Tips for Understanding Angry Feelings
In the 2015 Pixar movie, Inside Out, there are five human emotions at work for 11- year-old Riley. Anger is given the colour red and is literally a fireball of impulsive, uneasy rage. You might feel yourself cringing with connection to the fireball character even as you're giggling in amusement. Anger is described as "caring very deeply about things being fair" and moves Riley to shout, toss things and stomp upstairs. In the movie, it is evident that when Anger takes over Riley's emotional and cognitive control board, all other emotions are highjacked and pushed out.
It may feel similar when anger shows up in our lives. We can feel pushed around and confused by our angry emotions. But luckily, we are not in an animated kid's movie, and our feelings are much more nuanced than Riley's!
Anger is a primitive, natural, powerful human emotion. It is experienced on a spectrum and usually mixed up with other emotions. This can make it challenging to identify and understand. Anger gets a bad rap due to the often negative expressions that come with it; yelling, fighting, unkindness, slamming doors, destruction of things, or even violence against oneself or others.
How can anger appear in our thoughts?
It can make us underestimate the chances of bad outcomes
It may cause "swirling thoughts" and an inability to articulate them
How can anger appear in our body feelings and emotions?
Body temperature rises; cheeks and neck get hot
Numb hands or feet
Tummy aches and bathroom breaks
Muscle tension in the neck or back, headaches
Racing heartbeat and extra sweat
It may plummet us into dark feelings of guilt or fear
How can anger appear in our actions?
It can make us quick to blame the "other" for circumstances
We may withdraw and numb ourselves with screens or music
It can make us more willing to take risks and make impulsive decisions
Urge to fight, punch or hurt someone/something
Desire to run or exert physical energy in some way
To increase your understanding of those angry feelings, use the word the word RARE:
Recognize that anger is a normal part of being human for kids and adults. It is not permanent and will disappear eventually. Although it may feel uncomfortable, overwhelming, or confusing, we can learn to tolerate this feeling and even learn from it.
Acknowledge the signals that indicate you're angry. Learning to identify and name the emotions we experience is a necessary skill to emotional regulation. Anger can't be "tamed until it's named".
Realize where the feeling is coming from. Anger can be understood as the "tip of the iceberg", showing up above the waterline while concealing other emotions under the surface. For example, fear, embarrassment, anxiety, or disappointment can often be tied to anger. Sometimes anger is the secondary emotion, showing up on the outside while the primary emotion hasn't yet been identified.
Either take a break or take action. After the physical signals have reduced and thoughts have steadied, discern what is to be done with the angry feelings. A break from anger is almost always the best plan to settle thoughts and the nervous system. A run, a conversation with a friend, a scream in a pillow might release the energy that built up. On the other hand, perhaps anger indicates that sadness or fear needs to be acknowledged. In which case, pivoting your emotional regulation skills will look different and could begin with the simple acknowledgment, "I'm sad right now, and it's coming out as mad".
Anger can motivate us to take action by engaging with difficult conversations or social-political issues. Using anger to create safety, clarify your needs, transform an injustice or find new solutions to systemic problems will make this often avoided emotion a powerful tool in your hands. Transforming anger to be productive is a difficult task, but anger left unchecked can significantly impact your health and relationships. If anger is feeling like an unwelcome, overwhelming guest, practice the RARE tips. And, of course, don't hesitate to find a counsellor to assist you in processing overwhelming emotions.
Jacobson, R. (n.d.). The 6 types of basic emotions and their effect on human behavior. Verywell Mind. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from https://www.verywellmind.com/an-overview-of-the-types-of-emotions-4163976
Pelini, S.(2018, January 16). An age-by-age guide to helping kids manage emotions. The Gottman Institute.
Teens and anger. Child Mind Institute. (2022, January 20). Retrieved January 29, 2022, from https://childmind.org/article/teens-and-anger/