Relationships certainly have their ups and downs. And becoming angry is a part of that picture---a normal reaction to times when things don't go as we expect! In fact, anger is a valuable emotion that tells us we need to address an issue. For some of us, it’s heard as a soft tone in the background, signaling that all is not right. Others don’t hear this signal that change is needed until it becomes a loud alarm bell. Either way, when recognized and understood, anger can be the first step toward problem resolution, providing us with the energy to right a wrong, stand up for an issue we believe in, or stay the course of managing conflict. Unfortunately, many of us don’t use our anger for problem resolution. We simply don’t--or won’t--see that we’re angry or that the way we are expressing this feeling has become a problem in itself.

How can you know when your anger is no longer a valuable prelude to change but is becoming a problem that needs to be addressed in its own right?

DoesMy Anger Negatively Impact Others?

  • Have you experienced any of these telltale signs that others are having a problem with the way you express anger?
  • Others comment on your reaction to a stressful situation or criticize your behavior. Remember, most people will not readily discuss their feelings about your actions, so when they do it usually means the problem is relatively serious.
  • You feel embarrassed following an anger outburst. Don’t ignore your inner feelings that you may have stepped over the line. They may be valid.
  • A relationship you value is strained or lost. Another person may seek you out less or even cut off a friendship or family tie. Have you explored why the relationship is cooling?
  • If your anger is a problem for other people, it’s a problem you will eventually have to deal with.

Is Anger Affecting My Efficiency and Performance?

Research shows that when your stress levels rise beyond a moderate level, performance rapidly deteriorates. Think about times when stress might have negatively affected an exam in college, a presentation at work, or a physical activity like golf or tennis. Unresolved anger involves the same physical reactions as the stress response, only more intense. So ongoing anger is like a silent brake on your efforts, taking a toll you may not even be aware of.  

Is My Health or the Quality of My Life Suffering Because of My Anger? 

Anger is associated with a variety of physical symptoms we experience when under stress. Do you notice any of the following signs that anger may be affecting your health or level of comfort?

  •  Your energy level, physical comfort, or sense of satisfaction is not what it used to be.
  • A health problem has been aggravated lately or flares up when you feel particularly "stressed" or irritated.
  • You find it harder to relax, let your hair down, and have fun. Others have commented on your being too serious or preoccupied. Everything seems like a chore.
  • You avoid activities with people, hobbies, or sports because they now seem too much of a hassle or aggravate you.

     Keeping in mind what you have just learned about anger, do you think you have a problem with your own anger expression?  If you do, you are not alone. You have something in common with thousands of others and should not feel, or be made to feel, ashamed or reticent to get some help with it. The first step is quietly sitting down with yourself and taking stock of how anger is affecting your life. It also might be valuable to  discuss this privately with someone you trust who knows you well, like  a close friend or family member who has had occasion to see you react to stressful and provocative situations.

In my next blog, I will discuss the different ways that anger gets expressed, some active and intense like loud hostility and some softer and indirect like being "passive-aggressive": withholding something another wants as a way of expressing your anger. These "faces" of anger all have one thing in common: they are unproductive and sometimes damaging ways of expressing this intense emotion. Future blogs will offer remedies for your anger expression that are practical and don’t involve years of therapy. For most of us, we can quickly learn some straightforward anger management techniques that have been shown to work well for the vast majority who experience the flame of anger.

Before the quality of your life and health deteriorates further, it’s time to stand back and examine how anger is robbing you of enjoyment, the rewards of your work. 

About the Author

W. Robert Nay, Ph.D.

W. Robert Nay, Ph.D., is a Clinical Associate Professor at Georgetown School of Medicine, and the author of  Overcoming Anger in Your Relationship.

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