It can help us survive, can motivate us to take action and make appropriate and necessary changes. It protects us when life threatens us psychologically or physically.
But when anger becomes habitual, it can be harmful.
When used repeatedly as our typical response to things that irritate us, we end up with an anger problem that can be catastrophic over time. That’s because, when we’re angry, we tend to be reactive. We no longer think rationally.
In this article (with accompanying audio), I’ll help you understand anger and will suggest practical things you can do if you are feeling constantly angry.
Can something ugly and scarred be turned into something beautiful and inviting? Let me share with you a true story about a real gravel pit.
A gravel pit is a piece of land where bulldozers and huge earth-scooping machinery have removed the soil to extract gravel and other ingredients needed to build roads, make cement, gather building rocks, etc.
What remains, after all the extractions, is a huge scarred and pitted hole in the ground with unstable and crumbling sides, water seepage from underground springs, stagnant pools of rainwater, huge, discarded pieces of rock and other un-usable mounds of earth. Debris is scattered everywhere, discarded by individuals who consider this a worthless piece of land; a place to throw away their pop cans, beer bottles or candy wrappers.
When faced with life-altering situations, we struggle not only to grasp the totality of what we are facing, but to plan a way forward. Consider the options my son and us faced years ago. His physical limitations never deterred him. And he lived life never even considering he couldn’t make it and took his talents and built a successful career.
Don was born without the muscles to hold up his head. Muscle weakness extended to other areas of his back and neck. A special brace was designed for him, with a rod that went down the back, anchored with straps around his waist and a pre-formed support for his head.
One might assume he was a prisoner to his physical disabilities. But he never saw it that way and neither did we.
Like summer wildfires, the results of anger unleashed and unchecked by logic or reason can leave behind destroyed relationships and ruined lives. Left unrestrained, our lives can become tinder boxes ready to explode with just a spark of irritation.
Anger, like fear, is a great stressor when it becomes the norm for dealing with life’s problems.
As therapists, we see the effects of growing up in homes where anger is out of control. The wounds and scars run deep. Unless recognized, addressed, and changed, the patterns of behavior repeat themselves from one generation to another.
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.
Anger, like all emotions, has a purpose. It is neither bad nor good on its own. When managed and expressed appropriately, it can be an important ally and friend.
The energy that anger creates can help us make important changes. When used as a motivational force it gives us the motivation to change our lives for the better.
Left unchecked, however, it simmers beneath the surface, ready to explode at any moment. Anger then focuses on everything that is and has been going wrong in our lives. It keeps us from seeing anything good.
It is to our benefit to find out how we acquired an angry-aggressive habitual response before it becomes a wildfire that burns everything in its path.
Anger, guilt or shame can become lingering emotions felt when losses were troubled by difficult circumstances.
We want a quick fix – one we don’t have to work with. Understanding our emotions can help us find a different response.
In my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, there are two appendixes. In Appendix A, “Complex Grief Emotions,” I offer additional information on how to work through anger, guilt, shame and fear. Here is a quick overview of the first three.
We think of losses as something we quickly address and then dismiss. But the more significant the loss, the more the impact it has on every area of our life: social, financial, personal, family, friendships, and our past as well as our future.
Loss asks the question, where do I go from here?
There are many books on the market that speak to that early universal pain. We can experience a multitude of emotions: shock, anger, fear, anxiety, relief, shame, guilt, etc. Our pain will gradually recede as life demands we engage again to pay the bills and feed our families. But little information is offered to help us create a new roadmap moving forward.
Some emotions are more troubling than others, such as anger and hate. If you find yourself constantly feeling angry and resentful you need to explore their origins.
Such strong emotions over time erode your ability to think productively, make good decisions and accomplish your goals. And even more troubling, there are serious consequences to your overall physical and mental health.
How negative emotions start
But where do these underlying and constant feelings of irritation, anger and hatred come from? Why have they become my typical response to life?
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