In the world of stress research, anger and hostility are the most widely studied behavioral characteristics. Studies indicate that anger is the behavioral factor most highly correlated with an increased risk of coronary heart stroke, myocardial infarction and, possibly, high blood pressure. Other physical and behavioral stress problems are known to be directly influenced by stress. For example, gastrointestinal or stomach problems have a high correlation with anger.
A high level of anger is a strong behavioral predictor of early illness and even death. This scale measures such things as irritability, anger, and impatience and is one of the classic Type-A behaviors. If you scored medium to high on this scale, then practice more constructive and appropriate ways of dealing with anger and the internal and external situations that generate this emotion in you.
The Basics of Anger and Hostility
Anger is an emotion that nearly everyone feels from time to time in their lives. It is not wrong or bad to feel anger, but it is a negative emotion — meaning that it tends to bring a person’s mood down.
Hostility or aggression is a behavior, often the direct result of anger that goes unchecked. Most people believe that they have little to no control over their hostility or aggression, and even less control over anger. But like all emotions and all behaviors, a person can learn to better control their anger and aggression through training and practice.
A lot of anger can be inappropriate and counterproductive. Determine for yourself if your anger is excessive and if it is beginning to or already has affected you and your relationships. You know better than anyone if your anger is harmful.
In addition to the physical affects of anger, anger has consequences in your social life as well. Some examples of destructive anger include verbal abuse of a child, spouse, or other person when they do not meet expectations. Physically hitting or abusing a person is an unfortunate common occurrence in homes across the world. This form of anger is almost always wrong, as are the frequent explosive outbursts of rage and anger toward others for minor infractions. Excessive verbal or physical anger is a problem for many.
Why anger? Anger is typically an attempt to control the actions or behaviors of others to get our needs and wants met by others. Anger is the result of frustration when you do not get what you need, want, or expect from life or others. Anger is essentially a control tactic.
Underlying anger is fear. The most common fear is not feeling in control of a person or event. Anger is an attempt to control one’s own world by attempting to control the actions of others. To reduce fear or anxiety and to get the person to behave “properly,” anger is employed. After all, once the person is under your control, you feel better.
Anger can be expressed either directly through “lashing out” or indirectly through “passive-aggressive” behavior. With passive-aggressive behavior, individuals punish others by being belligerent, not responding, pouting, or simply running away. Active anger is obvious: you simply lose control and “explode” onto someone with a verbal or physical attack.
Continued expressions of anger can damage your health as well as your relationships. Angry words and acts can never be taken back. The harm done is not really healed. The effects may linger for years and frequently come back to haunt you.
Things You Can Do About Anger and Hostility
1. Recognize the fear driving your anger
Since fear is the engine that drives you to do such things such as hit, yell, or scream at someone, ask yourself, “What am I fearing right now?” Do you fear the person will not do or say what you want? Do you feel anxious when you’re not in control? Recognize that your need to control may be unrealistic and actually counter-productive. If anxiety about a situation is great, you may have difficulty attending to this source and you will probably need to work very hard on this anxiety. Once you do, you will be able to master your fear and anger more effectively.
2. Flow with fear
Once you have identified the fear behind your anger, allow yourself to feel it. Doing so will allow the fear to flow through and out of you. Much energy is wasted trying to push away from our fears. Unfortunately, this keeps us smack in the middle of them. Once we experience and identify our fears, we can move on to reduce stress. We can accept that the feared condition has occurred, and then take positive steps to change or make the best of a perceived “feared” outcome.
3. Improve your self-esteem
Everyone experiences anger at times. It’s normal. However, a positive and healthy self-esteem is vital to resisting the use of anger. Self-esteem improves when you look to the good within you and not to the bad, flawed or inadequate.
4. Practice “letting go”
“Letting go” is the key to freeing yourself from excessive anger. Our culture focuses on maintaining control rather than teaching us the art of “letting go.” By “letting go,” you will actually gain control over yourself! When you become aware of excessive anger within you, you can begin to talk to yourself in a different way. For example, you might say to yourself:
“I can let go and it’s okay. Letting go does not mean I’m out of control.”
“I can let go and still feel in control. Letting go makes me feel better, and that will make the situation better.”
“I don’t need anger to change this person or situation. Anger is not controlling me, I am the master of my anger.”
“I am not an angry person. Anger is destructive. I will raise myself above this anger and let go!”
5. Be prepared
Being prepared means to think about your behavior and thoughts. Write down or make a mental note when you frequently feel excessive anger or express it either outwardly toward others or inwardly toward yourself. Become aware of the circumstances that trigger your reaction and mentally prepare yourself for future occurrences the next time. Prepare by rehearsing how you will respond when your anger begins to show itself. Then, when the situation arises, you will be better able to make a positive change in yourself. You may not always succeed, but you will make progress, especially when you have small successes.
6. Use “i-messages”
“I-Messages” are powerful ways to communicate with others when angry, upset or hurt. I-Messages can defuse a potentially explosive situation and are a good alternative to verbally abusing another person. Typically, I-Messages take the form of telling the person how you feel because of what they did or did not do. I-Messages focus on behavior, not the person as a human being. For example, a common anger expression might be: “You idiot! Where have you been all night! You’re such a stupid, no-good kid! I hate you. Get out of my sight.”
For example, an I-Message can take the form of: “When you don’t call me or let me know when you’re coming home, I feel hurt and unimportant in your life. It is important for you to call me. I know you want to be independent, but let’s discuss boundaries and limits. I don’t hate you. I am upset with your behavior. Unfortunately for you, there are limits and we need to talk about consequences.” I-Messages should express how you are affected by another’s behavior.
7. Avoid should’s
Mentally setting overly tight boundaries for yourself and others, constantly saying that people should be something other than what they are generates frustration and anger. People are what they are; change is possible, but acceptance is key to stressmastery. Engaging in these “shouldisms” is often self-destructive and usually harmful to your relationships with others.
Some examples of “should’s” to avoid are:
“She/he should be more loving.”
“When I walk into a room, people should immediately say hello to me.”
“When I assigned her the job, she should have completed it right away.”
“He should love his parents more. He should visit them more often.”
“They should show me more respect. After all, I’m their superior. I deserve it.”
8. Set realistic goals
When you do not reach your goals, you can become frustrated and angry. Set realistic goals, both in reducing excessive anger and in all other areas of your life. Then act on them; promises and hopes rarely change human behavior. Finally, tell yourself that you are making progress. Reassure yourself, even when you are making only occasional or small strides. Small strides are the only way many goals are reached.