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Four Myths about Anger

Image of ocean waves crashing on rocks.

Anger is an emotion that has a certain mystique about it. It is blamed for many harmful events and problematic outcomes. When something has a long history and predominate place in human consciousness, myths grow to explain what it means.

They are not necessary factual but they are treated as if they are.

Being angry can be considered bad and undesirable. Often, it is considered unacceptable behavior to express anger in social situations. Some even go so far as to consider it dangerous and destructive.

Let's look at it from another angle. Anger is actually an emotion with a purpose: to tell you when you need to start something or stop something. When you feel anger start to “pop up”, that's a message from your self that there is a threat that needs to be blocked or that you need to take control of a situation. Most of the time, it begins as a mild irritation or a low boil (think of the feelings you have when someone violates your boundaries, or a simple miscommunication ends up wasting your time). Anger's bad reputation comes from how people express themselves after allowing these mild irritations to compound over time to a point their emotions explode forth.

Medical Opinion of Anger

Medically, anger is neither negative or positive. It is an emotional state that may range in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage. It can have physical effects, such as raising your heart rate, blood pressure and the levels of adrenaline and nor-adrenaline. The dictionary definition of anger begins to move in a negative direction. It includes a strong feeling of displeasure and usually of antagonism, giving “anger” its negative connotation in the English language.

Psychological View of Anger

The American Psychological Association adds a caveat to that, explicitly saying that anger can be a good thing. It can give you a way to express negative feelings or motivate you to find solutions to problems.

Anger is also a social emotion; there is always a target toward which your anger

is directed. It can be an inanimate object, but usually that target is yourself or another person. In social situations, the people who are present decide whether the anger is a problem. The decision is made on the basis of personal beliefs, experiences and behavior.

Impact of Personal Beliefs

Even when the behavior is completely appropriate (i.e. calm speech at an appropriate time with no physicality involved), the biggest factor in how you perceive anger is your personal beliefs. As with other emotions, those beliefs are formed by how you've experienced it in the past. If you experienced anger as hurtful and or dangerous as a child, that belief lives inside of you. If you were taught as a child that anger is wrong, you will believe it is so. Anger becomes the enemy rather than an emotion that delivers messages about your current situation.

Over the years, there have been many myths that have grown up around anger that we live by and may not even know it. I present four for your consideration.

1. Anger is a negative emotion:

I believe that is the number one misconception about anger. Anger is an emotion just like love is an emotion. It normal and healthy; it has a distinct purpose and it comes with a physical response to help you identify it. It has been a driving force in many of the changes brought about by activists.

2. Anger is the same thing as aggression:

Anger is a feeling; aggression is an action. We can feel anger without taking an aggressive action. Many people confuse angry feelings and aggressive behavior. There is a belief that if anger is felt it will build and escalate to the point of an aggressive outburst. Anger can be managed by learning assertiveness skills, challenging irrational beliefs, changing negative and hostile “self-talk,” and finding supportive help. There are many healthy ways to deal with anger without resorting to threats or violence.

“I have learnt through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world.”

-Mahatma Gandhi

3. Venting your anger releases it, and is desirable:

It was once a common practice to have people aggressively express anger in such ways as screaming, beating a pillow, or throwing things. Research has found that this is not an effective way to diminish anger, but that the opposite is true. Expressing anger in aggressive ways builds the momentum and reinforces aggressive behavior; the more you vent, the worse you feel. The best way to deal with anger is to use the energy in a constructive way.

4. Ignoring your anger makes it go away:

Ignoring your anger can allow it to build up to the point where it spills out unexpectedly, causing conflict and problems. Pretending that you are not frustrated, smiling to cover your feelings, not standing up for yourself, or allowing unacceptable behavior in an effort to stay calm and keep the peace can cause your anger to turn inward. Suppressed anger has been linked with a variety of mental health problems and physical problems such as IBS, hypertension, depression and anxiety.

I once had a woman tell me she was taught it was just as easy to be happy as to be angry. Unfortunately that is not true. She was being taken advantage of at home and at work. She was trying to choose happiness, but she was deeply depressed and unhappy. It was only when she began to get in touch with her anger and begin to express it that she was able to move out of depression.

Next week, I will talk about the different types of anger.

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