It's OK to be Angry: How to Avoid Repression and Aggression

Anger is a basic and important reaction that we’re all allowed to feel. It’s how we handle the reaction to an anger trigger that counts.

Anger is an emotion we are all familiar with. We have all felt it at times either as a fleeting annoyance or as full-fledged rage. When we feel anger, we experience this feeling physically and emotionally. Physically, our bodies react with visceral responses such as increases in heart rate, rapid breathing, perspiration and our ancestral “flight or flight” instinct kicks in. Anger is a necessary for our survival—it provides us with the drive and ability to defend ourselves. But not every circumstance warrants such a severe reaction, and it would be destructive to lash out at every person that caused us to feel anger or every situation that irritates us. This does not mean we should deny our feelings of anger. It’s really okay to be angry.

Problems develop when our anger is not effectively expressed, and derailed anger can cause significant harm to ourselves, others or both. We all use a variety of psychological defenses to cope with anger, some healthy and some not so healthy. The two most common approaches to dealing with anger is repression and aggression.

When we repress our angry we engage in behaviors that are passive, evasive, and obsessive. Repression can develop into emotional manipulation, self-blame, and self-sacrifice. Defenses and behaviors of this kind prevent us from directly confronting our negative emotions and/or the source of our anger. This can be a slippery slope, since repressed anger can easily develop into depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and contribute to drug and alcohol abuse.

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Individuals who have aggressive anger are often described as “hotheads.” They have difficulty modulating strong negative emotions and they have a low tolerance for frustration. Common life annoyances, inconveniences and unexpected changes in routine cause exaggerated feelings of anger. Bullying, being physically destructive to self or others, and overly punitive reactions, such as refusing to forgive people that contributed to your anger, are all forms of aggressive anger. Aggressive anger is a serious concern since it have a real potential to negatively impact important personal and professional relationships. 

No one sails through life without being touched by anger. Situations will arise where we will feel we have been unjustly treated or unplanned events will happen that require us to change our expected life course. This is why it is important to acknowledge and understand what causes us to get angry and how to constructively resolve it. Below are a few tips to help you cope with anger:

1. Simplify your life. If you find you are quick to get irritable or angry when you feel frustrated and overwhelmed, simplifying your life should help. Evaluate what responsibilities you can give up so you have less self-imposed triggers.

2. Work on improving your communication skills. Angry people tend to jump to conclusions before they have all the facts. Learn to listen to other people by slowing down yourself and not responding too quickly when angry.

3. Own your anger. If you cope with anger by repressing it, learn to identify when you feel anger and allow yourself to experience this emotion. Individuals that repress their anger often feel powerless but when they acknowledge their anger and express it in an effective way they feel empowered.

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4. Make personal time for yourself. Schedule time during your day to relax. We all get weighed down and irritated by our daily responsibilities. Making the time to relax by doing deep breathing exercises, mediation, and/or regular exercise helps reduce stress in general and improves our ability to better cope with those unexpected stressful situations.

I would like to hear from you. How do you experience anger? What strategies can you share that are helpful to you for coping with anger?

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