For people with problems managing their anger, they are often the last to know how toxic and damaging their anger can be to the people around them. That’s because when you don’t regulate your own emotions, the other people around you start to manage you in an effort to control them for you.
While anger is a normal emotion that when expressed appropriately can facilitate communication and understanding in a relationship, being on the receiving end of someone else’s out-of-control anger can be a very distressing experience that shuts down healthy communication.
Trust is essential to every good relationship. When people don’t trust your emotional responses and feel they are always walking around on eggshells in your presence, they will change their behavior as a way to prevent triggering your anger. They stop communicating honestly and won’t tell you things that they fear may upset you.
This results in a loss of authenticity in the relationship. In other words, the relationship isn’t what it may seem on the surface. The angry person thinks everything is just fine but the people around him/her feel otherwise. When you lose authenticity, the quality of your relationships deteriorates and you are more likely to be blindsided by the choices that other people make.
So how do you know if your anger is affecting your relationships?
- Listen. Most people won’t address something uncomfortable the first, second, or even third time it happens. They will opt to give you the benefit of the doubt, perhaps you are just having a bad day, perhaps there is something they don’t know that justifies that outpouring of anger. By the time someone mentions to you that they are concerned about your anger, you can be assured the anger issue, from their perspective, has already reached a point where they don’t feel it can be ignored any longer. The first time someone mentions it is the time to take it seriously.
- Be aware. Everyone has a different threshold for how they process other people’s anger. Some people grew up in households where anger was bantered back and forth regularly in families and the next minute everyone was warm and loving. Some people grew up in homes where anger was toxic and threatening all of the time, while others grew up in environments where anger was stifled and never expressed at all. You may feel perfectly fine about how you are expressing your anger, but that doesn’t mean the people around you feel similarly.
It is important to know that anger isn’t a bad emotion. Any emotion you have is simply a reflection of how you are thinking about some situation. Anger, is generally a response to the primary thought “...it shouldn’t be this way.” There may indeed be plenty of times when anger is very justified.
It is how anger gets expressed that creates difficulty in relationships. Many people blow up because they aren’t good at articulating their feelings in the moment. Instead, they allow small frustrations to build up until they can’t take it any longer and it comes out in one big explosion.
Learning how to communicate all emotions effectively will help with learning how to express anger in a healthy way. Respect should always remain a guiding principle. If how you are talking to someone else doesn’t feel respectful, it probably isn’t. Use empathy to take the other person’s perspective and ask yourself how you would want to be spoken to if the situation was reversed.
While there are some simple strategies you can try to help with your awareness of your anger responses, such as practicing mindfulness and learning to give yourself some distance before you respond, if increasing your own awareness of the issue doesn’t seem to be helping, then it may be time to seek professional help.
Sometimes anger and irritability levels can be affected by hormone changes (in both men and women) or may be a sign of some other biological condition. Sometimes there is a deeper psychological root to the anger that needs to be addressed in therapy.
The close relationships we have with others are priceless and they deserve the effort it takes to grow ourselves in order to maintain them.
Dr. Jennice Vilhauer is author of Think Forward to Thrive: How to Use the Mind’s Power of Anticipation to Transcend Your Past and Transform Your Life as well as the presenter of the 2015 TEDx talk, "Why You Don't Get What You Want."