Some of us manage our anger too well – not letting it out when it would be valuable to do so. Our anger builds up, stays inside, festering, doing damage.
We have all heard about anger management classes and counseling. They are offered to those who tend to blow up, lose control, even harm others – emotionally or physically. People often come to this type of counseling at the suggestion of others – spouses, employers, courts.
But what about those who never seem to get angry? These are people that conceal their anger – sometimes as a way of life. They may fear their anger, believe that anger is wrong, or not feel confident enough to show their anger.
Unfortunately, if we keep too much anger inside, it can overwhelm us and it will tend to squeak out and be displaced in other areas of our lives.
Anger lets us know something is wrong. The question, however, is what is that “something”? And who is wrong? Are others hindering us in reaching our goals? Or are we stopping ourselves? Do we want something to be different? Are we not getting something we want? Or is the problem in the way we are thinking?
I’ve been in two situations recently that made me angry. I felt like blowing up in each instance. Since I am not very skilled at expressing my anger when it first hits, I would have harmed a few relationships if I had responded right away. So, I sat on the anger. And sat on it. I held onto the anger longer than it was healthy to do so. It was eating me up inside.
In the first situation, I wanted something tangible, I wanted something to change. I worked to suspend my increasing anger long enough in order to refocus on the change I sought. I approached the person I was angry with and calmly and firmly stated what I wanted. I felt better afterwards. I did not get everything I was hoping for and time will tell how things work out, but I had the conversation. I was able to see the other person had valid reasons for doing what she did. I stayed involved in an activity I am interested in – whereas had my anger simmered, I likely would have lost interest in this activity. I was also able to let go of my fantasies that she was evil and out to get me.
In the second situation, I was not seeking a tangible change, but simply looking for hurt feelings to be soothed. As I sat on the anger, it continued to build. In an odd way, I started to embrace the anger and began to enjoy being mad at these people – it helped fulfill some preconceptions of them. The anger grew and became more global. I started thinking of similar people and situations and a prejudice began to grow. My initial anger (a valid reaction to the actions of others) was getting out of control because I had not found a positive way to release it.
I recognized the need to take responsibility for my anger. I was able to let the intensity of the anger go by running a balance sheet in my mind – the amount of time and energy I was wasting did not match up with the importance of the event. But since I did not approach those I was upset with, there remains a residual tension that may “squeak out” in another area of my life – potentially at a time and place I will not want it to. I realize this was not the best solution, but it will suffice for now as I am still working on managing my anger – still learning, still practicing how to respond to such situations.
I would be interested in hearing how you deal with your anger. What are your thoughts on how I dealt with mine?
Reggie E, MSW, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor. Reggie has a master’s degree in Social Work as well as bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and the Comparative Study of Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Prior to a career change to social work, he worked in a variety of fields including banking, trucking and metal fabrication.