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Can Your Anger Be Your Strength?

Steven Losardo, AMFT

You may have seen a lot of anger as of late, but did you know it can be a strength? You probably did not, as only about 13 percent of those who admit to serious trouble controlling anger get help (Barnhill, 2015). Anger is a range of frustration to severe fury. The emotion is also understood as a state of readiness and results from a sense of injustice (Clinton & Langberg, 2011). This feeling can also highlight a sense of “being blocked,” this can result in very good information about what anger is telling us (Gottman, 2017). One common reason that people seek therapy is that anger has led to unhealthy behavior. They have the information from the emotion; however, the action is maladaptive. 

The causes of anger can vary and are responses to something external such as an insult or abandonment. The reasons can be internal due to destructive thinking about everyday life issues or biologically rooted. One example is when we are too agreeable and forgo a healthy expression of our needs. Primarily the lack of assertiveness and results in suppressing the anger. When we are not assertive in sharing our needs, it can build a conflict-avoidant capability and aggression capacity. 

As we lack assertiveness, we can start to let others “push us around” or build a false narrative that “people push us around.” The consequences across time are that we do not stand up for ourselves well enough and get taken advantage of by others. A downward trajectory begins and can cause us to forget what is the reason we are angry. As we lack assertiveness, other people take advantage, and we put our necessities aside, fear creeps in. The fear tells us the anger will get too big. Even envisioning what we would want to have will make it impossible EVER to manage. 

The fear can also cause us to stonewall the emotion to avoid erupting. To others, it looks like we do not care, but we know if we say something, our internal volcano will erupt. Even worse, we have seen our anger or someone else’s show up as manipulation, violence, intimidation, threats, or betrayal. Growing up, we may have messaging or conclusions of our own that “we hold the anger in and maintain our composure. Anger is bad ALL THE TIME.” The ambiguity of it all can seem like a stronghold manages the operation, removing all clarity to specify a need. Our life mission statement is to suppress and protect at all costs. In the process, we have lost our identity.

As this plays out in our life, there are other costs to consider for ourselves and others. The suppression of anger does not address problems constructively. It causes us to lose the ability to make decisive actions that maintain self-respect and show respect to others. As repression leads to the anger remaining present, it can lead to emotional and physical issues such as depression or hypertension.  If this sounds familiar, keep reading the blog. I will review some tips on the navigation of the recognition of anger and assertiveness. The blog will also illustrate how to begin to take a step to a healthy response.  

Take a Step Back

Your anger’s internalization is well known to you by now. What is uncertain is what it is all about and what to do about it. Try to focus your attention away from the anger. Then think about the costs of not pursuing what you want, and ask, “What is causing [me] to lack assertiveness?”

  •       You may learn that suppressing and saying, “I should be able to put up with it” or “I wish I weren’t so angry” is not working (Petersen, 2017). Biologically, your heart has put you on notice as your blood pressure has been high for years, and more recently, you have a diagnosis of anxiety (Barnhill, J. A. 2005). Psychologically, your anger’s internalization is now toxic, showing up at odd times, and disproportionate to situations.
  •       Know your Triggers (Barnhill, J. A. 2005) 

o   Begin to recognize warning signs and list them. Until you can control your anger, avoid these.

  1.     Become aware of when the anger feels minor and before it is out of control.
  2.     Check-in physically, as this is often the first warning sign. You may be tensing muscles, rising blood pressure, or clenched fists.
  •       Develop strategies for integrating aggression, then develop a plan to approach conversations more securely by practicing being assertive (Petersen, 2017).

o   Review other options (Petersen, 2017).

  • Getting right to this, you may have to put up with the situation and do not have options. Life is hard, but this is fertile ground if you choose.
  • Start thinking about what it would mean to move on to something better, and build a strategy. Be creative and figure out a plan. Suppose it is a job situation, you may need the training for new skills first before moving on.
  •       Get advice, a support group, and an accountability partner (Barnhill, J. A. 2005) 
  •       Practice being assertive

Assertiveness Example:

Suppose you are the one they ask to stay late to finish every “important” project for the past three years. It has cost you a lot of time with your family you will never get back. You have been angry about this situation for some time. At the same time, there is an appreciation that work has this trust in you. Each time, you envision a conversation with your manager about how things need to change. In the last one, you got this sense that there is this capacity for destructiveness when resentment shows up (Petersen, 2017). Later that night, knowing how angry you can become is terrifying. Not only do these fantasies exist, but there is bottled up anger that has been showing up in other areas of life (Barnhill, J. A. 2005). Being assertive is now on the table.

Step One: Review A Check-List

  •       Review the question, “what is causing a lack of assertiveness?”
  •       Accept responsibility for your part, and it will promote a decrease in blame or criticism and decrease depression due to anger.
  •       Know what you will tell your manager about what will happen if they don’t adjust. Know what you will do if you get a “no.” Do you leave? If there are valid reasons you cannot go, begin to review options (Petersen, 2017).
  •       Gut check the need for other options and review process. Can you negotiate in the power structure? Are you dealing with someone disagreeable? If so, begin to lay your options out. If you do not have a choice, start thinking about what you may need to move on (Petersen, 2017).
  •       What makes this so important to you? Maybe you realize that over the past five years, you have aged twenty. You are stuck in your cul-de-sac of taking your anger underground, and you know this. The harmless citizen who looks virtuous on the surface cannot tolerate the darker parts of the anger’s character (Petersen, 2017).
  •       What is your evidence for the conversation?

Step Two: Practicing Being Assertive

“Assertiveness is the ability to express your feelings and ask for what you want in your relationship (Olson & Olson, 2019). You try sharing how you feel and ask clearly and directly for what they want. Take responsibility for your message, use constructive requests, be positive and respectful, and use “I” statements and not “You” (Olson & Olson, 2019).

  •       “I’m feeling out of balance as I have been the only one who stays late to complete projects. While I love this job and being here, I also want to spend time with my family. I would like us to find some time to talk about this” (Olson & Olson adapted, 2019).

References

Barnhill, J. A. (2005). She’s Gonna Blow!: Real Help for Moms Dealing with Anger. Harvest

House Publishers.

Clinton, T., & Langberg, D. (2011). The quick-reference guide to counseling women. Baker

Books.

Gottman, J.  (2017). Level 1 Clinical training manual: Gottman method couple

therapy. Seattle, WA: The Gottman Institute Inc.

Olson, D. H., & Olson, A. K. (2019). PREPARE/ENRICH program: version 2017. Preventive

approaches in couples therapy, 196-216.

Peterson, J. (2017). Anger is Toxic. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j

trgmm6jOE on January 25, 2021.

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