The idea of healthy anger might seem strange to you. After all, haven’t many of us been taught that anger is inherently a toxic or bad emotion? This is a common misunderstanding. Anger is an important, healthy, and valuable emotion. It’s something we all experience.
However, if not expressed in a healthy way, anger can lead to all kinds of regrettable situations. So how do we express our anger in a way that is healthy for ourselves and the people around us? Listen to my latest podcast, or read the article below, to learn how to harness anger’s energy and intelligence for good and strength in your life.
The four different kinds of anger
Anger, like all our emotions, is an important messenger. As Audre Lorde stated, “Anger is loaded with information and energy.”
It’s our body’s natural reaction when something isn’t right. Anger tells us that something we care about is under threat and it’s saying, “Do something about this!”. Then the body starts mobilising to take action. However, if our response to anger isn’t skilful; if we are not mindful with its expressions, we may unconsciously play out all this mobilised energy and regret it later. Being mentally strong with our anger means finding a way to express it in a healthy way.
Anger can range from faint annoyance to outright rage. Anger can be expressed in four basic ways.
The first three types are unhealthy and unhelpful expressions of anger, whereas assertive anger is the healthy expression of anger. Most people will have an unconscious pattern of consistently playing out one or two of these styles. If you never had healthy anger modelled for you or taught to you, then it’s easy to end up defaulting into the unhelpful styles.
The goal of mental strength training is to move a person from unhealthy expressions of anger into healthy ones. But this is difficult without first getting clear on what unhealthy expressions of anger are. By understanding each type of anger, you can identify them within yourself and shift them. Here are some of the expressions of each style of anger to help you identify them as they play out in your relationships, at work, and in life in general.
Unhealthy expressions of anger
- Tendency to be direct and forceful in communicating points of view. Lacks genuine interest in hearing the other side.
- In conflict, there are quick, heated responses. Voice is often raised.
- Other’s feelings are overlooked in order to move things forward to solve a problem.
- Is quick to point out the flaws or errors of others and use insults.
- Amount of anger is often not proportional to the event.
- May throw things, hit things, or be verbally abusive when angry.
- Often blames others.
A pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them.
- When angry or frustrated, often becomes silent and sullen.
- Says everything is fine when they are actually angry, but then sulks and exhibits negative feelings or hostile attitudes towards others.
- Commonly uses sarcastic, critical or snide comments, or puts people down and complains about them behind their back.
- Tries to get back at people in indirect ways without telling them why they’re upset.
- Resistance to cooperating, procrastination on tasks and refuses to help with tasks knowing it will frustrate the other person.
- Deliberately evades direct conflict. Holds resentments and grudges.
- In direct conflict, stares straight ahead and doesn’t speak much or express true feelings or needs.
- Often blames others.
We know some people express anger by yelling, hitting things, snide remarks, or talking behind other people’s backs. However, some people don’t express their anger at all, and choose to suppress it instead. Here’s how that plays out:
- In conflict, person feels paralysed.
- Tendency not to admit to feeling angry at all (won’t mention when others have done something to upset, anger or hurt them).
- When angry or frustrated, tries to portray themselves as having it all together.
- Resentful or angry thinking occurs, but is never spoken or acted out.
- May not stand up for their own needs, has trouble saying no or asserting healthy boundaries with other people.
It may not be so obvious, but suppressing anger can be harmful. Here are three reasons why:
Suppressing anger can lead to physical stress on the body. Anger is a physiological response to perceived threats, so your body goes into a fight or flight state. In this state, your blood pressure and heart rate increase and your body releases stress hormones, which give you a burst of energy. Frequently suppressing anger can put the body in a prolonged state of stress that can lead to health issues, inflammatory conditions, headaches, digestive issues, sleep problems and hypertension.
It can place stress on our mental health. Bottling up anger and ignoring the issues that caused it can lead to mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, or addiction.
It is also very destructive to relationships. According to the American Psychological Association, people who suppress anger have significant problems in relationships. Suppression can cause you to lose touch with your own needs, values and boundaries and inhibit your ability to be authentic with others.
Healthy expressions of anger
These are appropriate, healthy expressions of anger and helpful ways of addressing conflict.
- When angry or frustrated, person is honest and expresses it in a respectful way without being forceful or meek.
- Doesn’t insist on being right or getting own way. Seeks to resolve conflicts mutually.
- Doesn’t make threats, insults or intimidating remarks and refrains from blaming others.
- Speaks directly to the person rather than behind their back or with indirect hostility or actions.
- Accepts responsibility for own mistakes, flaws and seeks to improve.
- Listens to other opinions without becoming defensive, upset, or angry.
- Asserts their boundaries as needed. Says yes when they mean it and no when they need to. Will stay true to their values and needs and be authentic.
It may sound a bit unnatural at first to be so open and direct about things with others, because it may mean more difficult or awkward conversations. However, the end result is stronger interpersonal relationships, better teamwork, greater authenticity and deeper connection to your values. Anger can serve to keep us focused on our goals and values, and help us stand up and fight injustice and unfairness.
And it’s also an act of self-love. We can use healthy anger as a signal that it may be time to speak up for ourselves or look after ourselves. Or give us what we need to stay safe, happy, and strong. So, it is worth a bit of discomfort.
Most of us haven’t had a good model for anger in our lives, so how do we learn healthier anger? Well in short, practice it.
3 tips for expressing healthier anger starting today
First tip: Journalling. If you feel like you may be prone towards suppressed or passive-aggressive anger, I encourage you to write about anger as it arises in your life. It can be helpful to have a journal just for this topic and use the writing to help you process your frustrations. Keep the journal handy so you can write about your anger as it occurs. Or you could do it at the end of each day.
Second tip: Mindfulness! It’s a helpful practice for developing emotional intelligence. Mindfulness helps you step back from emotions and thoughts and teaches you to manage them more skilfully. It also helps you to become more aware of what triggers your anger. You can then learn to catch yourself before anger takes over, and choose to express your emotions more constructively.
Third tip: Deliberately practice healthy anger. Keep a checklist for healthy anger close by and try to familiarise yourself with it. Put it into practice over and over until it becomes like second nature to you. These are things you can train in, eventually becoming your default mode. I invite you to try practising healthy anger in the week ahead if the opportunity arises. It can be about something large or even a minor irritation, but just try giving it a go.
A final word on healthy anger
Sometimes we are angry for valid reasons, whereas other times we get angry over minor things. Regardless of the reason, it’s important to regulate anger in a healthy way. While yelling, screaming and throwing things isn’t the answer, it is important to learn how to speak up and clearly communicate your boundaries and needs to others.
If you need some extra support dealing with anger, a mental health professional can help you work through it. Or you also might find it helpful to train in becoming mentally stronger over in my 8 weeks mental strength program Headstrong. I hope this has been helpful for you.
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