Anger is one of the most powerful, yet misunderstood emotions. One of the major reasons anger has gained a negative reputation is that there is so much misinformation about what anger is, and we tend to hear more about unhealthy expressions of anger.
But anger is a completely normal, healthy emotion, and feeling angry is neither good nor bad. It is how you choose to handle it that makes the difference.
Before you can change the way you think about anger, and the way you act when you’re feeling angry, it can be helpful to dispel any misconceptions about anger you might have.
6 Misconceptions about anger
1. Anger is a ‘bad’ emotion – It’s not bad to feel angry. Anger is a normal, healthy emotion. It’s the way in which we manage it and express it that is important. Many social injustices were fuelled by anger. Emmeline Pankhurst, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Gandhi – they were all angry. But they turned it into positive social reform that made our world a better place. How you choose to handle your anger is the key.
2. Venting your anger lets off steam – Punching your pillow or screaming to your heart’s content doesn’t actually ‘release’ your pent up anger. It turns out that venting your anger in this way actually has the opposite effect. In other words, the more you vent anger in an aggressive manner, the more it reinforces aggressive behaviour. Rather than calming us, it just makes the situation worse – not so healthy and therapeutic after all.
3. Suppressing your anger is better – Suppressing anger isn’t healthy, either. Smiling to cover up your frustration, or allowing others to treat you poorly in an effort to keep the peace can cause your anger to turn inward, leading to stress and other health issues. Also, denying your angry feelings can build up, and can then be projected unfairly onto another person. When in doubt about what to do with your anger, don’t stuff it. Instead, acknowledge its existence and express yourself (in an appropriate manner of course). Counselling can also be effective in helping you achieve lasting results.
The strategies used and resources available enable you to regain happiness and control in life.
4. I can’t help it because I was born this way – People are not born with set, specific ways of expressing anger. Anger is a learned behaviour. For example, if children observe parents expressing anger through aggressive acts, it is very likely that they will learn to express anger in similar ways. Fortunately, this behaviour can be changed by learning new and appropriate ways of expressing anger. It is not necessary to continue to express anger in an aggressive or violent manner. You can choose to express yourself without being verbally or physically abusive.
5. Men are angrier than women – Research consistently shows that women get angry just as frequently and just as intensely as men. They just express it differently. While men are more likely to be aggressive and impulsive in their expressions of anger, women are more likely to use an indirect approach, like withdrawing affection and recruiting allies.
Historically, boys have been encouraged to be more open with their anger, and girls have been encouraged not to – but this is an entirely different discussion on gender socialisation. In any case, anger is not a male or female emotion, as much as a human emotion.
6. Aggression vs assertiveness – Many people confuse assertiveness with aggression. But unlike aggression, assertiveness is a more effective and respectful way of expressing feelings of anger. For example, if you’re upset because a friend is repeatedly late, you could respond by shouting obscenities and name-calling.
This response is an attack on the other person rather than an attempt to address the behaviour that you find anger provoking. An assertive way of handling this situation might be to say, ‘When you’re late, I get really frustrated. I wish you’d be on time more often.’ This approach expresses your feelings of frustration and anger, and communicates how you would like the situation changed.
It does not blame or threaten the other person, and it minimises the chance of causing emotional harm.
It’s important to know the truth about what anger is and what it isn’t. Anger is a normal, healthy, emotion. The best way to deal with anger is to find appropriate ways to express it. Turning anger into something constructive, such as creating positive change or responding assertively, is a useful way to cope with angry emotions. Anger directed appropriately can give way to positive benefits for you and those around you.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg. He is also the editor-in-chief of Psychreg Journal Psychology, and writes a weekly column for Free Malaysia Today.