If you get angry easily, you’ll frequently find yourself feeling furious. Anger is an extremely energetic emotion. As such, it gives you the vigor and strength necessary to defend yourself against attack or criticism. However, if you don’t know how to channel it properly, you might have a tendency to explode.
Anger is a negatively valenced emotion. It’s aversive and, when you’re captured by it, you’re seized with a physical and mental activation that requires you to reflect. It’s also a basic emotion. Indeed, all human beings experience anger at some point in their lives.
When anger takes you over, it’s a good idea to physically separate yourself from the element or individual that’s made you angry. Once you’re calm, you can use various assertive communication techniques. These help you to transmit a message in a calm and constructive way without hurting the other person.
“Assertiveness is the ability to make decisions and express feelings in an open, honest, and direct way.”
Daniel Goleman claims that “Anger is a human and natural response to the perception of something threatening”. In this sense, we could consider it as the result of a specific interpretation. For example, the interpretation of a breached norm, a crossed boundary, or a message understood as personal criticism.
Other authors have defined anger as “the emotion that’s born after a blockage when it comes to achieving a goal or a personal need” (Nieto et al., 2008). This means that when the things that are relevant and valuable to you escape and elude you, you feel irritable, irritated, and troubled.
Anger burns. Indeed, unlike its emotional sisters, such as fear (a cold, energy-draining emotion), anger acts like a 200-horsepower engine, igniting everything in its path. Therefore, it’s common that, in the heat of this burning emotion, you exhibit biases, make cognitive errors, and experience negative feelings toward the people around you. What can you do about it?
“Anger is a momentary madness, so control your passion or it will control you.”
Assertiveness and anger management
Assertive behavior can be an exceptional ally if you’re easily angered. It’s a tool with the potential to allow you to modulate these feelings. However, it’s important that you can identify them. To do this, you might find it useful to consult Plutchick’s wheel of emotions.
The various methods of assertive communication also promote self-regulation. They allow you to transition from an aggressive state to a more constructive one. For instance, assertive behavior promotes the following(Aguilar-Morales, 2010):
- Emotional expression.
- The ability to socialize.
- Respect for the emotions of others.
- Psychological well-being and perception of confidence.
- The achievement of goals, without hurting those of others.
You can learn assertive behavior. Possessing this ability implies being able to transmit what you’re experiencing without hurting. This is how interpersonal relationships can grow and become richer, with more nuances.
“Assertiveness is the ability to assert one’s own rights, without being manipulated and without manipulating others.”
Assertive behavior for anger management
There are a remarkable number of techniques and procedures with the power to increase your ability to be more assertive. In this article, we’re going to explain three.
1. Increase your awareness of your experiences
To be assertive, you must train yourself to know, identify and register your thoughts that emerge in response to a particular stimulus. To this end, self-monitoring can be helpful. On a blank sheet of paper, write down the following columns:
- Alternative thinking.
When you feel anger (or another emotion) taking over and holding your mind captive for longer than you’d like, start filling in these situations. For example, Lucas, a 24-year-old patient, recently wrote:
- Situation. “I just had an argument with my partner. She doesn’t do anything at home, she doesn’t clean, doesn’t cook, doesn’t pay the bills. I’m the one who takes care of everything”.
- Emotions. “I’m fed up! I’m furious. There’s so much anger inside me”.
- Thoughts. “My feelings are making me so frustrated. I don’t know how to deal with the situation. I think that I’d like us to split but, at the same time, I really love her and I know that it’s just a bad phase we’re going through that’ll eventually come to an end”.
- Alternative thinking. “Maybe it would help if I explained how I feel. Perhaps I should tell her: Martha, I know you’re going through a hard time. I respect that and want you to know that you have my support. But, I still feel bad sometimes. I get angry when I get home from work and have to do everything. I’m tired after a day at work. Couldn’t you help me a little? If you can’t and you need something, just tell me. But I really want you to know that I do need some support from you, too.”
This is an assertive message. It’s said in a reflective manner with no anger. It’s calm but firm. It expresses a thought and an emotion and, at the same time, takes the other person into account. It’s a channel for empathy, but also for setting boundaries. These boundaries must be respected because they’re beneficial for everyone, especially if you get angry easily.
2. Use self-talk
Linguistic and narrative psychology suggests that language has the ability to ‘govern’ thought. However, just as it can govern it and cause discomfort (“I’m stupid”, “I’m worthless”, “I shouldn’t have done that”), it can also promote well-being, through messages of self-regulation. Some examples are those that promote the following (Castanyer, 1996):
- Countering your fears. For example by saying, “I feel really angry and it scares me. But, I know it’s only temporary. It’s just an emotion and it has a beginning and an end”.
- Focusing your attention on the present. For instance by telling yourself, “Okay, this is the problem, so what am I going to do to deal with it? I know. I’m going to break it down into smaller problems and try to solve them one at a time”.
- Thinking back to times in the past when you were effective at solving a problem. For example, by telling yourself “I feel so irritable. I know that breathing or going for a brisk walk sometimes helps to calm me down. That’s what I’m going to do”.
- Helping you momentarily accept your anger. For instance, by saying to yourself “I’m feeling overwhelmed by anger. I’m furious. I can’t even go for a walk right now. But, I know it won’t last forever. It’ll soon pass and I’ll recover”
These messages are assertive forms of behavior. In effect, instead of directing your feelings toward others, you target yourself. They allow you to self-regulate and validate your emotional experience of anger. At the same time, they provide you with a friendly comment in the face of a latent aversive situation.
3. Make use of subjective assertiveness
You may be aware that another person wants to hurt you with their comments or behavior. If you’re quick to anger, this can light its fuse. Therefore, as we mentioned earlier, it’s a good idea to set boundaries.
Through subjective assertiveness, you can set boundaries without being aggressive or getting angry. Try the following (Castanyer, 1996):
- Identify when you feel the way you do.
- Identify the emotions.
- Explain why you behave in this way.
- Explain what needs to be done to prevent you from feeling angry.
Here’s an example. Louise, 56, gets angry easily. After a few sessions with her psychologist, she’s learned to respond to certain behaviors of her husband in a more assertive way.
For example, when her husband leaves the dishes unwashed, Louise responds: “When you don’t help me with the housework, I feel frustrated and get angry. Even though I don’t like it, sometimes I yell at you. So, if you want to avoid me shouting at you and have a more peaceful life, I’d like you to start doing some household chores”.
The power of assertive behavior
As you can see, assertiveness is a process. Moreover, it’s an ideal channel to mobilize your anger and transform it. It’s worth remembering that all emotions are valid because they’re the product of being human. It’s just the way you react to them that can sometimes be dysfunctional.
With these three exercises, you should be able to express your anger in a less hostile and aggressive way. In effect, in a more constructive way.
“Assertive communication is an effective means of resolving conflicts and maintaining healthy relationships.”
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