Anger is one of the most basic human emotions. Our beliefs about anger and the way we relate to the angry part of ourselves is shaped by how others react to our anger when we are growing up. Children often act out their feelings of anger because they don’t have the language to externalise it. The angry behaviour is often met with disapproval (threatening the child’s need to be loved and accepted) or punishment. However, children often misinterpret their parents/teachers stance on this, thinking it’s the feeling of anger that is wrong rather than the behaviour, even more so if parents and teachers don’t clearly distinguish between the two. Children also learn from how their parents manage their own anger so, if a parent externalises their anger with destructive behaviour a child will learn to either mimic that or fear it. Quite often people say, “I’m not an angry person” yet everyone has the capacity to feel anger.
When is anger a problem?
- When it is externalised through destructive behaviours such as shouting, breaking things, violence or revenge.
- When our fear of anger leads us to squash it down until we feel anxious, depressed, invisible and apathetic.
- When our fear of anger leads us to avoid people or situations.
- When it is displaced onto someone or something that hasn’t caused the anger.
- When it becomes another reason to criticise oneself, adding to low self-esteem (which in turn leads to more anger).
- When it significantly affects relationships.
- When it remains internalised and leads to passive aggressive behaviours such as sulking and resistance or being a martyr/ignoring.
Can anger be useful?
Yes. Anger lets us know that something isn’t right for us so, if we are able to recognise and accept the feeling, it helps us to work out what our needs are. It can be a useful form of energy that we can turn into action and resolve to make changes or set boundaries to keep ourselves safe. If we are able to externalise it verbally, telling others what makes us angry, it offers them a chance to understand us better or change something if they choose. This can improve our relationships as we feel we are getting our needs met and others are more able to trust us, that we will be open and honest and that we value the relationship enough to confront difficulties and differences.
How can counselling help?
Counselling can provide a space which is free from judgement in which to explore past and present anger, beliefs about anger and self, what triggers anger and whether the way a person is dealing with their anger is useful in being heard or getting needs met.