How to Communicate your Anger

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Communication

Communication (Photo credit: P Shanks)

In an earlier post, I discussed how anger is a spectrum of emotions. Anger can be mild like annoyance or strong like rage. We can choose to act out our anger by behaving aggressively or doing things that aren’t appropriate. Or we can express our anger in an assertive, non-aggressive way to let go of it and move forward. How we communicate our anger is on a spectrum just like anger itself is. Anger can be communicated four ways: passive, passive-aggressive, assertive or aggressive.

The Four Communication Styles

Passive

When people adopt a passive communication style, they avoid talking about their feelings. Feelings like anger can build up when a person uses a passive communication style. These people take letting go of things to an extreme. The problem is that they don’t really let go of their anger. They just don’t express it. They tend to let people walk all over them without ever speaking up for themselves. Sometimes, people who use a passive communication style, let their anger build up so much that in time, they explode. They either take their anger out on themselves or they become aggressive until the anger dissipates.

Passive-Aggressive

People who use a passive-aggressive communication style, seem to be passive on the surface. They don’t openly express anger but find subtly ways to express it. They have difficulty expressing their anger so they try to hide it. But it may come through in their facial expressions which don’t match what they are saying. For example, they may smile even though their tone of voice seems angry. They may use sarcasm as a way to secretly express anger. They may even try appear helpful but will disrupt things or will find a way to sabotage something without people knowing.

Assertive

People who are assertive stand up for themselves without taking away the rights of others. They may let you know that you did something that they felt angry about but at the same time are respectful of the other person’s right to make their own choices. They don’t blame others for the feelings. They realize that they can disagree with someone without being disrespectful or aggressive. They defend their right to their beliefs without denying another person’s right to their beliefs. People who use this style of communication use “I statements.” An “I statement” is when you say “I feel _______ when you _______.” This form of expressing feelings makes the person less defensive because you aren’t blaming the other person for your feelings. Assertiveness is the healthiest form of communication which leads to mature communication of the person’s needs and feelings while dealing with problems as they arise.

Aggressive

People who use an aggressive style of communication express their feelings and opinions but do not consider the other person’s feelings. They are controlling. They try to dominate or humiliate others. They criticize others and don’t listen to the other person’s side. They are rude and tend to blame or attack others. They say things like “you made me feel angry,” or “you are the problem.” This makes the other person feel they have to defend themselves. They may act in a threatening manner. They may use a loud, overbearing tone of voice to get their point across.

Of the four communication styles, assertive communication is the healthiest and will lead to the most positive outcomes. People who assertive themselves will express their anger in a healthy way without hurting others. People who are aggressive might get their way sometimes but it is only at the expense of others and they will continue to be angry. Passive people rarely get their needs met because they fail to speak up and admit they have feelings such as anger. Passive people will continue to be angry as it builds up inside because they fail to face it head on. Passive-aggressive people may believe they are getting their way but it is also at the expense of others and they ultimately end up angrier.

The Spectrum of Anger: From Annoyance to Rage

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Annoyance, Frustration, Anger, Rage

English: A metaphorical visualization of the w...

English: A metaphorical visualization of the word Anger. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I like to think of anger as being part of a spectrum of feelings. This means the feelings are similar but vary in degree. Annoyance would be the lowest and mildest form of anger. Annoyance might be experienced when there is a long line at the store or we are running late for an appointment. I think frustration is the next form of anger up the ladder. We often get frustrated when things don’t go the way we want or expect. You might get frustrated when the kids are fighting or you spill something on a new shirt. Next up the ladder is anger. Anger is much stronger and longer lasting than annoyance or frustration. Anger is felt when something that means more to us doesn’t go the way we want. You might feel anger if your spouse cheats on you or you feel threatened in some way. The last rung of the ladder is rage. Rage is the most powerful and most difficult to overcome. Once your anger reaches this level, it is hard to stop it and calm yourself. You might feel rage if a loved one is hurt or killed by someone.

The spectrum of anger can include many other emotions as well. Emotions like disgruntled, irked, mad, fuming, irritated, etc. could be included in a spectrum of anger. We could go on and on discovering emotions that might fit the spectrum. Many of the other emotions are similar to the four I chose. For the purposes of this article, I narrowed the list down to four main forms of anger.

Why Do We Get Angry?

Anger can literally ruin lives. People sometimes do horrible things out of anger. People abuse their spouses, their children, even the family pet all because they feel anger. However, anger, like many emotions, serve some primal purpose. Anger is a product of our fight or flight response. When we encounter a threat, it is important to feel anger so we can fight when it is called for in certain situations.

But we rarely find ourselves in truly threatening situations in our society. The problem is that we perceive situations as threatening when they really aren’t. Driving down the road, someone cuts us off and we feel threatened. This situation isn’t really threatening (as long as you didn’t crash) but we perceive it as so. Perceiving situations as threatening triggers our fight or flight response. In turn, we feel anger, fear, anxiety and other “negative” emotions which are designed to force us to action.

What Determines the Level of our Anger?

Whether we feel annoyance, frustration, anger or rage is determined by how much we are personally affected by whatever triggered the anger. You are obviously going to feel anger or rage if your life is threatened. If you spill some milk, you are more likely to feel mere annoyance or frustration.

However, some people can explode into a fit of rage over something as simple as spilled milk. I think these people perceive even small things like spilled milk as being much larger than they actually are. They take something like this as a personal attack on themselves. They think things like, “this always happens to me,” or “the world is against me.” Personalizing a trivial annoyance can turn it into rage.

Sometimes lower levels of anger like annoyance and frustration turn into anger over time too. We want things to go a certain way and they don’t. Or things just seem to be going wrong. The kids are screaming. The phone keeps ringing. You’re broke. Your car breaks down. You’re having a bad day. When all these things happen and aren’t properly dealt with, they pile up. These normal every day stressors are suddenly perceived as something much bigger than they are individually. We get annoyed and frustrated with the way things are going. When enough annoyances and frustrations pile up, it can turn to anger or even rage.

Then there is anger that is justifiable. You have every reason to be angry. Someone does something to you that is really wrong. They hurt you either emotionally,  physically, financially, etc. You believe you should be angry at them. Remember, the more anger affects you personally, the more it rises up the ladder from annoyance to rage.

Finally, there is rage, anger at its most intense level. Your anger has gone beyond the point of no return and become something bigger and more powerful than you. People often describe rage as “seeing red.” When in a state of rage,  you body produces large amounts of adrenalin and other hormones. Symptoms of rage include a perception that time slows down, extra physical strength, increased heart rate, tunnel vision, muffled hearing and shaking. The person can be unable to think rationally and may act impulsively. This combination of impulsiveness and a lack of rational thought can lead to violence.

Tips for Managing Anger

  • Discover what has triggered the anger. Ask yourself if you felt threatened. Is it a real or perceived threat? Could your anger be a product of fear? Frustration? Stress? Anxiety?
    • Real threat – Remove yourself from the situation and get help.
    • Perceived threat – Realize that you are not in any real danger so there is no real reason to be angry.
    • Fear – Take action to calm your fears.
    • Frustration – Talk out your frustrations with someone and find solutions to your problems.
    • Stress – Use relaxation techniques.
    • Anxiety – Stay in the present moment.
  • Take a few deep breaths.
  • Remind yourself that life is full of ups and downs and that things will always get better at some point.
  • Deal with even small annoyances and frustrations right away so they don’t build up in your mind and turn into something big.
  • Try not personalize annoyances and frustrations. If you perceive them as personal attacks, you’re more likely to feel anger or rage.
  • Be grateful for the good things in your life.
  • Take time to use relaxation techniques every day (journaling, talk about your problems, meditate, pray, yoga, etc.).
  • Realize that the anger is hurting you not the object of your anger.
  • Make a conscious decision to let go of your anger.
  • Forgive the person with whom you are angry. You don’t have to do this for them but to free yourself of the anger.
  • Try to see the other person’s side.
  • When someone has done something to you that is wrong, you can assert yourself without being angry and aggressive.
  • Setting firm boundaries with people will let them know what you believe is acceptable and what is not acceptable. When someone crosses a boundary, you can assert yourself without anger or aggression.

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