Rage, fury, red mist, outbursts, lack of control, violence, temper, threats, attacks. The words we use in association with anger feel as if they should be written in red capital letters. They shout at us from the page. They signify behaviour and feelings which are dangerous and frightening.
Anger is linked with physical attacks, violent incidents, lashing out, inflicting harm. And of course it is true that anger is often the cause of anti-social, criminal actions as well as being at the root of many everyday expressions of uncontrolled feelings.
But anger itself is not a bad thing. It is a feeling, an emotion, a response to circumstances, and as such is neither good nor bad. It doesn’t seem this way when you are in the grip of an overpowering feeling of rage or are at the receiving end of someone else’s uncontrolled outburst. In these circumstances anger is frightening, unpredictable and dangerous. This is not because of the emotion itself, but because of the behaviour it leads to.
Anger is a response which is triggered when we feel we are being threatened. The threat might be to your physical safety or well-being. It could be that your idea of yourself is being challenged. The anger response is an automatic reaction when we sense an attack on ourselves or our property, our possessions, our ideas or values, on people close to or associated with us, on anything that we value as integral parts of our lives and our being.
So your anger is telling you something. When you get that adrenalin hit and your mouth goes dry and your heart starts thumping, you know that a sensitive nerve has been twanged. Own the feeling and acknowledge that your anger has been sparked.
Then pause. Just because you feel like hitting someone, or shouting, or slamming the door, or putting your foot down on the pedal, or running out of the room in tears, doesn’t mean that you have to or that you should. Although you are in the grip of a powerful emotion you still have the power of thought, and you can make a choice.
Choose which route you want your anger to take. There’s a voice in your ear that urges you to go with your instinctive response. That voice is speaking like a sound sensible friend when the situation needs an immediate response, when you need to take physical action to protect yourself or someone else from danger or attack, for example. But in other circumstances the voice is mischievous, telling you to go down a route which is destructive and unhelpful.
Greet your angry response like a friend who wishes the best for you. Something is wrong and you need to deal with it. Take control of your reaction and make a conscious effort to relax your body. Don’t react immediately. You need a bit of time to assess the situation, to identify just what you are angry about, and to decide how to respond.