Your face turns red. Your hands shake. You’re seething inside. You think to yourself, “I wish I could turn this off. I wish I knew how to stop being angry.”
We’ve all had moments where we felt rage, frustration, and even white-hot anger. Our face turns red, hands start to shake, we grind our teeth, and it might eat at us for days. When faced with these uncomfortable feelings of anger, how often have we wondered how to stop being angry? How can we turn it off?
Some of us may find that we feel irritable for days after an angering situation. Little comments annoy us. Coworkers get under our skin. Our spouses piss us off, and we snap at our kids. We wonder, “how do I let go of this anger and frustration?”
What if we stopped trying to “let it go” and instead allowed ourselves to really feel our emotions? Here’s why learning how to stop being angry might not be the ideal approach.
I sincerely hope that none of us ever stop feeling angry. Really.
Whenever people ask me how to stop feeling any emotion, whether hurt, sadness, fear, or even anger, I always remind them that there’s no such thing as a “bad” emotion. All of our emotions are extremely important to us as human beings. Emotions are part of our humanity, and they’re vital to our wellbeing—even if they don’t make us feel well when we experience them.
Of all the emotions, anger can be one of the most uncomfortable that we experience, but it’s no exception to the rule. Anger has a vital purpose in our survival and even our happiness. When we feel anger, it helps move us toward activities and situations that offer us more pleasure. Emotion also allows us to move away from events and circumstances that bring us feelings of hurt, fear, and pain. Anger is powerful, protective, and exists within us for a reason.
The unfortunate part of experiencing anger is that many of us don’t know how to “be” with our anger. We aren’t sure how to coexist with the intense feelings, and they shift from anger to rage. The emotions fester and burn within us. Suddenly we’re dumping our angry feelings onto other people and directing our frustration at those who don’t deserve our wrath. Call it the “kick the dog” phenomenon—we often funnel our emotions toward someone who deserves it the least or can’t return our feelings. Unfortunately, this only results in our anger snowballing into self-loathing and shame. The bad part of anger isn’t the feeling itself, but our lack of skill in feeling angry. We let it build and dump it irresponsibly instead of expressing it in a healthy, direct manner.
Don’t believe me? Let’s look at Gandhi. I was thinking about Gandhi the other day and how he was angry. He was mad at the injustice in the world. His anger began when he was removed from a train. It upset him, and he felt indignant at the inequality he experienced. These feelings fueled his activism and became a great source of motivation. Through his frustration and feelings of anger, he focused his efforts and created change.
I think Mother Teresa was angry too. She became upset at the way people were mistreated in the world. She was mad at poverty and that she saw children who were dying because they lacked resources. Looking at her anger at injustice, we can see how anger can be a beautiful and motivational force for good. Anger moves us toward positive action and drives us to change our circumstances.
Anger isn’t bad. The ugliness of anger comes from when we don’t know how to express it or responsibly deal with it.
Like many people, I used to think that my family’s anger was very frightening. When I was young, and my father would express his anger, I found it dangerous and scary. I learned to avoid it, soothe it, and try to “fix” what I saw as a negative emotion.
Anger becomes a scary emotion for many people, particularly when we are kids. We feel powerless. Anger is a big, out-of-control, frightening thing that we may not understand. We shoulder the blame for the anger we see displayed by others. We learn that we should try not to make others mad. We want people to like us, be kind to us, and nurture us. So we try to fix their anger.
We wonder how to stop feeling angry because we don’t know how to handle anger responsibly. But when we take charge of our anger, we acknowledge it before it escalates to rage and leads to uncontrolled “dumping” on those around us. When we allow ourselves to push our anger on others, punishing them, and allowing our feelings to escalate, our rage spirals out of control.
The real skill in dealing with anger is in learning how we can separate our anger from dumping it on others. The other skill to handle anger is to be angry—really feel the emotions—but to still be able to think clearly.
To deal with our anger, we must understand the purpose of our emotions. Often when we feel anger, we’re not tending to and addressing the little things that build up and make us angry. Minor irritations and inconveniences add up and make us frustrated. Eventually, our feelings snowball into a big toxic dump.
Usually, we’re angry because we’re hurt. Sometimes it may be because we’re afraid. If we look into those feelings and address them, it helps us tend to our anger. Acknowledge that “I feel angry right now.”
When we feel angry, we can ask ourselves why. Where are these feelings coming from? What happened (or what is currently happening) that’s bringing up these emotions. Look at it not as an emotion to stop or turn off, but more a feeling to curiously explore.
If we don’t let ourselves get to the stage of exploring the purpose of our anger, we might instead resort to passive-aggressive behavior to get it out. Passive-aggressive actions might include “hidden middle fingers,” like giving someone the silent treatment or purposefully doing something to hurt them. We might act compliant on the surface, but then we rebel or don’t follow through just to “show them.”
For relationships, passive-aggressive behaviors can be just as destructive as rage. They look slightly different, but they’re still very damaging to our connection. Passive aggression slowly erodes intimacy and closeness. It creates resentments and causes us to brush aside underlying issues rather than get them out where both parties can address them.
Our pure expressions of anger might be frightening, but they often hold a great deal of truth. It’s far more honest to say, “I’m furious at you right now!” Then to say, “It’s fine,” when we’re not fine at all. Suppressing anger and then trickling it out slowly is often more damaging over the long haul.
So before anger escalates, we can see if we can pinpoint exactly what is upsetting us and making us feel so bothered. We may feel feelings without really examining where those feelings originate. Even sitting with our anger for a few moments can yield surprising results.
With our intention, we can really channel the power of our anger toward the greater good. For example, if we feel angry about injustice (in the world or even in our own lives), we can look at ways to shift it. If we don’t like how we’re being treated, we can allow anger to help move us towards changing our situation. If we’re afraid and mad that we’re scared, we can use our anger to shift us toward a safer place.
Remember that anger protects us. When we’re walking down a street at night and pass an alley, we might hear a noise, and suddenly we’re angry or annoyed. These emotions are positive because our anger is helping us get ready to deal with a threat and address the source of our fear. It prepares us to hit, run, or fight back. Anger keeps us safe.
Many of us—women in particular—don’t want to allow ourselves to feel angry. Often women might cry when they’re mad (and sometimes that makes us feel even more frustrated). We’re trying to put out a fire with tears rather than using the fire to fuel us toward action.
On the other hand, men often feel angry when they’re hurt or afraid. They’re mad at their vulnerability. They don’t want to let it erupt under the feelings of anger.
So when we feel frustrated, we can look at the unaddressed source. We must identify our emotions and frustrations and explore them. Why are we feeling upset? Is it because we need to address something? What steps can we take to embrace how we feel and resolve the situation?
If we say, “Wow—I’m furious! I feel really angry right now!” It’s surprisingly helpful. Yes, we will still probably feel angry, but naming our affect soothes our limbic system and brings our frontal lobe online. This shift allows us to rationally sort through how we will deal with the situation rather than getting hijacked by our emotions.
Identifying our feelings and acknowledging them doesn’t erase them, but it helps us feel more conscious. We become more responsible in working through the emotions. From there, we can look at the trigger—why does this bother us? What are we angry about? Then take steps to address the issue. There may be something about the situation that we can quickly resolve, remedy, or correct. Collecting data about the trigger gives us more information and a clear path to cope with the situation.
Our emotions are helpful cues as to what is going on inside us. Identifying our feelings helps us connect with our yearnings—what we really want—and our direct path toward living a life of more purpose and more fulfillment.
For more ways to get what you want from life, don’t miss the many resources we have available at Wright Now. We offer courses and materials to help you connect in your relationships, career, and personal growth. Start getting what you want today!
The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.