UNDERSTANDING YOUR ANGER
Feeling hot under the collar? It may have an upside!
When we think of positive emotions, anger usually isn’t the first one that comes to mind. But can it actually be good for us? Clinical psychologist Tamara Cavenett, president of the Australian Psychological Society, says yes, but only under certain circumstances. “What I really encourage everyone to consider is that no emotions are necessarily bad,” she explains. “All emotions are designed to have certain outcomes. In the case of anger, a really positive side is that it motivates you.”
This could be defending yourself if you’re being mistreated, or speaking up against social injustice. “It can make you assert your needs, let people know how you feel [and] create some really positive change,” Cavenett says.
While anger can be positive, aggression is not a good thing. Anger might become a problem if it’s impacting on your daily life, or people around you have expressed their concerns. Other signs include frequent outbursts or distress, health problems, relationship issues and moments of regret.
At its worst, anger can lead to violence and physical injury. People may also become withdrawn, or try to self-medicate with alcohol and other drugs. “There’s moments where you know anger is unhealthy, it’s unhelpful and potentially can be quite damaging,” Cavenett says.
Suppressing anger can work for or against you. The key is to ask yourself if it’s helpful or not. “If you bottle things up and that just makes you explode later, I’d say it’s unhelpful,” Cavenett says. “If you found that by distracting yourself it’s not bothering you as much later, I would say it ended up being helpful.”
Venting can also be good or bad. “It’s really individual,” adds Cavenett. “If you were venting to a friend and it didn’t have any specific consequence for you and you felt better afterwards, it might be positive.”
On the other hand if you’re raging at someone in a way that’s hurting your relationship, that’s probably unhelpful.
Remember, anger can mask other underlying feelings, such as fear, hurt or depression. “A really classic example of that is if you have a child that tries to cross the road,” Cavenett says. “Instead of responding with fear, you get quite angry in response to the fear you’re feeling underneath. I’ll often encourage people to look at what’s going on and how they really feel.”
If someone has angered you, Cavenett says take a step back and see if you still feel that way in 24 hours. “That’s a really good measure of whether something needs to be said,” she explains.
Next, take account of any underlying emotions. Are you angry your partner never does the dishes or are you hurt because you think they don’t care? It’s also important to consider your ultimate goal. This can be what you want to achieve from the argument, but also how you want to maintain the relationship.
Lastly, make sure you have a clear picture of how you want to feel about yourself at the end of the argument. “This will usually keep you in check by behaving in a way that makes you feel like you can respect yourself,” explains Cavenett. “That’s often achieved by asserting your needs, but by doing so in an appropriate way.”
WHAT IF SOMEONE IS ANGRY AT YOU?
“When someone’s angry with us, we often come in trying to defend ourself and it’s usually the first moment that things go awry,” Cavenett says.
Poor communication can make the situation worse, so try to understand why the other person feels the way they do – and make it clear you’re listening.
“Sometimes it’s about letting someone know how you feel,” says Cavenett. “It may not change something but you feel better for having expressed it.”
If you think you or someone else has anger issues, consult your GP who can refer you to a mental health professional. If you're concerned about domestic violence, call the domestic violence hotline 1800 RESPECT or 1800 737 732