Susan K Perry Ph.D.

Creating in Flow


6 Ways You Misuse Anger

Resorting to rage is most often the wrong choice.

Posted Sep 02, 2018

Sebastian Pothe/freeimages
Source: Sebastian Pothe/freeimages

Do you often feel angry? If so, you may be fine with that, figuring your anger often works to get you what you want, or at least somehow makes you feel better. You may not have noticed its negative effects on you, on the objects of your fury, and on your relationships in general.

But what if someone you know has suggested that you really don't have to be so angry, that your anger makes you scarier and less comfortable to be around?

Psychologists, in fact, have found that there are good reasons to reflect on what role anger plays in your life. The Anger Fallacy: Uncovering the Irrationality of the Angry Mindset (Australian Academic Press) explores new ways to think about this destructive emotion. The authors, psychologists Steven Laurent and Ross G. Menzies, also wrote The Anger Fallacy Workbook: Practical Exercises for Overcoming Irritation, Frustration and Anger. I highly recommend both books if you're serious about turning down the anger and living more serenely (or helping someone else do so).

Why Anger Is Irrational

Anger, both feeling it and expressing it, hurts more than it helps. Anger often leads to violence. It can lead to much unhappiness. Quoting and paraphrasing from The Anger Fallacy, here are some insights about anger.

1. Does anger make you feel better? Psychologists asked participants in a study how they felt immediately after an anger episode. Under 10 percent said they felt satisfied, happy, triumphant, or joyous (only 1 percent felt joyous). As for feeling relieved, only 23 percent felt that way. However, 43 percent said they still felt irritated or annoyed, and almost that many mentioned feeling depressed, disgusted, concerned, guilty, ashamed, or even foolish. The authors of The Anger Fallacy add that although anger may be "normal" or "typical," it is rarely helpful.

2. Can you blame evolution for your anger? Anger may be a hardwired emotion, in some people more than others, but, as Laurent and Menzies write, "there is no gene for hating people talking audibly on their mobile phones on buses." Beliefs are learned. Anger readies us for physical fighting, increasing testosterone and adrenaline, heart rate, muscle tension, and the pooling of blood in major muscle groups. That is no longer necessarily an adaptive response to every modern-day frustration.

3. Consider how many things used to anger you that no longer do. Now think about all the things that anger others which you don't find irritating. If you have ever had a spouse, reflect on your older annoyances and how little they matter to you now. (See my previous post titled "How to Sweat Less Over the Small Stuff".) 

4. Ought you to communicate all your emotions? No, that is not useful, unless it happens to be the best choice at the time. "Feelings are sometimes relevant," wrote the authors, "but bringing emotions into a negotiation or a discussion (about someone's behavior) can often be inflammatory ... Anger, of all the emotions to bring into a request, is of course the MOST charged."

5. It is untrue that venting your anger dissipates it. Pay attention next time you express anger, and if you feel some relief when you've said your angry piece, remember this insight by the authors: "It's the strain of inhibiting (the effort of not saying anything) that is released, not anger itself." In fact, you may be reinforcing your anger.

6. The solution to too much anger in your life? It is not "to relax." Nor is it to suppress or distract from your anger. What then? Authors Laurent and Menzies offer ways of thinking that may stop you from getting angry. One way is face up to your biased belief that life should be more fair. Learning to experience more empathy can be very calming also. Accept that leaving your anger behind does not mean the other person "wins."

Copyright (c) 2018 by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie’s Heel