How To Recognize and Handle Toxic Anger

Toxic Anger

Are you feeling angry? How often? Every time you drive home from work? Every time you have a conflict with a family member? Every time you read the news or scroll through social media? Understandable. Common, even.

But today I hope you’ll stop and consider whether all the anger you experience in your life is really necessary. In fact, not only might your level of anger be unnecessary, it might be making everything in your life worse.

What is anger, exactly?
We tend to think of emotions as good or bad, positive or negative. Anger is one of those feelings that’s often labeled bad or negative. Looking at feelings that way is not always useful, though. Here’s why. If someone invaded your home and started taking your things, you’d be angry, right? Is that a negative feeling? Not if it motivates you to do what you have to do to protect yourself, your family, or your property. In that case, your anger is a very good feeling for you to have.

Anger’s primary function is to protect us–to get our hormones into gear so we’re ready to put up a fight that might be necessary to our survival. Fair enough. So let’s apply a little test, shall we?

Think about the last time you were angry.

What happened?

How did you react?

How did it feel in your body to feel that way?

Most importantly:
Was your life actually in danger?

Chances are, no. If so, the anger you felt was toxic. You’re using it to hide from your feelings, deny your own vulnerability, or to run from a challenge. If so, your anger isn’t really protecting you–it’s harming you and the people around you.

What are you yelling about?
It’s often been said that anger is a secondary emotion, and to some extent, that’s true. We tend to slip from a more difficult emotion into anger because anger is simple. It’s kill or be killed! It doesn’t get much simpler than that. You may find, though, that it doesn’t exactly help you with complex problems that aren’t life or death.

Confirmation bias
Anger can also rise when you feel your grip on the world is slipping away from you. It can arise from beliefs that, when carefully examined, really make no sense, or at least don’t amount to a life and death struggle. See if these common, but silly ideas that tend to cause anger sound familiar:

“Life should be fair,” for instance. Or “this person should be able to anticipate my wants and needs!” or everyone’s favorite “They should drive exactly the way I would.”

What to do with it?
Practicing more mindfulness helps. Check in with yourself. Get curious about what you’re feeling and why. If you lash out in anger and don’t know why, ask yourself. Talk to a friend, or write about it in your journal. Are you passing over a challenging feeling you’d rather not confront, but which needs your attention?

This sounds hard, but even a toddler can do it.

Children’s Advocate and Entertainer Fred Rogers wrote a song you might remember from your own childhood, but it outlines with crystal clarity the best way to handle and subvert toxic anger.

Watch, and think about what these words mean. How could you put them to work in your own life?

Choose to live the good life.

The staff of The Good Life Massage are not psychologists, psychiatrists, or mental health professionals. This article is intended for informational and entertainment purposes only, and should not be construed in any way as professional counseling or advice. People with severe mental and emotional problems should seek help from trained professionals and physicians.

Tom Gunn is the blog editor and marketing director for The Good Life Massage. You can hire him to build your brand or enlarge your online presence by contacting him at tomgunn@gmail.com

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