Responding to Anger Constructively
Anger is a healthy emotion; on occasion, we respond to anger provoking-situations in unhealthy ways. When we recognize that anger is neither destructive nor constructive, we can strive toward improved outcomes. Still, our decision during an episode of anger determines the consequences.
We have probably experienced or observed circumstances where unhealthy expressions of anger contributed to estrangement from loved ones, strained interpersonal relationships, feelings of resentment, and hostility. Contrastingly, the constructive expression of anger is associated with psychological well-being, healthy communication, improved problem-solving, and healthy interpersonal relationships.
It is not if we get angry, but when we get angry, are we comfortable with an emotion we typically view as destructive?
Indeed, anger can be destructive, but we can learn to manage and discharge anger appropriately. For example, should we consider anger in the aggression cycle and its three distinct phases, escalation, explosion, and post-explosion. We can acknowledge that we have decisions about our reaction(s). Between the escalation and explosion phases is an opportunity for some type of resolution. This is more accessible if we accept that we are angry and resist the impulse to be aggressive or passive-aggressive.
To use anger constructively, it is beneficial to learn and understand the types of anger and the ways anger is expressed.
Irrespective of the anger-provoking situation, we still have a choice. The choice I’m writing about is not about turning the other cheek, but recognizing your choice may include protecting yourself from a threat. Therefore, we must learn to determine whether the anger-provoking situation poses an immediate threat or is nonthreatening.
Types of Anger
Too often, we are concerned with the negative aspect of anger. We must learn to appreciate that anger can be constructive. For some of us, this may be an enigma. We are socialized to observe angry feelings as destructive and even to be suppressed. Anger can become a problem when experienced too frequently and too intensely.
Many anger management experts view anger as being in two categories temporary anger and trait anger. The former is based on a specific incident. The reaction to this situation is grounded in the person’s perception of the incident. The latter is experienced when the person perceives several threats or frustrations in the immediate environment, and as a consequence experiences several episodes of temporary anger.
An example of temporary anger is you were interrupted in a conversation, and you perceive the interruption as a sign of disrespect. Your reaction in this context will depend on your frustration with the interruption. On the other hand, a trait anger example is you made plans for lunch with a friend that showed up 30 minutes late. Your friend did not call to say she was going to be late. Then, upon arrival at the restaurant, she must make a phone call before ordering. During lunch, she took several calls and responded to text messages. Several specific behaviors in this example speak to the tendency to experience temporary anger.
Expressions of Anger
We express anger in three ways: anger-in, anger-out, and anger control.
Anger-in is the tendency to internalize anger and avoid confrontation. We learn that anger is to be punished. So reflexively, we tend to not acknowledge when we are angry.
Anger-out is an aggressive style of expressing anger.
Anger control is grounded in assertive communication, problem-solving skills, considering the other person’s perspective, and demonstrating a willingness to seek a compromise.
Anger is not an easy emotion to handle for several reasons. First, the response to anger is individualized and, in some instances, subjective, given that we judge angry behaviors in hindsight. However, our previous responses to anger-provoking situations can be a precursor to changing how to deal with anger in the present and future. This is an opportunity to react more positively to frustrations if we tended to respond negatively in the past. If you have a history of reacting appropriately to anger, continue to build on those skills.
Stay Naturally Curious
Arslan, C. (2010). An investigation of anger and anger expression in terms of coping with stress and interpersonal problem-solving. Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice, 10, (1), 25-43.
Wiginton, K., Rhea, D. J., & Oomen, J. (2004). Using the anger response inventory to evaluate the effect of shame and guilt on interpersonal communication skills. American Journal of Health Education, 35 (3), 152-157.