02/27/2012 11:08 EST | Updated 04/28/2012 05:12 EDT

How to Stop Being an Angry Person


Everyone gets angry now and then. Anger is a normal emotion that arises when you feel attacked, abandoned, imposed upon, or deprived. It's a signal that something bad is happening to you, or that you're about to lose something that you need.

When you're in touch with your anger and able to express it in a balanced and moderate manner, this emotion is your ally. Knowing when you're angry enables you to stand up for yourself when you need to, and when to walk away from a hurtful situation. The healthy awareness and expression of anger can be very empowering.

Problems arise when your anger is out of balance. Out of balance anger can have a few different manifestations. You can be someone who's cranky or irritable; you could be getting into arguments with people too easily, behaving aggressively, or acting impulsively. I'll discuss this type of anger shortly.

On the other side of the coin, you could be someone who has trouble expressing your normal angry feelings. This might be because you're out of touch with your anger; these feelings being blocked or repressed, or because there's some sort of unconscious prohibition within you to expressing your anger.

People have difficulty accessing their angry feelings when they've learned in childhood that anger is bad. This will happen if the child has witnessed anger being expressed in a frightening or destructive manner. Equally, a person might not feel safe expressing their own anger in adulthood because when they tried to do so as a child, they were threatened or punished for it. It's also possible that they've accumulated so much anger and it feels so huge inside them that they're afraid they might hurt someone if they let it out.

If you've grown up to believe that all anger is destructive, or that it's not safe to be angry, you probably won't want to admit to yourself that you have anger, let alone try to express it in any way. Since you see this emotion as something bad, or dangerous to yourself or others, you'll want to deny its existence within you. The paradox of this psychological defence mechanism against unwanted anger is that denying it prevents you from being able to release it.

Because you can't acknowledge this emotion, any situation that causes you to become angry also leads to you stuffing down the anger so you can't feel it or know it. The anger you internalize as an adult combines with the anger you've been sitting on from your childhood. Over time, you accumulate an excess of unacknowledged, unexpressed anger.

Anger that's being denied festers inside you like an unhealed wound, leaking emotional toxins into your system. The pain you feel as a result of this buried emotion causes you to have one of two reactions: either you become overly nice and pleasing, in reaction against the anger bubbling up inside you, or you become irritable or surly, defensive or hostile.

The more you deny your anger, the more likely it is that it will come out inappropriately. Being too nice is an impossible stance. The repressed anger is held in under pressure, and at some point a crack will occur in the defense mechanism and the anger will leak out. It can emerge as passive-aggressive behaviour or explode in an outburst. Leaking anger can also be turned inward against yourself as severe self criticism or self-destructiveness.

Many people deal with their unwanted anger by engaging in activities meant to repress it; for example, overeating, excessive drinking, or using drugs. Conversely, some people unconsciously transform their disowned anger into high-risk activities such as extreme sports, high-stakes gambling or speeding.

Interestingly, whether or not other people are consciously aware of all the anger that you're carrying, many will intuitively sense it. Even if you're the nicest, most agreeable people-pleaser, the resentment growing inside you as a result of this repressed material will manifest in your facial expressions, posture, mannerisms, or slips of the tongue.

Perhaps you'll leak anger by being sarcastic once too often, or by being impatient with others. One way or another, the people around you will know that you're walking around with a lot of anger, and they'll respond accordingly.

When you're going through life holding onto anger, you may find that you attract angry people to you. This can happen for one of two reasons: these people can sense in you a kindred spirit with whom they want to associate, or they might recognize that you're in need of some sort of resolution for your disowned rage.

Overtly angry people will be more than willing to act out your repressed, unexpressed anger for you, if you're not willing to do so. In fact, they're actively looking for any opportunity to dump their rage, and they'll gladly direct it at the people with whom you're angry or at you. This type of person goes about expressing their feelings in the opposite way as you do.

These people are full of rage, and can't or won't contain it. They're compelled to release this deep well of emotion, and it pours out all over the place. They can't help but vent their anger inappropriately -- the urge to vent is so powerful, it's almost an addiction -- and they get into a lot of trouble as a result. People see them as nasty, frightening or undesirable because they're unable to keep their anger in check.

If you're someone who's overtly angry, you too may have had some sort of negative childhood experiences which left you feeling confused or ambivalent about anger. But your way of dealing with the feelings inside you is to spew, in the erroneous belief that this will bring you relief.

Unfortunately, spewing your anger is no more effective a means of releasing it than repressing it is. Emotional vomiting doesn't help you let go of your anger. It's not the way that you'll find healing or relief. In fact, it has the effect of generating more anger, as you become identified as an "angry person," and as the mounting consequences of your explosions cause you to accrue additional angry feelings.

Neither repressing nor spewing your anger will enable you to let go of it. The only way to stop being an angry person is to face your anger head-on and deal with it consciously. When you take responsibility for your anger, you become empowered with regard to it.

Whether you're someone who holds it in or someone who can't keep it from spilling out, you're not in charge of your anger, and you need to be. Anger is a powerful emotion and you have to master it or continue to suffer the consequences of its misuse.

Facing the extent of your anger today, and dealing with the events from the past that caused all the angry feelings to build up inside you will enable you to begin the process of healing. You may need therapeutic support if the incidents which led to your carrying this anger were multiple or traumatic. A therapist can help you process your anger in a way that feels safe.

When you hold in anger, it poisons you. When it leaks or explodes outward, you hurt others as well. Inappropriately-expressed anger fails to offer a lasting sense of relief and causes significant stress as it forces you to deal with the backlash of your unacceptable, undesirable behaviour.

If you take responsibility for your anger and learn how to express it appropriately, you're at an advantage in society. You don't have to deal with the increasing resentment of being a people-pleaser, the frustration of never getting your needs met, or the consequences of your inappropriate leaks.

When you're able to own your angry feelings and express them in moderation, you become empowered in your dealings with others. Knowing that you can be assertive in your relationships gives you a new-found sense of confidence in yourself which leads to inner peace.

When you lay claim to your valid feelings of anger and feel free to express them appropriately, you're no longer sitting on a volcano that's ready to blow or a river of toxic waste ready to overflow its borders. You can begin to stand up for yourself and speak out for yourself when you need to. Because you trust yourself to do this, you don't have to walk around feeling resentful and accumulating more and more anger.

The way to stop being an angry person, then, is to see that whatever happened in your childhood doesn't mean that anger is all bad. You can learn to access and express your anger in a healthy way. You can come to see that it needn't be a dangerous or destructive force, but rather a signal that something is wrong when you feel it, and a tool for appropriate self-defence when you express it.

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