Updated: Mar 27
Anger is one of the easiest emotions to feel and at times could be our "default" when things are overwhelming, out of our control, and/or don't go as planned. Reacting with anger can be positive (in some situations) and produce negative effects on relationships.
What happens when we get angry?
When we feel anger our brain goes into survival mode, what it was designed to do. Our heart rate can spike to over 100 beats per minute, our palms or other body areas can begin to sweat, we can begin to feel hot, your breath may become shallow, and/or experience trembling or dizziness. Concurrently, adrenaline is released to speed up the process of turning sugar into fuel in your body.
When we have a perceived or real threat parts of our brain shut down that control critical thinking and creative problem-solving - turning on tunnel vision where we cannot take in new information or process things as easy. Our body and brain go into protection: fight, flight, freeze, or faint options are available.
To slow down and/or halt this process takes 20 minutes to self-soothe - be intentional with taking a break from the thought or conversation and do something more enjoyable (take a walk, read a book, take a shower, eat a meal, etc.). Taking a break will allow you to more easily process information and begin to problem-solve. **During the break, do not focus on the issue at hand, it will only keep you in a heightened state.**
Often when we are angry, there are other emotions hidden under the surface.
Identifying the emotion underneath
Becoming aware of when we experience anger can allow us to dig in a little bit deeper to explore: what am I really feeling?
Trigger to a past event
Taking a few seconds (to a day) to determine your underlying emotion can post-pone responding from a defensive stance that keeps us in the fight, flight, freeze or faint mode (aka tunnel vision).
What's the story tied to the emotion?
We can then begin to connect pieces of information that led to this feeling and articulate it to our partner, kids, family member, friend, colleague, etc. to repair the current conversation and/or prepare for future possibilities all while deepening your connection. It could look something like this...
Hey honey, I'm feeling upset right now and I need a moment.
When I was waiting at the restaurant for you to meet me and 5 minutes went by and then 15 minutes went by and you didn't arrive, I lost it.
As I'm thinking about it now, it reminded me of when I was a kid and my dad said he'd pick me up from school and I'd be so excited to see him and 30 minutes to an hour would go by and it felt like I was forgotten about, not important, and it was embarrasing when teachers waited with me.
I'm sorry to have gotten angry with you, it triggered a memory that I had forgotten about and stirred up some mixed emotions that I've surpressed for years. I want to feel important.
Tips for the listener
Beneath everyone's anger is a reason. It can indicate an emotion that needs to be addressed or validated. As a listener in this situation, it can be challenging to see your partner in distress because we don't want them to experience pain or suffering. It can also be difficult to not take it personally and fall into anger yourself. Here are a few tips:
Don't take it personally.
Do not tell them to calm down, this can feel dismissive, contemptuous, or that their feelings are not acceptable which can escalate things further.
Try to stay curious - what's underneath the anger?
Respond with empathy. Ex. "That would make me mad, too.", "Oh wow. That sounds terrible.", or "I'm on your side here."
If the anger constitutes abusive behavior (verbal, mental, or physical) get help through the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Your safety is a priority.
Anger doesn't have to be negative, I've used anger in a way to stay motivated to work on goals. I remember someone who I trusted told me, "You're not good enough". That moment I made it my mission to prove them wrong, it sparked something in me that gives me purpose. Although I was really upset at the time, I knew I had to work through my own stories, heal parts of me that were broken, enhance my communication skills and remove toxic people from my life.
Years later, I'm thankful for this experience because it required me to learn more about myself and decide to continue to choose love.
"I can and I will. Watch me."