Anger is a perfectly normal emotion, and something that can actually be helpful for mental health. It helps us to identify things that are hurting us, or situations in which we feel frustrated or out of control. To feel angry is not the issue; it is in how we express and deal with it that anger issues can occur.
The Mental Health Organisation’s 2008 ‘Boiling Point’ report found that one in five people (20%) have ended a relationship or friendship with someone because of uncontrolled anger or anger issues.
Dealing with an angry person can be a drain on your energy, impact your mental health and damage your relationship. When angry feelings are expressed in a negative way, it can undermine your own wellbeing, weaken your relationship, and leave you feeling frustrated and unheard.
In this post, The Awareness Centre takes a closer look at the different types of anger you can experience, before moving on to anger management strategies and various methods for helping someone manage their anger issues in a healthy way.
Note that this post deals with supporting an angry person – not with emotional or psychological abuse, or domestic violence, which are very different. If your physical health is at risk, or you feel unsafe with someone who has trouble controlling their anger issues, seek professional help immediately.
Understanding Anger Issues: Clean Anger vs Dirty Anger
We often think of anger as a core, base emotion, but it does not take only one form. Though it can be difficult to analyse the anger within yourself when you begin to feel it, there are in fact two main ways that we can express anger; clean anger and dirty anger.
- Clean anger
Clean anger means finding responsible and appropriate ways to express the anger you feel. It doesn’t mean that you are not feeling angry; rather, that you are behaving reasonably, rationally, and safely, and not allowing those feelings to take control. Clean anger involves listening to other people, and responding in productive ways. Ultimately, harnessing your anger in a constructive way can open the potential for finding positive solutions. This is clean anger.
- Dirty anger
Dirty anger is that other, uncontrollable kind of anger. Some people might refer to it as ‘the red mist’, or pure rage, though it doesn’t necessarily have to be so extreme. Essentially, dirty anger is any ‘negative’ or unproductive expression of anger. Behaviours such as undue criticism, insults, invalidation, or belittling comments, as well as shouting, yelling and screaming, and even damaging property or physical violence, are examples of dirty anger.
7 Healthy Ways to Deal with Someone When They Start to Feel Angry
Though anger management can be a challenge for some people, and a strain on mental health, there are a number of things you can do to help them control an anger problem. In general, it’s a good idea to be a good listener, avoid sarcasm and stay calm when helping someone manage stress and anger issues. Below, we’ve outlined in more detail 7 ways to help someone when they start to feel angry.
“Do not return anger with anger, instead control your emotions. That is what is meant by diligence.” (Siddhartha Gautama). Let the person be angry, and recognise that they will calm down eventually; returning anger with anger will only escalate the situation.
When someone begins to feel angry, they are not thinking with their higher brain, they are thinking with their ‘lizard’ brain. When someone is angry they are operating from their amygdala – the area of the brain responsible for the fight-or-flight response and fear processing. Give them the time and space to calm down and then have a rational conversation. The calmer you remain, the quicker they will calm down.
2. Active listening and asserting yourself
Once the person has calmed down, you can have a more rational conversation. Express your own needs and wishes, and speak honestly, but be respectful. It is important to consider the other person’s needs, feelings, and wishes, and to show them that you are considering these. Appearing to ignore the way they feel will only trigger anger again; people often become angry when they feel unheard, so it is important to show that you are making an effort to hear and understand them.
Go beneath what they are saying to understand why they might be saying it: what has led to this situation? What could this anger be an expression of? What are their deeper emotions? Ask clarifying questions such as; “you are saying… is that correct?”. Active listening doesn’t mean agreeing with everything that they are saying. It is about recognising and considering the other’s perspective.
3. Compassion and patience
It is important to understand the more vulnerable emotions that anger could be hiding, such as fear, hurt, sadness, or pain. It is likely that the person is not able to safely access these emotions or address them, an issue potentially stemming from other mental health problems.
Anger can allow a person to feel powerful and in control in the face of these unwanted vulnerabilities. Be patient with them and remember to take deep breaths yourself, too. It may be too painful for you to confront them with these deeper emotions, but understanding the reasons behind the anger might help you to take a step back and re-evaluate the situation.
4. Lose the battle to win the war
It is often said that we need to pick our battles; that we need to be selective about who, what, and when we fight. This applies to anger management. We only have so much energy, and if we are to ‘win’ in the long-run, we might need to concede or ‘lose’ in the short-term. Providing help for anger doesn’t mean ‘defeating’ it. This is also true of arguments in a relationship. Let go of what matters the least. You may not ‘win’ the argument, but you will strengthen your relationship in the long run.
5. Take some responsibility
Part of effective anger management includes accepting your role – if any – in the way things are. This includes situations where you meet someone’s anger with frustration, or reflecting on what you may have done to trigger their anger. Sometimes a person’s anger is out of your control but, often, there are certain words or actions you could have avoided.
In the same way, it is important to look at what triggers you to behave in the way that you do. The more aware that you (and the other person) become, the less reactive and the more constructive you can be.
6. Address the conflict when you are both calm
As mentioned before, when you or your partner are angry or emotionally charged, your cognitive state is likely to be impaired. Avoid storming out and slamming doors. Instead, calmly let the other person know that you need some time to calm down, or that you are giving them time to calm down, so that you can later come together to have a rational conversation. Use the time to gather and organise your thoughts so that you can have a constructive discussion later. Heading-off potential escalations before they’re allowed to occur is a great method of anger management.
7. Lead by example and set boundaries
Trying to control someone who is angry is like waving a red flag at a bull. It is only going to escalate their anger. Angry people often see themselves as simply reacting to an unfair world, so they are likely to feel attacked if you try to point out that they are being unreasonable.
Lead by example by remaining calm and coherent. If you are able to calm the person down in this way, then do so. If not, then assert your own boundaries by disengaging from the conversation until your partner is calm. This not only gives you both space and time to think, but also shows your partner a different way of dealing with anger and arguments.
Finding Professional Help with Anger Issues & Mental Health Problems
Anger management can be a real challenge for some people, but it doesn’t mean that they are unable to deal with angry feelings. The fact is, there are techniques they can use to help themselves manage the situation and, if you find yourself confronted by someone with anger issues, following the guidelines in this post can help you resolve the issue peaceably.
It can be extremely helpful to make yourself part of the person’s support group. You don’t want to patronise or embarrass them, of course, but understanding their triggers is often the best way to avoid them. Have a conversation with the person, friends and family members, and outline the best ways to deal with anger issues if and when they arise.
It’s important to remember, too, that anger is a normal and natural part of a human’s emotional makeup – though it should never escalate into emotional abuse, physicality or domestic violence. If you find yourself confronted with violent tendencies or in a potentially dangerous situation, you should take measures to remove yourself and contact a mental health professional immediately.
If you are struggling with anger issues, or with dealing with someone else who has anger issues, and would like to talk to someone about it, contact The Awareness Centre now. We offer online counselling and phone therapy; alternatively, book an appointment at one of our private practice centres, or call 020 8673 4545 to speak with one of our staff members today. You can also email us on [email protected].