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Adaptive Anger

Updated: Apr 11, 2022

The topic of the last post was responding to anger constructively. This may seem like an oxymoron, given there may be some unintended conditioning to see anger through the destructive lens. But, like most things, if we "judge" anger at its lowest moment, we will struggle to see it in any other light. So in some ways, anger falls into this category of things we may see only at its lowest point.

According to the APA, adaptive behaviors are "any behavior that enables an individual to adjust to the environment appropriately and effectively." Anger is an emotion that is accompanied by behaviors of some kind passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, or assertive. However, the most helpful behavior improves the outcome or leads to some type of compromise or de-escalation. Conflicts are inevitable but do not have to be a quagmire.

It takes getting used to; the idea anger can be adaptive. You will get angry, and there is no tailor-made response for every episode of anger. Hence the reason to develop a repertoire of self-regulatory skills to manage strong emotions, defuse frustrations, self-soothe, and refocus your attention.

From time to time, when anger is expressed in maladaptive ways, there is no need to spin, rationalize, or justify your behavior. The thing to do is accept your behaviors using what Ray Dalio refers to as "radical truth." You have to be transparent with yourself and others about your behavior. As well as recognizing anger can be cyclical if the thoughts, feelings, and physiological states associated with the anger are not adequately addressed.

Indeed, sometimes we instinctively express anger in aggressive ways; in reality, anger can be an adaptive emotion. There is typically an underlying emotion that predates anger if we consider it. For example, in environments where individuals are verbally, physically, and emotionally abused, they may develop a reactive anger response to protect themselves from what is perceived as a threat.

It is essential to recognize that anger is not the result of some arbitrary response to which someone gets angry without ample evidence for their reaction. Or where the person is finding an isolated detail in a disagreement to get upset about without cause. For instance, think of when you decided you would no longer put up with other people's mistreatment. How did the decision change you and the people's reactions around you? This is another example of using anger adaptively.

Using anger adaptively is learning to recognize the intensity of your emotional arousal when you are triggered by environmental stimuli. Be mindful that you will make mistakes as you adjust to using anger adaptively. Still, mistakes are an opportunity to adapt to what worked in your previous attempt at skillfully managing your anger and building from this place of strength.

Unfortunately, ignoring anger is counterproductive and will likely snowball. So tolerating mistreatment has consequences for you and the unsuspecting person that happens to trigger you in the subsequent anger-provoking situation. So make it a habit to address your angry feelings instead of relying on passive or passive-aggressive behaviors.

Time and patience are crucial to using anger adaptively. In a nutshell, you learn to make new decisions about expressing anger. While understanding the thoughts, feelings, and physiological state you experience when triggered.

Stay Naturally Curious


Potter-Efron, R. (2001). Stop the anger now. A workbook for the prevention, containment, and resolution of anger. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

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