How to Express Anger in a Healthy Way

A listener recently asked me to address implosive anger, also called repressed anger. There’s a funny movie that addresses this subject. It’s called Anger Management, with Jack Nicholson as a psychiatrist trying to help Adam Sandler's character realize he has a problem. He says to Adam,

“There are two kinds of angry people: explosive and implosive. Explosive is the kind of individual that you see screaming at the cashier for not taking their coupons. Implosive is the cashier, who remains quiet day after day, and finally shoots everyone in the store. You’re the cashier.”  (Hearing Jack Nicholson say those words is both funny and scary at the same time!)

Signs of Implosive Anger

Sometimes people who appear mild-mannered really are as calm as they seem and don’t get upset easily. But some people are actually getting upset, they just aren’t letting it show. The first sign of implosive anger is denial

Going back to the movie, after the doctor tells Adam he’s the cashier, Adam replies, “No, no, no. I’m the guy hiding in the frozen food section dialing 911. I swear.” Denial. These are the people who say, “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.” Or “I’m not angry, I’m just upset.” They can’t admit to themselves they’re feeling anger.

However, though they won’t admit something made them angry, they will withdraw from the person or situation, and then brood about the incident. “How rude he was! I can’t believe he said that to me. And in front of everyone! He humiliated me.” The angry person replays the event over and over. Maybe you’ve felt that way from time to time—I know I have. But when people have an anger problem, withdrawing and brooding go to an extreme.

Effects of Anger

According to an article in Psychology Today, anger is triggered by some sense of having been disempowered. Thus the purpose of anger is to eliminate a feeling of powerlessness. So anger wants to attack. Expressed anger attacks the other person in some way. But who does suppressed anger attack? It attacks you.

It’s well-known that negative stress causes a variety of illnesses. In fact, a study by UC Berkeley recently found that repressing anger leads to back pain and stiff muscles.

So, let it out, right? Well, maybe not. According to the same study, venting causes heart disease. What about a physical vent? Maybe punch something to get it out, or take a jog? Apparently, that doesn’t help, either. A study entitled Does Venting Anger Feed or Extinguish the Flame? indicated that because exercise keeps the heart rate and blood pressure elevated and doesn’t distract the angry person from thinking about it, the person’s anger remains high, and perhaps even higher.

So, what’s an angry person to do, then?

Managing Your Anger in a Healthy Way

Emotions help us manage our experiences. And since we sometimes have negative experiences, negative emotions serve a purpose in our lives and should not be denied or suppressed. But they need to be managed and communicated in a healthy way.

The first approach is to calm down. My advice about how to calm down before speaking in public is very useful here. In my episode, 5 Ways to Speak Up without Freaking Out, my guest and I discuss recognizing your feelings as normal, then learning to calm them through visualization and deep breathing.

The next method is to change the way you look at the situation. It’s often helpful to consider the other person’s perspective, or try to think of it as if you were a “fly on the wall”. How would a casual observer evaluate the situation? What if both sides gave their perspectives? My episode How to Handle Rude Questions discusses this a bit. Additionally, doing things incompatible with anger can make a huge difference. How can you be angry while watching a comedy or playing with kittens?

Communicating Effectively

If you’ve calmed down enough to look at the situation somewhat objectively, and you find you have a legitimate reason to be angry, it’s important to communicate it in a way that will improve and resolve the situation and your feelings, not perpetuate them.

I have discussed many times on this show the value of diplomatic speaking. In a nutshell, you need to think about what you will say, choose words carefully, and listen with an open mind. The following podcasts go into this in detail.

How to Have a Difficult Conversation

How to Handle Criticism

6 Constructive Ways to Give Negative Feedback

How to be More Diplomatic

You should also consider other people’s communication styles. You might be a quiet type, but someone else might be more dynamic or to-the-point. Neither communication style is bad, but the difference almost guarantees misunderstandings. Some of my best podcasts on this subject are:

How to Deal with People More Effectively

How to Deal with Difficult People

Communicate Better with Different Types of People

Does Your Communication Style Hold You Back?

Finally, remember that sometimes life is hard. Sometimes you just have to Choose to Be Happy. If you or someone you love continues to have issues with anger or sadness, please talk to a professional. But usually, putting into practice the suggestions in this podcast will help you balance anger so that it’s a rare occurrence.

This is Lisa B. Marshall changing organizations, changing lives, and changing the world through better communication. If you’d like to learn more about leadership, influence, and communication, I invite you to read my bestselling books, Smart Talk and Ace Your Interview and listen to my other podcast, Smart Talk. As always, your success is my business.  

Images Courtesy of Shutterstock.  



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