“The best fighter is never angry.”
– Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher and writer
“I’m angry,” he declared. “I’m really freakin’ mad! That’s why I’m here today!”
A while back, a client booked a last-minute appointment with me at the local wellness centre. As I ushered him into my treatment room, I could tell he was stirred up. Over the next hour, he unleashed a tirade of resentment and rage about the “unfairness” of his life.
If you’re living or working with someone locked in a prolonged state of anger, it can seem like an emotional storm – a tempest of harsh words, brutal judgments and cruel actions that can prove tremendously damaging to your self-esteem, sense of worth and significance.
We all get angry. Some people get angry occasionally while others seem to live in an unremitting state of anger. Anger is a natural emotion and a crucial one. It is a facet of our fight or flight response and has prompted people to rail against injustice and defend the rights of others. On a personal level, anger has motivated people to say, “I’ve had enough,” to stand up for their rights and set clear and appropriate boundaries – an aspect of healthy self-esteem.
Emotions are created by chemicals released into the body. When anger (or any other heightened emotion for that matter) is left to flare unchecked, the body begins to labour and break down – unable to cope with a sustained flood of adrenaline and stress hormones.
In his thought-provoking book Deadly Emotions: Understanding the mind-body-spirit connection that can heal or destroy you, New York Times best-selling author Dr. Don Colbert explains the link between sustained levels of anger and rage and physical pain and disease.
“The stronger the emotion,” says Colbert, “the more powerful the explosion.” To put it frankly, if we stay in a prolonged state of frustration and anger, we will irreparably damage our relationships, our jobs, self-esteem and, most importantly, our health and well-being.
A study conducted by the Mayo Clinic linked psychological stress (anger in particular) to future cardiac events including heart disease, cardiac arrhythmia and even, cardiac failure.
Anger can also be repressed, meaning it’s turned inward. Notes Colbert, common ailments for those who repress anger are tension and migraine headaches, eczema, colitis, ulcers, asthma, insomnia, frequent urination and irritable bowel syndrome.
Colbert explains that anger is a conditioned response. We’ve been trained to be angry when we encounter specific circumstances or situations. Angry individuals may not realize how inappropriate their anger is or even consciously recognize the triggers that provoked it. Worst case scenario, they just don’t care and feel justified in “raising the roof” when the impulse strikes.
If you’re the angry one, take time to refocus and collect your thoughts. Calm down and practise deep-breathing exercises. Slow, deep-breathing induces the relaxation response. You might consider reducing your caffeine intake, take up a fun hobby or use relaxation techniques. Developing your self-esteem could also prove highly beneficial in controlling your temper. If you just can’t “cool your jets” remember, there’s no shame in seeking professional help.
If the anger is directed at you by another, ask yourself if it’s justified. What role have you played and is there anything you can do (or should do) to resolve the situation? Stay calm and speak slowly and directly – try to de-escalate the situation. Know when to unplug. Suggest the issue be discussed later when “heads” are cooler.
Most importantly, stay safe. People can be angry without getting physical, but should someone become aggressive, remove yourself immediately from the situation. If you’re in a relationship where sustained anger is damaging your self-esteem and threatening your physical well-being, get out quickly and get help.
My client left me frazzled. Our session ended with him exclaiming, “It’s obvious you can’t help me,” at which point, he stormed out never to return. To be honest, he was right.