Change the Way you Deal with Anger

In my youth I was a “fighting cock.” I felt angry all the time. Teenage angst? I cannot really explain why but I suspect it has to do with being influenced by my dad who always seemed to feel that he was forever a victim. At least that was one frequent impression of him I harbored in my childhood: that my dad was always angry at being bullied. A visit to the hospital or an encounter with a civil servant would inevitably be accompanied by tales of how nasty the nurses were or how mean the officials were and how my dad had to fight hard to get what he was entitled to. (He always wins.) I walked around looking for reasons to be angry. I grew up “brain-washed” into thinking that most people out there were out to get me and I had to be in a combative stance at all times.

However, for the most part, my dad, and I, and thank God for that, did not go into loud, lengthy and prolonged diatribes when we were angry. Our anger was often very short-lived. We also did not allow our anger to be converted to physical violence. Gnashing of teeth there was but smashing of things there was none of that.

That type of display of anger or blind rage – destructive manifestation of anger – can be really frightening. People who are unable to manage their anger and easily fly off the handle can end up harming others as well as themselves. Some may never live to regret their actions.

There’s no shortage of theories about why people get angry.

One reason could be due to a person’s sense of helplessness and powerlessness or he could simply be irritated by something, so he becomes angry. He may direct that anger at himself. “I’m such an unlucky person. I knew this will happen to me. In fact, I was wondering why this didn’t happen earlier.”

Sometimes anger is born out of a desire to gain control. Whether arising from fear or irritation that things are not going the way we want, anger is often used to intimidate in order to manipulate. “This is not acceptable, read my lips. Do you have any idea who the hell I am? Get me your boss! Now!”

Sometimes people are angered by what they view as injustice. “Righteous indignation” comes from a person’s moral center, outrage at an inequity being committed against oneself or others. “What! Female genital mutilation in this day and age? Isn’t that as barbaric as foot-binding? This has got to stop!”

To many, anger management is treating anger as a negative emotion and eliminating it from their lives.

That is too simplistic a view, in my opinion.

We should first determine why anger arises in the first place and what’s done with it.

To me, anger is not necessarily a bad thing. It has always seem an appropriate response to injustice and may even be beneficial in that it motivates actions to right wrongs.

Our goal should be not to eliminate anger but to control it; not to suppress it but to create value with it.

It is mentally unhealthy to suppress anger. Once anger rises past a certain point, it requires satisfactory expression to be diffused. Imagine a bottle with a stopper and air is continuously expanding inside. It’s a matter of time before the stopper flies out or the bottle explodes. How you enable your anger to be channeled through an outlet depends on why the anger you feel is intensifying in the first place. What triggered your anger? How to manage those triggers? What can you do to remove your sense of helplessness if your anger was due to that? Or is fear of loss of control making you angry? Can that fear be eliminated? Are you angry because you are insecure? Anger that arises from insecurity is particularly efficient at destroying intimate relationships. If your anger is over an injustice, what is the best way to discharge this anger? Are there actions you can take or mobilize others to take?

Everyone can seethe with wrath and become bitter and cynical in the end. It’s the wise person who can calm himself down first, then transform his outrage into positive energies.

We have much to be angry about these days – the plane that was shot down in Ukraine, rapes in India, our fears of not having enough CPF for retirement, the tension in the Middle East, etc. Does it help to rant and whine or sit around and curse our fate or would it be more productive to turn our anger into some form of constructive action?

Many successful nonprofit organizations were started by individuals infuriated about something and wanted to use their anger to make a difference. For example, MADD – Mothers Against Drunk Driving was founded by Candice Lightner after her 13-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver. MADD claims that drunk driving has been cut in half since it was founded.

How do you deal with your anger?