Coping With Anger
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Your Anger
Have you ever heard the expression, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger?” Sure, it is a great idea to get rid of angry feelings before our head hits the pillow, but is it possible? Anger can be a burden that weighs us down before we can get a handle on it. The risk of harm to ourselves is there. An analogy might be made with a newspaper article from last winter –“Roof gives way under weeks of accumulated snow.” The owner had let the drifts pile up till it all came tumbling down at once. Storing up anger – a few silent irritations here, some inward resentments there – can make for an overloaded roof ready to cave in on ourselves or someone else.
People use a variety of both conscious and unconscious processes to handle anger. The three main approaches are expressing, suppressing and calming. Expressing your feelings in an assertive –not aggressive – way is the most healthy. The expression of anger can be done in a constructive way, for instance, “using I-messages.” An I-message would be – “I feel frustrated when we keep going over the same issues, can we just try to resolve this issue now.” Or “I feel angry when you come into my room without asking. Could you please knock first.” The statements are firm, spoken in a neutral tone, and directed at the person with whom we need to resolve feelings. Suppressing anger until we are ready to express it may work for a short while, but containing the feelings can be very hard on a person. It can cause hypertension, high blood pressure, or depression. Unexpressed anger can create other problems. It can lead to passive-aggressive behavior (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on) or a personality that is constantly cynical and hostile. Calming techniques such as relaxation exercises can be helpful in controlling internal responses, taking steps to lower heart rate and letting the feelings subside.
Remember that anger is usually a secondary emotion. There is a primary feeling behind it. We always feel something else before we feel angry. We might first feel frustrated, fearful, disappointed, etc. If we address those primary feelings in an assertive, constructive way, we can get rid of the burden of anger. In addition, if we are able to identify the primary feeling, it is more helpful to be specific about the feeling and then something can be done about it.
Angry feelings arise in all family dynamics. We can help ourselves and our children by first identifying the primary feeling and then addressing it in a constructive way. Timing is important. If we are too angry to talk, we need to give ourselves a time out to calm down. The important thing, though, is to return later to finish the discussion and come to a healthy resolution.
We all want to live a long, productive and enjoyable life. When we lift the burden of anger we free ourselves to do just that.
- American Psychological Association (APA.org)
Written and edited by ACS Staff for Adolescent Counseling Services