Anger is an emotion, plain and simple.  It is neither good nor bad, although it is often painted with the brush of being a “bad” emotion.  In reality, there is no such thing.  All emotions are natural and normal, anger included.  However, like any other emotion, anger can become unhealthy and “bad” when it spirals out of control, when you can’t or won’t express it properly, and when you get “stuck” in it.  When anger becomes unhealthy, it can negatively affect not only your relationships and quality of life, but your health as well.

How you express anger is an important component to whether your anger is healthy or unhealthy.  The instinctive, natural way is to respond aggressively.  After all, anger exists to help us survive situations where we are attacked.  In that respect, it is essential to our survival.  However, since we can’t lash out aggressively in the everyday occurrences that anger us, we have developed other conscious and unconscious ways to express our anger.  The three most common ways are 1.) to express the anger in an assertive, but not aggressive way, 2.) to suppress the anger, and 3.) to calm the anger.  The healthiest approach is to express your anger in an assertive, non-aggressive manner, but many people employ the calming approach first in order to get a ‘hold’ of the emotion before they feel able to express it assertively without the aggression.  This is completely fine as long as you follow it up by expressing  your anger in a healthy manner once you’ve gotten it under control. Suppressed and unexpressed anger is very toxic and can lead to all sorts of problems including health issues, destructive passive-aggressive behavior, anger explosions that are out of proportion to the situation, and a chronically cynical negative outlook towards life in general.

It is a mistaken belief that if you let it “all out” or vent your anger, it will offer relief.  In fact, it does the opposite, escalating the anger emotion and rendering problem solving and solution finding practically impossible.  Unless you are being attacked in such a way that your life is in jeopardy, or the life of someone you hold dear is in immediate danger, it is not recommended to let your anger loose like that.  It will do you no good in normal, everyday circumstances.

The overarching goal of anger management is to control your anger response.  After all, we cannot control outside circumstances and it is futile to try.  We can only control our response to them.  In Part 2 of this series, we will discuss tips and strategies to employ in the immediate moment to help control an anger response.  Part 3 will delve into long-term strategies to minimize the anger response, and Part 4 will offer advice on how to help your child with his or her anger emotions.