Myths about anger

Anger does not necessarily have to be a negative feeling. We know that anger can range from mild irritation to rage. Many people often confuse anger with aggression. Aggression is a behavior intended to cause harm to another person or property. Anger, on the other hand, is a strong feeling of displeasure usually aroused by a wrong or an action.

For many the emotion of anger becomes a problem when it is too intense for the person that is experiencing it or when it is expressed inappropriately. However, the consequences of rage are minimized when the person experiencing it can express it safely and channel it in a healthy way.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has a list of myths about anger:

1) Myth #1: Anger is inherited. One misconception or myth about anger is that the way we express anger is inherited and cannot be changed. Sometimes we may hear someone say, “I inherited my anger from my father; that’s just the way I am.” This statement implies that the expression of anger is a fixed and unalterable set of behaviors. Evidence from research studies, however, indicates that people are not born with set, specific ways of expressing anger. These studies show, rather, that because the expression of anger is learned behavior, more appropriate ways of expressing anger can also be learned.

2) Myth #2: Anger automatically leads to aggression. A related myth involves the misconception that the only effective way to express anger is through aggression. It is commonly thought that anger is something that builds and escalates to the point of an aggressive outburst. As has been said, however, anger does not necessarily lead to aggression. In fact, effective anger management involves controlling the escalation of anger by learning assertiveness skills, changing negative and hostile “self-talk,” challenging irrational beliefs, and employing a variety of behavioral strategies.

3) Myth #3: People must be aggressive to get what they want. Many people confuse assertiveness with aggression. The goal of aggression is to dominate, intimidate, harm, or injure another person—to win at any cost. For example, if you are upset because a friend is repeatedly late for meetings, an aggressive response would be to shout obscenities. This approach is an attack on the other person rather than an attempt to address the behavior in a healthy manner. Conversely, the goal of assertiveness is to express feelings of anger in a way that is respectful towards others. Talking calmly and politely with your friend, explaining your feelings without using harsh language or personal attacks, would be a more assertive and adaptive response.

4) Myth #4: Venting anger is always desirable. For many years, the popular belief among numerous mental health professionals and laymen was that the aggressive expression of anger, such as screaming or beating on pillows, was healthy and therapeutic. Research studies have found, however, that people who vent their anger aggressively simply get better at being angry (Berkowitz, 1970; Murray, 1985; Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980). In other words, venting anger in an aggressive manner reinforces aggressive behavior.

All human beings can overcome the anger habit by becoming aware of situations and circumstances that trigger their anger and the negative consequences that result from anger. It is also necessary to develop strategies to manage anger effectively.

There are several techniques and strategies to control anger which often work very well. An effective set of strategies for controlling anger should include both immediate and preventive strategies. Taking time to develop a plan when you are calm and collected can be very helpful.

An example of a plan for anger management might look like the following:

1. Take a “timeout”: The timeout is a basic technique in which you breathe deeply and think instead of react. It can also mean withdrawing from the situation that prompted the escalation of anger.

2. Talk to a friend or someone you trust.

3. Exercise (take a walk, go to the gym, run, etc.).

4. Attend 12-step meetings or support groups.

5. Explore the basic feelings that may be underlying reasons behind your anger.

If you find that you are experiencing frequent or strong eruptions of anger, seek support from a mental health professional in your area. This could be a positive and preventive step to preserve not only your own mental and emotional well-being, but the health of important relationships in your life.

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