Anger management is an important aptitude. It’s not an innate trait or personality propensity that some people are born with and others aren’t. It’s a set of skills anyone can learn and practice, and that like all skills, will feel more natural to us some days than others and come more easily under some circumstances than others.
If you struggle with appropriately managing your anger, you’ve likely had some tough conversations with yourself and others about the negative consequences of unchecked anger. You’ve probably heard from more than one person—including yourself—how imperative it is that you do a better job of controlling outbursts, rage, or the other behaviors that go along with your feelings of anger. You’re probably very familiar with why uncontrolled anger is bad, harmful, destructive.
And that’s all true. However, if you—like many people—are already well aware of how bad your anger management issue is or how critical it is that you manage it better, yet you still are struggling, then you’ve probably skipped over an important part of the process.
You know very well how your anger management problem isn’t working for you.
But have you slowed down to ask yourself how it is working for you?
That is to say if you know something is destructive and has consequences you don’t like or want, and yet you continue to engage in it, there must be some truly compelling reasons that you do it nonetheless.
Pausing to consider what purpose your anger is serving for you isn’t the same as justifying, rationalizing, or condoning it. Curiosity isn’t tantamount to endorsement. Sometimes we’re so busy telling ourselves we shouldn’t behave in a certain way that we rush past the step of being curious as to why we do it, which can yield valuable information for us about the drivers of the feelings. We need those insights to do things differently and cope with our feelings instead of harboring rage or lashing out. Anger is usually a second-level feeling; that is, one that is covering up another.
Does anger make you feel safe?
Is it safer than your other feelings? Does anger feel stronger and less vulnerable than some other feelings? Does anger keep you from being unnervingly close to other people? Does it protect you from feeling feelings of disappointment, shame, or guilt? Does it create distance between you and someone you want to care about, or did care about, or still care about? Does it give you energy? Does it feel powerful in otherwise powerless situations? Does it make you feel heard?
Anger management isn’t just the tone of our relationships with others, although we frequently think of it in terms of interactions with people around us. It is also about our relationship to and tone with ourselves. Anger is a state of internal warfare, even when it is directed externally. Think of all your physical anger flags . . . your heart rate increases, your hand's clench, your jaw clenches, all the rest.
Anger management is not something we cultivate so that we can better get along with others. It’s a journey we undertake also to bring more peace to our relationship with ourselves.