Five Qualities of Healthy Anger
Updated: Sep 17, 2021
This post explores anger and five qualities for expressing it in a healthy way. This isn't about avoiding our anger, but about discovering and working through its root. Specifically, regarding anger's effects to relationships. This post is based on information from a podcast (#323) by Multiamory.
1. Express not Suppress
As with any emotion, we have to give ourselves the space to feel and express them in a healthy way. This means not ignoring it or brushing it off. We need to create the space to work through the root of our emotions. Anger is coming from somewhere, and perceived as a threat our brain hijacks things and throws us into a state of fight or flight, leading to unhealthy ways of coping with the situation.
This can look like: depression, anxiety, passive aggression, substance abuse, or inappropriately redirecting anger. We also might look for an outlet for the feeling that isn’t the best response to what is causing the emotion such as xenophobia, homophobia, radicalized religious beliefs, or conspiracy theories.
Emotions are not a pressure cooker waiting to explode. When we react in hurtful ways, it feels as a switch has been flipped. Our bodies send multiple ques to tell us we’re feeling an emotion. These can easily be missed without awareness, it can be helpful to slow down and notice the ques. Things like: heart rate, sweating, stomach nausea.
Emotions come fast, but we still have the power to slow it down and chose our reaction. This might take time and practice, but it’s possible to cope with emotions in new ways. Remember, it’s ok to feel, it’s just an emotion.
2. It is safe for you and other
Feeling angry doesn’t mean doing angry. Anger isn't necessarily dangerous. It can be safe to be around our anger. For this section, it’s important that you are not hurting yourself or others.
As said above, what we’re feeling is different than what actions we choose to display. Displaying anger may leave people feeling unsafe and unsure if their emotions are valid. Knowing our bodies ques and behaviors can help to slow things down. It's ok to take a timeout when we notice ourselves feeling our anger getting out of control (emotionally flooded). It's smarter to take pause sooner than later.
How to take a pause:
Communicate with your partner your emotional state and that you need a break to calm down.
20 minutes – 1 hour is shown to be enough time to for a pause.
During this time, don’t go cope with drugs or alcohol.
Use this time to explore why you’re upset (run through these 5 sections).
Make sure you do come back to talk about things, and your own role in it.
What is our anger trying to tell us and what do we want to do about it?
Once we know what our anger is telling us we can communicate it to our partner. When we are angry, it often masks what we truly feel or need. It's important to take a step back and look what at we are telling ourselves. Take a moment to look at your internal and external experience to help break down what is coming up when angry and what you are truly upset about.
Internal experience: shame trigger, past trauma or abuse, social massages (race, religion, sexuality)
External experience: need not being met (time, care help from a partner), unrecognized boundary, frustration of something not communicated to a partner (longing)
When taking the timeout, use it to work thru what your anger is saying. You may find things coming up for you that are hard to work through. This is where therapy is beneficial.
4. Contains Empathy for yourself and others
This does NOT apply to a relationship where a person is intentionally causing harm.
Empathy towards yourself:
This is NOT letting yourself off the hook for being shitty. This IS understanding that we made a mistake and owning that mistake. Don’t beat yourself up with hindsight of what happened in the past. We want to be aware and take time to grown and learn what to do differently next time.
Let’s take a look at the role anger plays in out self-directed shame or guilt. This may come from having failed in a relationship, career, self-destruction, or by not living within our chosen value system. We don't want to get stuck in a toxic cycle directed by shame or guilt. By gradually letting go of harsh and critical judgments of ourselves, we can work to end the cycle. Click here to learn more
Empathy towards others:
Take a second to think about the person who pissed you off. You can hold onto the anger instead of letting go, or you can take the time to work through the different areas of this post. We have to make space for their autonomy, their flaws, and their own set of values.
They are their own person and may make decisions that you don’t like. If it’s reoccurring, you have to either accept their differences (values) or get out of the relationship. You don’t have to stay in a relationship. It does us a disservice to sit waiting for someone to change in the ways we want them too. We may just not be compatible with someone as you both have very different values.
5. Results in responsible actions
We have to own our actions. This means turning to our partner to acknowledge that you may have done damage during an angry outburst. Even if your intent wasn’t to hurt, you may have caused harm. A relationship that’s dominated by conflict and anger is not serving either person in its current form, so do something about it.
Examples of responsible actions:
Setting a boundary: work on enforcing the boundary in health ways. This could be saying “no”.
Working though things in therapy: Introspection can lead to a self-actualization and you might need extra support during the journey. It's ok to share with your partner but don’t put the role of therapist on them in the relationship.
Repair with your partner: We want to clearly express ourselves and to be collaborative with our partners. Use "I" statements to be short and specific to share about the root of your anger. Your partner may not agree, and might take some time to come to an agreement, but remember: it's not you vs your partners, it's us vs the problem.
How can therapy help?
Therapy can help make changes in ourselves or as a couple. As written above, the introspection may bring up things that we don’t know how to work through. It s ok to ask for help working through anger to better understand ourselves.
If you are interested in therapy, I am located in the KC metro for in person session or telehealth services.