To Be or Not to Be...Angry
Part 1 of 4

Anger in Today's Society

Road Rage, Angry Mob Violence, Revenge Murders, Domestic Violence, International Conflict, Political Outrage

Look no further than the headlines of your favorite news feed to see the problem of anger in today’s society.

Do you recall the last time you were angry? What happened? Who or what made you angry? Were you justified in your anger? Or do you feel that you shouldn’t have gotten angry? Do you think you could have chosen not to be angry?

As an emotion, anger isn’t something that you necessarily choose. After all, you can’t really control how you feel. Or can you?

Anger a la Carte

Imagine you’re in a crowded restaurant. You’ve waited 30 minutes for your food. When it finally arrives, the waiter brings you the wrong order. You feel yourself getting irritated. But then you remember your niece who works as a waitress across town. She deals with irate customers way too often. You decide not to get angry after all.

Suppose you come home from work to find that your spouse has picked up dinner—again—after promising a nice, juicy roast for tonight. Last time, you complained loudly about the evils of fast food and about her apparent lack of appreciation for all of your hard work. Not today. You simply do not have the energy to feel angry.

Both of these types of situations suggest that you can make choices from your emotional menu occasionally. At other times, however, it seems you have no choice at all in the matter. Anger presents itself and you’ve got to deal with it, whether you ordered it or not.

Mike Bundrant, retired psychotherapist and founder of the online Neuro-Linguistic Programming Center, believes that it’s actually impossible for anything outside of you to make you feel certain ways. In a recent newsletter article, he writes, “Only you can determine what you do, how you feel and what you say.” He goes on to explain that no person or object has the power to reach inside of you and make you feel a particular emotion. 

People tend to make events outside of themselves responsible for what is going on inside of them. We all say things like, “You made me angry,” or “This event made me depressed.” But in reality, we are the only ones who make ourselves feel certain ways. Although we don’t cause all of our outside circumstances, we can be in charge of what goes on inside of ourselves, You determine your experience,” Bundrant writes, “regardless of what is happening around you.”

Similarly, Tom G. Stevens, PhD, believes that “…you can choose to be happy…no matter what the reality is.” Stevens, a psychologist and professor emeritus at California State University, explains that “anger is caused by your inability to mentally cope with some situation.”  When you learn the proper coping skills, he suggests, you can choose happiness over anger. 

But whether or not you learn to control the feeling of anger, or whether the feeling itself is actually a choice, the fact remains: you are human and you will feel anger sometimes. Even if you can’t choose how you feel, you can choose whether or not to express it.   

Don’t Bottle It Up

Although experts agree that extreme anger can be physically harmful, they also agree that suppressing anger can cause damage, as well. Holding it in has been associated with increased blood pressure and heart rate. In one study, cardiac patients tripled their risk of heart attack when suppressing anger.

When people don’t know how to manage anger effectively, they often don’t even recognize their feelings as anger, writes Hara Estroff Marano, an author with Psychology Today. These people may keep suppressing it, until one day their anger just explodes. Being able to identify anger and then talking about it will make the intense feelings fade, says Marano.

Relationships may suffer, too, if you don’t let those close to you know that you are angry.  Let’s say your roommate borrowed your laptop without asking. If that made you angry, you should tell her. She isn’t a mind-reader. If you don’t say anything, she may assume that you don’t mind and borrow it again. Your anger will build up and cause resentment toward your roommate. She’ll never know why if you don’t discuss it. 

But before you decide to let that anger out…

  • Have a real reason to be angry.

Freddy was a real hot-head and he didn’t hesitate to confront the guy who he thought had just insulted him. Freddy shoved him up against the wall and was ready to punch him, “What did you say?” Freddy shouted. The bewildered guy winced, “I said nice hat, man. That’s all. I like your hat.” 

Make sure you know the truth of a situation before deciding you need to get angry about it. Check out the facts when appropriate. Eliminate misunderstandings or misconceptions. You might save yourself a lot of time and energy.

  • Have a good reason to be angry.

Benjamin Franklin has been quoted as saying: “Anger is never without a reason, but seldom with a good one.”

We learn this naturally as we grow up. For example, a small child may get angry and sling mashed potatoes across the kitchen if he doesn’t like their taste. But as he gets older, he learns that throwing food won’t make it taste better and only serves to get him punished. As he gains more maturity, he can understand that some things simply aren’t worth getting angry about.

Even adults continue to learn which situations in life are worth the anger. How many times have you gotten all worked up over something and then later regretted it, or realized how silly it was? Or maybe you’ve gotten to the end of an argument and then not even remembered why you got so angry in the first place. Sometimes your anger changes nothing, or perhaps it makes the situation worse.  On the other hand, your anger might bring the desired outcome, but if you end up embarrassing yourself or hurting someone in the process, you’ll likely feel more guilty than satisfied.

Usually, these situations occur when you’re angry for petty, unimportant reasons.You probably don’t sling potatoes when they don’t taste to suit you!  But maybe you pace the kitchen floor yelling, when you discover your favorite spatula has been misplaced again. Or maybe you rant to your co-workers when you can’t get the day off you wanted.  Does your outburst accomplish what you want? Even if it does, do you really feel good about it? Was it really worth the effort?

Save your angry energy for the important things.

  • Understand the righteous side of anger.

Although anger is often viewed negatively, many health and psychology professionals point out its potential for good.  “The feeling of anger may actually help you make better choices,” notes Dr. Joseph Mercola in his comments on a 2010 anger study. It drives you to focus on the matter at hand and to make a judgment about something that needs immediate attention. Anger can motivate you to take action—to bring about change, to protect someone, to speak up about something, or to right a wrong.

Clearly, expressing anger may sometimes be the right choice. Sometimes we should get angry. And in some situations it would be wrong not to get angry. When you see mistreatment of people, animals, or property, or when you personally experience such injustices, it becomes your duty to express anger and to take action to make things right. Even if you fail in your efforts, you will be doing the right thing by trying.

Jesus, the ultimate role model for Christian believers, provides an unmistakable example of righteous anger. According to all four Gospels of the New Testament, Jesus overturned tables and verbally condemned the dishonest money changers, who were misusing the Temple and taking advantage of worshipers. He forcefully drove them out, leaving no doubt in the minds of his followers that taking a stand against injustice calls for righteous anger. Notice that Jesus had a good reason for expressing his anger and that he used it not only to protect those being cheated, but also to teach a clear lesson with actions and words.

Anger is part of being human.You might or might not be able to control every occurrence of it. But without a doubt, you must choose to express it or not. When you express it appropriately, it serves a definite purpose.But for many people, anger presents a real problem. How can you make sure you keep control of your anger?

Written by Beth Prassel-Sieg



Part 2:
When Anger Backfires

Part 3:
Solving the Anger Problem

Part 4:
Weathering the Anger Storm

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A healthy outside starts from the inside. Robert Urich