10 Myths About Anger

Just the word “anger” is enough to evoke fear in people. As a society we fear anger. As children we are taught to fear and avoid anger.

But every person will experience anger occasionally or frequently.

Anger is an emotion that serves an important purpose. This is because Anger is a secondary emotion that always has an underlying primary emotion.

You may be angry because you are afraid, frustrated, sad, or feeling threatened. There are many emotions that can underly anger.

Anger helps you to cope with the underlying emotions. It can help you to take action to protect yourself, to make a decision, to problem solve, to set goals you wish to achieve, to take action to remove threats from your life.

When might anger be a problem?

When the underlying emotions are ones caused by trauma anger can become problematic.

When others fear your anger and try to shut you down, this can escalate your anger and make the situation worse. Sadly this happens often because there is a lot of ignorance and fear around anger.

I watched a receptionist in a doctor surgery try to shut down a client who was calmly expressed his frustration at waiting an hour to see the doctor. Instead of acknowledging how frustrating it was for him, she ignored his words and changed the subject. Not surprisingly the man became angry. The receptionist then branded him as difficult and a problem instead of recognising her contribution to the situation.

This receptionist, like many people, was ignorant about anger and healthy communication.

The role of healthy communication in resolving anger

It is really distressing to see how people’s ignorance about anger and healthy communication causes so much trouble. This is something I am so passionate about that I am currently putting together an on line course on peaceful communication which addresses this issue.

In the interim, what are some of the myths around anger?

Myth 1 Anger is inherited.

That is only true in that we all have the capacity to express anger. It is innate to us as human beings.

We do learn how to approach anger from our parents and those around us growing up but we do not inherit “anger” from our parents.

Myth 2 Anger and aggression are the same thing.

This is one of the reasons people fear anger. Because they believe that anger is aggression. Anger is an emotion. You feel it.

Aggression is a behaviour. Sometimes we become aggressive because we are angry. But at other times we don’t. An angry person is just as likely to use healthy methods of expressing their anger without needing to become aggressive.

Research into aggression that results from anger suggests that there are three factors that cause aggressive anger. These factors are:

• Initiation events, where something has happened to set off anger. This can range from someone being rude to you, being cut off in traffic, or finding out your partner has been having an affair.

• Triggering event, where something impels you to become aggressive. It may be a release of hormones in response to a fight or flight response. It may be a belief that the behaviour you have been subjected too is really wrong and must be defended. It may also be that in our society expects us to react aggressively to the triggering event. An example of that is to hit someone back when they hit you.

• Inhibiting factors, where factors in your life reduce the likelihood of you behaving aggressively. This may be that aggression in this instance is socially unacceptable, or fear of negative consequence, or the opportunity to step away from the situation and take perspective.

Myth 3 Other People Make Me Angry

Other people can be irritating and difficult to ignore, but your behaviour is your responsibility. It is your choice how you are going to respond. Often, walking away from a situation to get some space and perspective is a good way to decide your response. And if you are still angry, that space can give you the opportunity to decide how you will respond to that person in a helpful way.

Myth 4 It is better to let anger out than hold it in.

Although it is true that suppressing anger and ignoring it is harmful, giving in to anger without any control is also harmful.

As I mentioned with Myth 3, it is often better to walk away to give yourself space to process your feelings and decide how you are going to respond to them.

When my youngest son was in Year 1, he had a mentally unwell teacher who decided to teach all the boys in the class to hit pillows when they felt angry. I was angry to learn this. Researchers have found that hitting something when angry sets the person up to react to anger by hitting something every time they are angry. Each time the person hits something the reaction of hitting is reinforced and leads to an expectation that hitting is an acceptable response to anger.

This unwell teacher was teaching the boys in the class unhealthy ways of dealing with anger.

In my anger, I sat down and researched this technique. Then, armed with the information, I made an appointment with the teacher and the principal and sat down and expressed my concerns about this teaching and showed my evidence of its harmful impacts. The result was that the teaching was terminated, the principal realised the teacher needed help and she took time off to attend to her mental health, and a new teacher taught the boys healthy ways to attend to anger.

Holding in anger is problematic but letting it out in an unregulated way is also problematic.

Learn to be curious about your anger. Learn to explore ways you can attend to the problem, if it needs attending to. Allow your anger to guide the way you attend to the problem in a healthy way.

Myth 5 I can get what I want and be respected by using anger, aggression and intimidation.

Although it is true that people, including adults, are frightened of bullies, this doesn’t mean they respect them. It also doesn’t mean you will get what you want by bullying others. Some people may fear a bully, but others will stand up to you. And if an adult uses aggression and intimidation with others they are more likely to face serious criminal charges.

The best way to earn the respect of others and get what you want is to be respectful of others. By communicating with others, which includes listening to them as well as telling them your needs, you are more likely to have an outcome you can be happy with. And you will also be more likely to experience healthy relationships with other people which will feel safer and more comfortable than always having to be alert to use aggression and intimidation.

Myth 6 Anger only affects certain “types” of people.

There are many who believe that people of certain ages, genders, socioeconomic status, education levels, nationalities or religious beliefs are the only ones who become angry. Of course in this belief aggression is seen as being the same thing as anger.

The truth is anger is experienced by everyone. It is an emotion and we all feel emotions.

Sometimes the stressors in your life can make you more likely to act out your anger, but there is no one group of people more likely to experience anger than others.

Myth 7 I can’t control my anger.

This can be a frightening belief.

It is true that sometimes people who have experienced trauma in their past can be triggered to react with behaviours that may include feeling the emotion of anger with sometimes an aggressive expression of that anger.

But it is possible to learn strategies to control the way that anger is expressed. In the short term these strategies can be employed. In the long term working with a counsellor to identify and treat those triggers will be really helpful.

Myth 8 I say what I really mean when I am angry.

Although it is true that when angry people can say things to others without filtering the words they use, it is not necessarily what they actually believe that is spoken. Uncontrolled angry outbursts are more about winning the argument and controlling the situation than speaking the truth. When people express their anger they are usually more likely to say things that are designed to hurt the other person.

Myth 9 It is healthy for me to speak my mind when I am angry.

There is a belief, and a very attractive belief, that if you are upset or angry about something you need to speak out about it. The belief states that if you don’t tell people at the time of the anger inducing incident you will dwell on it and become angrier later. Then you will say worse things than you might have at the time.

The trouble with that belief is that when you are feeling angry you are less likely to be perceiving the situation in a realistic way. You may perceive other people are behaving in uncaring or provocative ways when in fact they are not. You may perceive the words spoken to you as being worse than they might seem when you have calmed down and had a chance to reflect on them.

In myth 4 I related the story of my son being taught by his teacher to punch a pillow when he was angry. I related that I was angry when I learned about this. But what I did with that anger was to make a decision to approach this issue in a productive way. I wanted this faulty teaching to stop. I decided that a more effective way to stop this was to present my case with the teacher and principal. I could have decided to speak my mind, but it would not have led to as successful an outcome as me stepping back and waiting until I was more in control of my emotions.

How many times have you spoken your mind when angry then wished in a calmer moment that you hadn’t said those things?

Myth 10 Men are angry, women are much calmer.

That old myth about boys being made of slugs and snails and puppy dog tails and girls being made of sugar and spice and all things nice!

Everyone gets angry. Everyone expresses their anger.

Men are more likely to express their anger in a more aggressive, acting out way but this is more due to cultural conditioning.

Cultural conditioning has taught women that they must be more constrained. Women are more likely to make comments about things, talk negatively about the other person, or even cut off contact with them. When women do act out in a more aggressive way they are often sanctioned more heavily by society than men because they are behaving in a way that is seen as being culturally inappropriate.

To summarise

When people use the word angry they are often referring to the acting out of anger when people may yell, say hurtful things, become aggressive etc. That is a behaviour that may be exhibited when a person is angry. It is not the totality of anger.

Anger is an emotion that does not necessarily lead to any of those behaviours. Many people who feel angry may absent themselves from a situation and take steps to calm down and explore their anger and what they really want.

Why am I feeling angry?

Maybe you are feeling angry because:

• you felt ignored,

• your hurt or pain was ignored,

• the other person’s behaviour led you to feel you didn’t exist,

• you felt afraid,

• you felt frustrated,

• you were disappointed.

• And so on.

What can I do about my anger?

There are many things you can do. You can seek counselling. Another is to participate in a course on communication and conflict. Later this year I will be releasing a course in Peaceful Communication. If you would like to be notified when that is ready you can subscribe to my newsletter and other communications on http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your anger and its underlying causes, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz