Noah M. Collins, M.S.

Anger has got a bad rap. It is often associated with hurting people, violence, and a number of other negative consequences. But is this often misunderstood emotion really all bad? Does it only lead to destruction and negativity? I would propose that the answer to these questions is "no." Anger is a natural human experience and it has the potential to be a positive force in our lives as well as a harmful one.

First off, our anger can provide the motivation we need to reach difficult goals. Our frustration with the barriers in our way can fuel our determination to overcome them. Anger can also help us resolve interpersonal problems. Anger is a part of almost every relationship and when it is expressed in an honest and non-threatening way, it can lead to greater feelings of intimacy and trust. Anger can actually lead to the growth and development of the relationship. Anger can also give us a burst of energy and courage when we are in dangerous or emergency situations.

So, how do we avoid the negative consequences that can come of anger and head towards these more positive outcomes? Something that we often forget, especially when we are enraged, is that we have choices about what we do with our anger. We may not have much of a choice about whether we feel anger, but we do have choices about what actions we take in its expression. The key, of course, is figuring out a way to make the choices that can lead to a positive outcome.

There is a three step process that may be helpful. The first step is to try to CALM DOWN when you realize that you are angry. Try taking several deep breaths, concentrating on the air going in and out of you as you do. Counting to 10 (or to 20 if necessary) helps many people get back in control. It also may be helpful to remove yourself from the situation that is upsetting you.

Once you are calm, then you can analyze your anger. What caused you to get upset? What other feelings are you feeling besides anger? Are you also feeling hurt, helpless, bored, or threatened?

After analyzing your anger in this way you can safely take action. Perhaps you can remove the cause of your anger or avoid it in the future. Once you figure out the cause of your upset you may find that it is something that really doesn't matter to you and you can let it go. If you figure out what feelings you are having, communicating them honestly with the person you are mad at can lead to new understanding and trust between you. Remember to be assertive about your needs without being aggressive and attacking.

Of course, before you can utilize this three-step process of handling your anger (Calm down, Analyze your anger, and Take action spells C.A.T.), you need to know when you are angry. Take an inventory of what happens to your body when you get angry. Do you feel the blood rushing to your face? Do your muscles tense? Try to figure out what is the first physical sign that shows up. It is also helpful to know what behaviors start to appear when you are upset. Are you blustery and irritable, or do you shut down and get quiet when you are angry? Once you notice one of these physical or behavioral signs, you can recognize that you are angry and start the C.A.T. process.

Another important source of help when we are angry is other people who are not involved with the situation. It can be very helpful to vent about your anger with friends and family that you can trust. This can help you calm down, and another person's perspective can help you analyze your anger and help you choose a positive course of action. If the situation that is upsetting you feels too personal to share with someone you know, or if you find that you feel angry too often, you might consider seeking counseling services. Counseling has helped many people deal with their anger in effective and positive ways.

Life will never fail to present us from time to time with some experience that will hurt, frustrate, annoy, disappoint, harass, or threaten us. Most of the time we will feel angry as a result. This resulting anger is a natural human emotion and it is perfectly all right to feel it. What we do with these feelings of anger, how we express them, is another matter. Each of us is responsible for choosing our actions, no matter how angry we may become. If we learn how to express our anger in positive ways, this sometimes scary emotion can become a source of personal growth and connection with others.

If you are experiencing difficulties with anger, please contact one of our professional staff members at Counseling Services at 256-782-5475.

Courtesy of California State University, Hayward