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Healthy Anger -vs- Problem Anger
  • Anger, when it is healthy and useful, comes in like a thunderstorm.  There's a flash, then a loud clap of thunder and then it’s gone.  
  • When it’s healthy anger, it can save lives, avert disaster, or protect our loved ones. 
  • But if you or someone you love has frequent, or long lasting “thunderstorms” of anger that are causing problems, you might benefit from having some support.

 
When Anger Doesn’t Help

 

A friend told me a story:  He was driving on a lovely, sunny day.  The car windows were rolled down so he could enjoy the fresh air.  As he cruised along at about 35 miles per hour, he suddenly saw a car barreling toward him out of a convenience store parking lot.  He screamed, “Watch out!” and honked his horn, but the car came straight at him, ramming into the passenger side of his car. 

 

Livid, he glared toward the driver of the other car, but discovered that the car was empty.  Then he saw the owner running toward him; he’d been trying to catch up with his car to stop it.  But too late.  He’d forgotten to put the car into park and it had coasted right in to the street.  Realizing what had happened, my friend understood that his anger at the missing driver was wasted. 

 

Anger and Good Communication Don’t Mix.

 

As in the case of this collision, anger is not a very helpful method for communication.  We can yell and scream and it either makes no difference in the outcome or, worse, it pushes away the people we care most about.  It can also get us into legal trouble, or cause people to fight back, sometimes resulting in violence.

 

When We Need Healthy Anger.

 

We need anger.  Our animal heritage has wired us to protect and defend ourselves and our tribe.  If we need to face an injustice, right a wrong or defend ourselves and others, anger gives us the bandwidth and energy to mobilize our defenses.  

 

Protection from Real Danger or Threat.

 

Another friend was visiting her older brother in Philadelphia.  They were walking along a side street after a late dinner when they heard footsteps running behind them.  Before she knew it, a thief came from behind, grabbed her purse and ran off at full speed.  Her brother, a former soccer player, took off after the purse snatcher, tackled him and got her purse back.  She, on the other hand, was frozen in fear.  Delighted that her purse, cell phone and credit cards were secure, she thanked her brother in astonishment, since she would have never considered chasing a thief.  Her brother’s anger was effective and useful.

 

Chronic, Automatic Anger can Cause Problems

 

If you or someone you care about erupts in anger when they can’t find their keys, when someone is rude, or when a car cuts them off on the freeway, it’s hard to be around them.  For children, angry parents create a state of fight, flight or freeze than can leave them immobilized, or in a constant state of vigilance and anxiety.   If your partner yells and bullies, it can put derail your relationship.

 

Many people react in anger when they fear something will be taken from them.  If we feel judged, put down, criticized, or condemned, it’s not just a cell phone we’re losing; it feels like our sense of worth as a human being is being stolen.  In this instance, anger arises to protect the theft of our self-worth and sometimes our very identity.  But it doesn’t solve the problem.  It only makes it worse.

 

Chronic, repetitive anger doesn’t fix anything.  It merely creates enemies and distances us from the people we care about or work with.

 

Managing Anger Long Enough to Solve the Underlying Problem

 

It’s natural to try to control or stop anger.  It helps but doesn’t fix the source of the anger.  It’s a good first step, but not a fundamental solution.  When anger flares up, most people don’t have simple tools to manage thoughts and hold onto self-worth.

 

The Octaves of Anger

 

For the person who has a short fuse, it feels like there are only two states:  angry or not angry.  But in reality, anger has octaves of intensity.  It can start with annoyance, mild frustration or stress, then build to anger, fury or even blind rage. 

 

The Octaves of Anger have many different styles and causes.  You may recognize some of these types of anger, as the symptoms get “louder and louder”:

 

  • Silent Anger – You respond to others who have harmed you or let you down by punishing them with silence or distance.
  • Guilty Anger – When you feel bad that you let someone down, and get mad at them for having expectations.
  • Camouflaged Anger – You may not realize you feel angry until you blow up.
  • Depressed Anger – Happens more often with men who, rather than shut down or go into a freeze state, use anger to stay activated.
  • Bullying – Shows up in people who have been mistreated and live in a fight/flight state to avoid immobility.  They think they have to bully or threaten others to feel safe, to get what they want or even survive emotionally.
  • Righteous Anger – Shows up when you feel anger is necessary to defend a cause you believe in.
  • Anger as a Defense – Happens when people don’t feel safe and maintain their space by keeping others on the defensive.
  • Anger as a Habit – Develops in some families where there is a culture of edginess and anger.  Family member may be perceived as weak or uninterested if they have a softer approach.

 

Myths about Anger

 

  • Venting:  Most people have this common misperception that “blowing up and getting it out of my system” dispels anger.  The truth is that venting may feel good temporarily but it can simply lead to more anger, and leave misunderstandings and hurt feelings in its path like a tornado. Read more about the Myths of Anger

  • Anger is bad:  Many people stuff their anger because they don’t know how to express it constructively and get their needs meet.  They may have never learned how to resolve conflict or respectfully disagree or manage disagreement  They have seen and experienced the destructive side of anger, so they try to completely banish their own anger, to not notice it.  Unfortunately, this can lead to lots of problems, because unrecognized anger can take on a life of its own.

 

You're Not Alone:

Researchers suggest that 1 in every 4 people has had anger problems at some time in his or her life.  It is a common problem, especially with the demands of modern living.  It might be comforting to know that you are not alone.

If you've tried books and other useful strategies and still need help to free yourself from destructive angry reactions, we are here to learn about your anger and give you practical skills that you can start using right away

 

Our methods are based both on research and personal experience.  If your anger has gone over the edge where you may have hurt someone you care about, whether emotionally, mentally or physically, you need to get professional help.

 

Many caring people like you have learned to make anger their ally, not their enemy. You can be one of those people. You can learn new and better ways to express your needs and wants without raising your voice or your blood pressure. 

 

You’ve already taken that all-important first step:  You’ve starting to look at the problem.  Now take the next.  Get the help you need to transform your anger into what you want.

 

Give us a call to find out more or to make an appointment.  Why wait?  The only thing you have to lose is the being held hostage by your own anger.   

 

Give us a call 503-342-2510    gethelp@counseling-pdx.com

 

To learn more, take our Anger Problem Quiz

 

 

 

Resources

Books

 

  • The Dance of Anger: A Woman's Guide To Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships by Harriet Lerner
  • Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns
  • Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion by Carol Tavris
  • Crucial Conversations:  Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High   ........Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler