There are ways to express anger that allow you to communicate constructively, such as using objective language or writing to the person you’re upset with.
Anger is a common emotion that most people feel sometimes.
Anger can be beneficial. It can drive you to solve problems and give you the courage to bring about difficult but necessary change. All emotions serve a purpose, and anger can be motivating and protective.
Expressing your anger calmly and assertively is the healthiest way to manage this type of strong emotion. Suppressing anger or ignoring it can have health consequences.
Anger doesn’t have to hijack your personal and professional relationships. There are healthy ways to express anger when you need to communicate with someone.
You may have heard the expression “count to ten before speaking” as an anger regulation tool. Taking some slow, deep breaths while you count can make it a little easier to settle your emotions before you try to articulate your thoughts.
If you suspect you may not think as clearly when you’re angry, you may be right. Research from 2020 links anger to an intense attention toward the person or situation that’s provoked you. This narrow focus can interfere with decision-making and cognitive processing.
So, allowing some time for your anger to wane can make communication less stressful. It may also be helpful if you allow temporary physical distance between yourself and the other person.
When you’re angry, it’s easy to use emotion-filled words.
But those words might be an exaggeration of the truth, or they might not be true at all. They may also upset the other person.
Instead, using objective language to describe your point may help to calm things down.
An objective description is a fact-based summary of something. It’s not the subjective version, which is your feelings or opinions of what happened or why.
If you talk about something objectively, there’s less chance you might escalate a fight with a false accusation.
- Objective: “You slammed the door behind you.”
- Subjective: “You were angry.”
The subjective interpretation that the person was angry may not be correct. It’s possible that a gust of air pulled the door and made it slam.
Sometimes a person’s behavior misrepresents their intentions. By referring to a situation using objective language, you allow for alternate explanations instead of falsely prejudging.
- Objective: “You threw away the box even though there were still some cookies inside.”
- Subjective: “You must be mad at me – you threw away my favorite cookies.”
The cookies may have been stale, and the person who threw them out may have been trying to tidy the cupboard.
Objective language can take some of the emotion out of the conversation and help you pinpoint the facts instead.
Absolute language is word choice that states something without allowing for other possibilities.
Examples of absolute words include:
When you’re upset, absolute language might feel like an accurate way to express your frustration.
“You always make this mistake!”
The word “always” is an example of absolute language, which isn’t usually accurate. Instead, it can be misleading and upsetting to the other person.
A statement like this may be more productive:
“You’ve made this mistake twice. How can I help you avoid it next time?”
People are imperfect. It’s natural for someone to occasionally slip up.
But this doesn’t mean that the person is their mistake.
If you’re feeling angry about something a person has done, using language that separates them from the upsetting event can calm an argument rather than cause it to escalate.
For example, saying “What you said made me feel unappreciated” is more helpful than saying “You’re a mean person.”
If you address the specific event or behavior, it gives the other person a chance to make amends without feeling attacked.
There are more ways to express anger than an in-person conversation. Sending a carefully worded email can give the recipient a chance to contemplate what you’ve said before they respond.
It also gives you a chance to reread what you’ve written before you click send. You may want to get another person to read it too, just to make sure your tone isn’t inflammatory.
It’s OK to write the first draft while you’re angry, but don’t send it yet. Wait until you’re calm enough to reread and edit so that what you’ve written is rational, reasonable, and contains no content you might regret later. Only then can it leave your outbox.
Anger seldom exists in isolation. It’s often the result of an underlying emotion like frustration, fear, or embarrassment.
If you can pause to self-assess rather than simply lashing out, this allows you to identify and effectively communicate what’s bothering you.
Phrases like, “I hate this,” or “This is stupid,” might alienate the person you’re with.
But there’s a good chance they’ll agree if you say, “This traffic is so frustrating. It’s a waste of time and gas.”
Assessing anger can also help you deal with a person who seems upset with you. If you consider that their temper may have an underlying cause like hunger or fatigue, this may help you keep your own emotions in check.
How does anger affect mental health?
Anger that’s not expressed in a healthy way can turn inward or result in aggressive or destructive outbursts. This can lead to:
Mental health issues that result from anger can make anger worse, but learning how to manage strong emotions in a healthy way can break this cycle.
Anger is a natural emotion, designed to protect and motivate you. If it’s not channeled in a healthy way though, it can have downsides like adverse health effects and loss of relationships.
If you’ve tried to manage your anger alone and are still experiencing challenges, it might be beneficial to explore one of the many mental health support options available.