Feeling anger and acting out anger are two very different things. When you feel anger it is usually a signal that some harm is being perpetrated against you or others. However, when you let anger take over, it is no longer an effective way to deal with the harm being done. In rare highly-dangerous situations, expressing rage can be an effective means of scaring a person or an animal away. Yet even when it is effective, you want to be able to consciously choose when and how to express anger.
When anger takes control
The problem with letting your anger take control, rather than viewing it as a signal, is that anger destroys the ability to think rationally, to get along with others, and to find solutions. A single moment of inappropriately expressed anger can destroy an evening, a relationship, or your job. You can undermine a lot of effort and history when you let it drive your actions.
If you’re bound up with dissatisfaction, frustration, or desire for revenge, acting out your anger will not help. It can lead to distraction, accidents, and destruction. It can lead to outbursts, hostility and regret. It can also lead to the loss of reputation, the ability to have positive relationships, and the ability to help others and to participate in the community. Alternatively, anger turned inward can lead to depression.
The best way to learn to deal with angry people and your own anger is to cultivate patience. To communicate effectively with another person, you need to wait until neither of you is consumed by anger. Take time to find out why someone else is behaving poorly or treating you unfairly. Take time to understand what underlying values you seek to re-establish in your life and your relationship. Only then can you figure out the most effective way of dealing with a bad situation.
Anger can be overwhelming. So it requires a lot of effort to develop self-restraint and composure. When someone is angry with you, it is important to respond with compassion or at least neutrality, rather than piling your own irrational behavior onto theirs. Patience does not mean accommodation. It means taking the time to understand the situation and the people involved before taking appropriate action from a place of inner strength and calm.
Ask questions and listen until the angry person calms down. If you can’t take being around someone who’s angry, tell the other person you need some time to calm down and think about the situation. Then go for a walk, breathe deeply, and take the time you need until you can gain a wider perspective about the situation.
Cultivate patience with yourself as well as others. The result will be a feeling of equanimity and core strength, which allow for the most effective problem solving and the least pain in your life and in your relationships.
by Dr. Alison Poulsen