Anger isn't all bad. Growing up, many of us got raised to believe anger is wrong, unladylike or uncivilized. Anger often travels with emotional partners, like hurt. Direct and appropriate expression of anger is a skill that emotionally healthy people need to develop. Cultivating a healthy respect for managing stress, frustration and anger is a key skill.
Nobody gets what they want all the time. You will run into traffic. Your boss will demand unreasonable things. Your partner and your children won't always read your script. Things will break. How you handle that frustration makes an incredible difference to your health and your close relationships.
If you don't manage anger well, it can negatively impact your health. One study in Psychosomatic Medicine (January, 1998) identified a correlation between anger and high blood pressure and heart rate, as well as neuroendocrine and cardiovascular responses. More recent studies suggest a link between anger or repressed anger and elevated cholesterol, hypertension, heart attacks and cardiovascular disease, immune system disorders, asthma, diabetes, anorexia nervosa, backaches, headaches, stomachaches, diabetes and increased susceptibility to pain.
There are patterns of aggression in close relationships which can drive others away. Threat-based aggression includes threatening things when you don't get your way. I've treated couples where one partner threatened to end the relationship or divorce almost every time they didn't get what they wanted. This is both immature and exhausting.
Irritable aggression includes lashing out at others when you are in pain, uncomfortable, or annoyed. It's like having the people close to you take a verbal lashing because of your discomfort. This is not a good way to manage your stress.
Frustration-based aggression involves a person being stopped from what they desire, when they really expected to get it.
Instrumental aggression happens when we take aggressive action to get something we want, like a child who hits their sibling to take a toy.
Indirect aggression is sort of a sneak attack that instigates a problem situation.
In relationships, individuals need to listen deeply, and also speak up assertively and respectfully about how each wants to be treated. It's much healthier to go direct to the person you are hurt, angry or disappointed with than to hold it in or be indirect with passive digs at the person. Direct and appropriately expressed anger or hurt can be a relief, healing and constructive. Pouting, sulking and suffering in silence get the relationship nowhere.
Being appropriate with anger means talking with that person one on one. (No audience, please.) Don't yell or scream. Talk about how their behavior made you feel, and what you want from them in the future. Focus on one issue only. Don't label the other person or hurl insults. In close relationships we have to train the other person how we want to be treated. Not everything is okay in terms of behavior, and expressing justified anger directly and appropriately is an important counterbalance in the relationship. Withdrawal is not always healthy.
The National Institute of Mental Health suggests using the acronym RETHINK to better manage anger:
R- Recognize what you are feeling.
E- Empathize with the other person. Use "I" messages, not "You" messages.
T- Think about your thinking. Am I being reasonable? Will it matter next month or next year?
H- Hear what the other person is communicating to you.
I- Integrate respect for every human being. (I'm mad, but I still love you.)
N- Notice your own body responses. Take time to calm yourself down. Most of us need 20 minutes to cool the fight or flight responses to strong anger.
K- Keep on topic.
All feelings are okay, including anger. It's what you do with it that matters. Being effective at expressing anger directly and appropriately will help you have more satisfying relationships and optimum physical health. Anger sometimes has important information for us, like boundaries we need to set. Identify when you are angry and what you need to do about it to be a good role model and someone who is safe to be close to.