Anger is just unexpressed communication – Stacey Huish

Anger is a completely normal, healthy, human emotion. It can range from minor irritations to fully-fledged intense rage. If left unresolved it can get out of control and become destructive. Anger becomes a problem when it creates trouble for you with other people, your work, your health, day-to-day living or the law. Anger is also a problem when people around you are frightened and feel they cannot talk to you or disagree with you in case you become angry.

Anger can be caused by internal or external factors. Internal factors, such as worry or remembering a traumatic time, can trigger angry emotions. External factors, such as being angry at someone in your life, being in a traffic jam, a cancelled flight or the computer breaking down just as you need to use it, can all lead to anger.

Some of the signs that anger is a problem are when:

• It involves verbal, emotional, physical or psychological abuse.
• You feel angry most of the time.
• People close to you are worried about your anger.
• People are scared or frightened to be around you.
• Anger is leading to problems with personal relationships and work.
• You think you have to get angry or threaten people to get what you want.
• Anger seems to be more intense than the event that set it off.
• Anger lasts for a long time, and well after the triggering event has passed.
• Anger is affecting other situations not related to the original event.
• You are becoming anxious or depressed about your anger.
• You are using alcohol or other drugs to try to manage your anger.
• You are getting angry with the people who are closest to you, or with people who are less powerful than you, rather than dealing with the situation that sparked off your anger in the first place.

There are many strategies to try to control your anger. These include trying to:
• Calm down
• Relax
• Take a deep breath
• Count to 10
• Meditate
• Do some yoga
• Think of something positive
• Visualise

Have you ever used any of these techniques when you are feeling angry? Do they work? These strategies may have worked for a short while and, yes, you may feel less angry for a little while. However, none of these strategiess address the underlying problem. They have just enabled you to avoid dealing with the very thing that is making you angry. After you have tried all these things, you still feel angry at the person or the situation.

These actions are great when you are not feeling angry. However, when you are angry, you need to express how you feel in a way that is appropriate. This is when an I-message can be used. This means you tell the other person how you are feeling and what is making you angry in a way that does not hurt them physically or emotionally.

In many cases, intense anger can be prevented by expressing your annoyances, frustrations, hurts and embarrassments as they happen.

Anger can be compared to a volcano.

The vent at the top is where all of the built up anger comes out, usually in a full blown rage. If you have ever seen pictures of volcanoes you will have noticed they have side vents. These vents are where the lava runs out when pressure is building up inside the volcano. Like us, when we have our own annoyances, frustrations, fears, hurts, rejections, resentments, embarrassments, pressures, and powerlessness, if these feelings of anger are not released through one of the side vents they get blocked and then we explode, we become so angry that our own volcano erupts. Someone who is constantly angry needs to re-open the other vents so more appropriate feelings can be expressed. This is where I messages can help.

By expressing some of your feelings of anger in a controlled way, rather than bottling them up, it will give you an opportunity to release some of your underlying feelings, so that you can start to tackle the issues that are making you angry.

Harriet Lerner, in her book The Dance of Anger says that while feeling angry alerts us to the fact that we own a problem and gives us the energy to do something, it does not in itself explain what the problem is. This is why Lernor suggests that, rather than giving vent to anger, we need to feel it and discover what the problems that cause it are. Recognising the feelings which produce the anger signal means you can send even clearer, more concrete I Messages.

For example, let’s imagine you have arrived late for a meeting at work. Your boss says: ‘I feel really angry when you arrive so late.’ The message tells you about the force of their feeling, but it doesn’t actually tell you what they feel.

Compare it with an I message explaining ‘I feel really worried about whether I’m going to get through all the material when we start so late’or ‘I’m getting very frustrated with having to stop and start so often’. It’s easier to want to help someone who is worried or frustrated then someone who is angry because (a) you know more about what’s causing their problem, (b) you can hear the feelings as inside them rather than ‘about you’.

A parent who has trouble with their children running around the supermarket while shopping will get a better response by explaining ‘I feel embarrassed about the people staring at me’, rather than ‘I feel angry that you are running around’.

We will never be able to eliminate anger altogether —and frankly, it wouldn’t be a good idea if you could. In everyday life, things will happen that will cause you anger; and sometimes it will be justifiable anger. Life will be filled with frustration, pain, loss, and the unpredictable actions of others. You can’t change that; but you can change the way you let such events affect you. Controlling your angry responses can keep them from making you more unhappy in the long run.