Anger is an emotion that tends to get a bad rap. Some people see anger as an unhealthy emotion because they have not been exposed to healthy and regulated displays of anger. The truth is that anger is as normal of an emotion as happiness, sadness, and everything in between. The problem with anger is that many people don’t know how to express their angry feelings and unmanaged anger can lead to mental health as well as relationship challenges.
On this week’s episode of the Get Naked with Dr. Kate podcast, Dr. Kate Balestrieri and Dr. Ryan Martin discuss the complexities around the feeling of anger, the ways it often masks other uncomfortable emotions, and how you can deal with someone who might struggle with managing their anger.
What Causes Anger Issues?
Difficulty with handling one’s anger can stem from myriad factors. but For some, anger can come from an urge to feel powerful and in control of one’s environment. People can experience various reactions when they feel they are losing control; some get angry, others feel anxious, and some over-perform in order to re-gain control. How we respond emotionally to various situations often comes down to both nature and nurture.
A common link to anger issues is the way that one witnesses displays of anger during formative years of childhood. If someone grew up with one or multiple caregivers who displayed violent tendencies such as screaming, slamming doors, throwing items, or even physically harming others, then a child can learn that anger equates to violence and asserting dominance. This is often the case in homes where domestic violence is present. When that child becomes an adult, since they didn’t have healthy modeling of anger, they may become an adult that struggles with uncontrolled anger and doesn’t have proper coping skills to express anger in more productive ways.
For some, anger is a mask for feelings of sadness or pain. For example, during a fight, if someone starts yelling at their partner, calling them names, and puts them down, one reason they might be doing so is due to not being able to identify and express that what they are actually feeling is pain which is coming out as anger. This kind of situation is often true for those socialized as men and many men are conditioned not to be emotionally vulnerable, thus expressing anger over communicating that they are feeling another painful emotion underneath that anger.
How to Deal with an Angry Person
Anger, like many other emotions, happens on a spectrum so contact with an angry person can look different depending on how someone expresses anger. Because anger has the ability to come with violence, if you feel unsafe in a situation with someone who is angry, you never have to subject yourself to physical danger in order to de-escalate the situation.
For situations where you feel more safe to engage with an angry person, there are steps you can take to promote healthy communication and boundary setting.
It can be easy to become dysregulated when someone else around you is losing their cool, but staying calm is one of the best things you can do in the situation. If an angry person sees that they are not getting a reaction out of you, it can provide a mirror to how they might be coming off and acting unfavorably. If you can stay calm in the moment, the better the chance is for everyone to come back down to center.
Give the person space to calm down
Everyone can likely remember a moment or two in their life when they have felt big emotions and then felt a bit more regulated once they were able to have their space to process their feelings. This can be helpful for angry people as it can ensure that they are not going to cause any potential or further pain towards the person they might be angry at and gives them time to sit with their feelings, allowing the waves of anger to lose their steam. During this time, allow the person who is angry to have all the time they need in order to feel more regulated.
Ask the person to seek professional help
There is nothing wrong with needing help managing anger. In fact, there are programs designed exactly to provide support in this context, called anger management. In anger management class, people are often taught how to identify their triggers, regulate their nervous system, and develop healthy coping skills they can utilize when anger arises. Additionally, many people who struggle with anger find community in support groups as it allows them to realize that others similarly struggle with anger and there is opportunity to feel validated and hold each other accountable.
Dr. Ryan Martin and Dr. Kate Balestrieri talk about how prevalent anger is today from road rage to restaurant workers, and also who is modeling for us how to express our anger. They discuss how we evaluate if our anger is justified. And so much more. Let’s get more understanding of anger and anything we can do to handle ours and others.
Dr. Ryan Martin (aka the Anger Professor) researches and writes on healthy and unhealthy expressions of anger. His newest book How to Deal with Angry People came out on May 9th. His previous book is Why We Get Mad: How to Use Your Anger for Positive Change, explores why people become angry, how people can use their anger in productive ways, and how to work effectively with angry people. Ryan also hosts the popular psychology podcast, Psychology and Stuff.
He is a Professor of Psychology and an Associate Dean for the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. His work has been featured in the New York Times, NPR’s Invisibilia podcast, BBC Radio’s Digital Human, TED.com, and more.
Anger is a hot issue in our lives and in our country. Dr. Kate and Dr. Ryan discuss why.