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It’s Okay to be Angry. It is Not Okay to be Aggressive.
You may have been led to believe that anger is never good and when you get angry you should quickly censure it. As I described in my earlier posts, anger has a purpose and we need to pay attention to what it is telling us.
Aggressive behavior often accompanies anger out of control, but anger and aggressive behavior are not necessarily synonymous. You can feel angry without being aggressive.
When we feel we have little control over our life and anger becomes our predominant way of resolving conflict or problems, it can lead to aggressive behavior.
Whether you are a man or a woman, understanding your feelings of anger and what triggers it is important. The inability to understand its origins can result in hostility, silent rage, or passive-aggressive behavior. Understanding and becoming accountable for our emotions allows us to assert ourselves responsibly.
How do we distinguish between assertive behavior, passive-aggressive behavior, and aggressive behavior?
Passive-aggressive individuals typically:
- Have difficulty expressing thoughts and feelings and will hide or deny their feelings
- Deny conflicts when they occur
- Ignore their own needs and then blame others
- Manipulate others to get their needs met
- Allow others to make decisions and choices for them and then become resentful
- Use subtleties, manipulation, and veiled hostility with others
- Are difficult to be around and use subterfuge and deceptive ploys in their interactions with others
People who exhibit aggressive behavior:
- Talk in an aggressive tone and behave aggressively
- Get their needs met at the expense of other people
- Do not respect the rights of others
- Overinflate their own abilities to cover their insecurities
- Feel people don’t care about them; therefore, they do not need to be concerned about others
- Angry/hostile people do not hear or listen rationally
- Unable to have a rational conversation when angry
Anger is a physical experience.
Strong emotions trigger powerful body changes as it prepares a person to fight or flee. An aggressive, angry, or hostile person in your face is prepared to fight. Anger can quickly escalate to physical aggression, abuse, or destruction of property.
When anger becomes rage, we see hostility.
A hostile person will explode over seemingly simple things. Responses are blown out of proportion to events that triggered them. Hostile language includes yelling and screaming, in your face, sarcasm, and expletive words (obscenity or profanity). Anger spews out like acid on unsuspecting victims. An angry, hostile person does not hear or listen rationally.
Dealing with angry and aggressive behavior in others
Anger directed towards us often triggers an angry response in return. If we don’t know how to respond appropriately, we might believe the alternative to anger is being passive, or never getting angry. However, anger, like any of our feelings when not acknowledged or denied, goes underground.
When a natural expression of anger is smothered or suppressed, we get a false sense of comfort with the belief that if I block out or keep a tight rein on anything that smacks of anger, I will be okay and won’t lose control.
When we don’t acknowledge and deal calmly with our anger we are headed for trouble.
Repressed anger creates a larger problem, especially in our relationships. As Bill DeFoore, Ph.D., in his book, Anger: Deal with it, Heal with it, Stop it from Killing You, eloquently said, “To be passive means not to be active.”
When we live life passively, we “let things happen instead of making things happen.”
We don’t accomplish things, our relationships begin to fail, and we struggle to feel confidence and be in charge of our lives. In the words of Bill DeFoore:
“Buried feelings, like buried vegetables, don’t just lie there. They get hot and generate energy, which has to come out one way or another.”
When we exhibit passive behavior, we deny our own self-expression. Being assertive allows you to express your feelings in a direct but calm way.
9 things to do when faced with anger and aggressive behavior
1. Do not return anger with anger.
Don’t try and have a conversation when you or the other person is angry. People who are angry and venting do not hear what is being said. You cannot have a rational discussion.
2. Take time to calm down.
You might say something like, “I can’t talk when you or I are angry. I want to hear what you have to say. Let’s both cool down and come back in a half hour (or set a time) and have a conversation.”
3. Separate your inner self from the anger.
When another’s anger is directed at us, our initial response is to get angry in return. Keep your inner self calm. Don’t focus on the anger. Focus on observable data or a definable problem, but not personalities or insults.
4. Validate the person’s feelings.
“You seem to be very angry right now. I want to hear what you have to say. Let’s wait until we both calm down.”
5. Clarify the problem.
“This is what I understand the problem to be. Do you agree and have I understood your position correctly?”
6. Focus on the facts.
We tend to get off track when angry and end up not addressing the problem itself. Gather facts as you can observe them.
7. Leave if your anger keeps rising.
Set a later time to discuss. Honor that time reset.
8. Admit when you are wrong – even in face of insults.
Find some tiny bit you can identify with.
9. When necessary, answer assertively – not aggressively.
Stick to facts and not emotional responses to what is being said.
If you are the recipient of anger and abuse on a daily basis from a partner or spouse, please seek help from a trained counselor. You will not be able to change or fix that person’s anger problem simply by being more accommodating.
Responding to Criticism
Positive criticism is directed toward behaviors and not the person.
People who are criticizing may not be able to articulate that. Thank the person for the information. You need not defend yourself or your position.
If there is anger and criticism, validate feelings and find something to agree with. “You’re right. My behavior was incorrect. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.“
Explain yourself when appropriate. Explanations are not apologies. If you feel you must apologize, keep it simple and short. Most criticisms don’t deserve an apology or an explanation.
Over the course of years, I have read many good books on anger that people could benefit from. While the ones I have listed below are all beneficial in understanding and dealing with anger, I know there are others as well. If you find yourself constantly getting angry or are in an angry relationship, the information offered can be helpful.
DeFoore, Bill, Ph.D., Anger: Deal with it, Heal with it, Stop it from Killing You, Health
Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, Florida, 1991
McKay Matthew, Ph.D., Peter D. Rogers, Ph.D., Judith McKay, R.N., When Anger Hurts:
Quieting the Storm Within, New harbinger Publications, Inc., 1989
Lerner, Harriet Goldhor, Ph.D., The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the
Patterns of Intimate Relationships, Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1985
Harbin, Thomas J., Ph.D., Beyond Anger: A Guide for Men, Marlowe & Company, New York,
Tavris, Carol, Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion, Touchstone Press, 1989
Ellis, Albert, Ph.D., Anger: How to Live With and Without it, Carol Publishing Group, 1990
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