Monday, June 4, 2012

It's REALLY Okay To Be Angry.


     Anger is an emotion we are all familiar with. We have all felt it at times whether as a fleeting annoyance or full-fledged rage.  When we feel anger we experience it both physically and emotionally. Our bodies react with visceral responses such as increases in heart rate, breathing, and perspiration and our ancestral instinct of "flight or fight" kicks in.  Anger is 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 angry or every situation that irritated 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 are repression and aggression.
      When we repress our anger we use behaviors that are passive, evasive, and obsessive (needing to be inordinately clean and tidy).  Repression can also involve 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 it. This can be a "slippery slope" since repressed anger can easily turn into depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and contributes to drug and alcohol abuse. 
     Individuals who have aggressive anger are often described as being "hotheads". They have difficulty  modulating negative emotions and they have a low tolerance for frustration. Common everyday life annoyances, inconveniences, and unexpected changes in routine causes 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 in the first place are all forms of aggressive anger. Aggressive anger is a serious concern since it has 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 are being unjustly treated or unplanned events will happen that require us to change our expected life course. This is why it is important to work on understanding the "why and what" that causes us to be angry and the "how to" constructively resolve it. Below are four tips to help you:

1. Simplify Your Life. If you find you are quick to get irritable or angry when you feel frustrated simplifying your life should help. Evaluate what responsibilities you can "give up" so you have less self-imposed reasons to be angry.

2. Learn Better 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 be able to identify when you feel anger and allow yourself to be angry. Individuals that repress their anger can feel powerless but when "get in touch" with their anger and express it in an effective way they feel empowered.

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

How do you cope with your anger? Do you repress your anger or do you become aggressive? I would like to hear from you.

This post was written by Dr. Paula Durlofsky, a practicing psychologist in Bryn Mawr, Pa.  Email all questions or comments about this post or previous posts to drpauladurlofsky@gmail.com. You can also visit my web site at www.drpauladurlofsky.com to learn more about me and my practice.  



  1. This explanation of how we deal with our feelings of anger is enlightening. I always associated passive and obsessive behavior with low self esteem. Now I understand that such behaviors can also stem from repressed anger. Thanks!

  2. Hi Robin,
    Great point! Happy to hear reading my post clarified this for you. Thanks for reading my blog.
    Best-Dr. Paula

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  5. Thanks for posting this. It's helpful to better understand the "slippery slope" of anger & I like your tips on how to deal with anger by owning & channeling it more healthily.