Just about everyone gets angry. Anger is a common, normal human emotion. Anger has been labeled by some as a secondary emotion as compared to primary emotions like fear, sadness, hurt, shame, and guilt. It is called a secondary emotion because it arises out of a primary emotion. For example, sadness has been connected to anger responses. Sometimes when someone is sad and unhappy, they may lash out with reactive anger. The father of modern psychology, Sigmund Freud, connected depression as a condition of turning anger in on ourselves. And often, this anger cannot be contained within a person. This reactive anger then occurs in the form of explosiveness and even rage. This may be directed outwardly toward others, toward ourselves and even toward God. Some even understand suicide as rage against the self.
When reactive anger is uncontrolled, problems and dysfunction occur. This dysfunctional behavior results in the lack of mental wellness and even mental illness. As news programs too often explain, domestic violence, workplace violence and violence toward innocent people exist in our society on a regular basis. These extreme forms of violence may take place after years of anger “storage” until one day, it has to be released. There is hope in the form of counseling psychotherapy and medical treatment. If people with dysfunctional anger issues choose to enter a counseling treatment program, they can begin to understand the source of their anger and why they are acting the way they do. Their anger may be a result of disappointment, embarrassment, failure, financial matters, marital problems, loss, or abuse, just to name a few. As these matters are closely addressed in counseling, people can move to a new place of acceptance and mental wellness. Medical treatment can also be a valuable tool in the treatment of anger. The medical community has a large pool of medications that may be used to treat the depression and anxiety associated with anger.
We should not, however, label all anger as bad. In fact, anger that is constructively channeled can be very beneficial to people. Anger may be translated into motivation and passion and can thus be used for positive purposes. In the book, “Anger Management for Dummies” by Elliott, Smith and Gentry, twelve steps are listed to use anger constructively. They are: 1. Decide how you want to feel after you get angry 2. Acknowledge your anger 3. Focus your anger on the problem, not the person 4. Identify the source of the anger 5. Accept that the problem that made you angry can be solved 6. Try to see things from the other person’s perspective 7. Cooperate with the other party in resolving the problem 8. Keep a civil tone throughout 9. Avoid disrespectful behavior 10. Don’t be afraid to take a timeout and resume discussion later 11. Make it a two-way conversation and 12. Acknowledge that you’ve made progress.
If you or someone close to you is suffering from dysfunctional anger that is negatively impacting that person’s mental health, consider getting help through counseling and/or medical treatment. If you or someone close to you would like to use anger in effective and constructive ways, consider resource books and other media to help make the quality of your mental wellness even better. And finally, please remember that you can choose what to do with your anger, rather than just letting anger be reactive.
This article was written by Charles Wentz as a part of monthly column on mental health issues. Wentz is a licensed professional counselor with the Scotland Family Counseling Center in Laurinburg.