Controlling Anger

Anger is a negative experience so closely bound to pain and depression that it can sometimes be hard to know where one of these experiences ends and the others begin. There are a number of actions you can take to keep anger from eroding your life.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published on November 19, 2003 - last reviewed on November 20, 2015

Anger is a negative experience so closely bound to pain and
depression that it can sometimes be hard to know where one of these
experiences ends and another begins. Pain is never just about the body—it has emotional and physical components. The emotions play a huge
role in the experience of pain, and pain is intimately associated with
depression. It's long been known that the psychic pain of depression
feeds anger. But, just as often, anger fuels depression.

A powerful emotion physiologically and emotionally, anger often
feels good—but only for the moment. It can be the motivating force
that moves people to action. But there are good actions and bad,
and it is important to distinguish between the two.

Anger is usually anything but subtle. It has potent physiological
effects. You feel it in your chest. You feel it in your head. You feel it
coursing through your body. Nevertheless, anger can be insidious. It
confers an immediate sense of purpose. At least in the short run, anger
is a shortcut to motivation. So, we spend lots of energy righting
"wrongs," but anger also creates a cycle of rage and defeatism.

When you feel anger, it provides an impulse to pass the pain along
to others. The boss chews you out, and you then snap at everyone in your
path. Anger, however, can eventually lead you into self-pity, because you
can't slough off the self-hurt.

Anger is classically a way of passing psychic pain on to others.
It's a way of making others pay for your own emotional deficits. It is
wise to change that tendency. Whether or not anger fuels depression, it
isn't good for the enjoyment of life.

There are a number of actions you can take to keep anger from
eroding your life:

  • First, of course, is to identify anger and to acknowledge it. Anger is one of those emotions whose expression is sometimes subject to taboos, so people can grow up unable to recognize it. They feel its physical discomfort but don't know how to label it. Build a lexicon for your internal states. Feelings are fluid. You need to stop and capture them in a word, or else you lose them and don't know you have them.
  • View your anger as a signal. It is not something to be escaped. It is not something to be suppressed. It is something to be accepted as a sign that some deeper threat has occurred that needs your attention.
  • Make yourself aware of the purpose your anger serves. Things that have a positive purpose help you seek betterment, growth, love, enhancement and fulfillment. Things that have a negative purpose are motivated by a sense of deficiency. Your boss yells at you, and you feel diminished. The anger you express towards others is driven by the blow you've just received. In order to identify your motivation, you need to look within.
  • Tune into the inner dialogue you customarily have with yourself. If your anger is deficiency-motivated (driven by a desire to rectify a wrong you believe was done to you), work on acceptance. Give up your obsession about the wrong. Uproot mistaken beliefs that underlie your response. Very often anger is the result of beliefs that lead you to place unreasonable demands on circumstances, such as the belief that life must be fair. The belief that you are entitled to fairness results from the mistaken idea that you are special.

Insisting that life be fair is not only irrational, it will cause
you to collect injustices done to your noble self. Even if you are
experiencing nothing more than your fair share of unfairness, such a
belief can still fuel rage and lead to depression. The rage is totally
inert, because you believe there is nothing you can do about the
unfairness. Self-pity is another description of the same feelings of
helplessness. Notice your own complaining. Listen for both overt and
covert complaining. Overt complaining hassles others. It's really a
manipulative strategy. Know when it's becoming a downer and a barrier to
a strategy of effectiveness—like complaining about a fly in your soup.
Covert complaining hassles you. It drags you down into passivity and
inertia. Once you notice it, determine to give it up. Once you can accept
that life sometimes is unfair, then you can pursue positive purpose. You
can work constructively against injustice to rectify the unfairness you
find, transforming your anger into passion. Or you can pursue
fulfillment in spite of the unfairness that exists.