emotions mean and how to portray them from our families is key. This helps us better understand ourselves so we can either change how we show or what we think about anger or continue to engage in healthy patterns.
What is my anger telling me?” aka “What am I experiencing underneath my anger?
This may be one of the most difficult or uncomfortable questions to really sit with and answer – especially if this is not something you have had to identify previously. It may feel difficult now, and sitting with and sharing discomfort and vulnerability leads to growth! Just like every other emotion we experience, our feelings are always telling us something about our needs – either they are being met or they aren’t. This Feelings Wheel depicts just that. For example, your feeling of anger can be a result of one of your boundaries being crossed.
What are my triggers for anger?
Identifying your triggers for what makes you angry is a great way to identify what you need. Sometimes we are able to avoid certain triggers – for example, maybe sitting in traffic is a trigger and so you may identify that you need to leave earlier or later for work to avoid traffic. However, sometimes we cannot avoid certain triggers. For example, maybe seeing your family leads to feelings of anger – you may be able to see them less, but may not be able to avoid them altogether. This is where coping skills can be helpful!
What helps me control my anger?
Maybe you’ve noticed deep breathing helps bring you to a grounded place. Maybe you just need some space to go on a walk, journal your thoughts, or vent to a loved one. This worksheet goes more in depth about different coping skills for anger. Ultimately, identifying the coping skills that work best for you is a personal journey!
Anger doesn’t have to be scary or concerning for yourself or those around you. Like all emotions, it is something that you can learn to control versus letting it control you – an experience that is empowering! Therapy can be helpful in guiding you through this process of empowerment. I encourage you to continue to use curiosity instead of judgement to better understand your feelings and needs!
Sarah Shah, M.S., LPC-Associate (she/hers) supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S