Recently, several of my coaching clients have had situations where their anger was triggered to the point where it led to them being ineffective in their leadership roles. Most of them felt that in many of these situations, their anger was justified and so they had ‘a right to be angry.’
For more than 20 years I have conducted anger management workshops for public and private sector organizations and I have counseled and coached clients and patients who had serious anger management issues. And almost universally, people who have anger issues, have similar responses to those of the leaders I am now coaching: they feel that other people, or situations, or the environment, or some group is responsible for triggering their feelings and emotions around anger. In other words, they typically feel that their anger is justified…
My response? Yes – everyone has a ‘right’ to their own emotions. Yes – their internal feelings may be…. justified!
However, if their emotions and the behaviors and actions which follow diminish their capacity to be effective as leaders, managers or supervisors, – or family members… or members of a civil society… then something needs to be done! Why? So that they can have a more empowering… response to whatever triggered those internal feelings that led to their angry emotions and the behaviors and actions which followed as a result.
I recently came across an article by MK Mueller who seems to have coined the term ‘angergy’… anger-energy. She posited that we need to get in touch with our angergy because she claims that it is B.A.A.D.D.F.O.R.U (We Blame – others, Analyze (we dissect and breakdown and rationalize why we were right to act the way we did),, Apologize (might apologize for what we did – but we keep doing it… and the apologies are weak anyway and are usually followed by a but… “I am sorry… but…), Defend (where even after the apology… we try to explain and blame others and give reasons for our negative behaviors), Deny (we refuse to take responsibility… and certainly don’t want to be accountable), Fix (we attempt to put band aids on the problem and it never works – since it’s the other person that needs fixing), Obsess (we obsess about how right we are and how wrong they are and how much they have wronged us…. And that it is them who needs to change… ), Run (from the internal thing that triggered our anger – which may be our isms, pet peeves, beliefs, feelings of victimization, habits, our upbringing, personal or family history, mindset, etc.) or we Use (food, credit cards, cigarettes, shopping, drugs and alcohol, etc.) to feed or try to treat the negative emotion. BAADDFORU!
Another smart person has written that anger is one letter away from danger… What is that additional letter? “D”… danger! There is even a book entitled: Anger Kills (Now… In my anger management seminars I outline both the physiological and psychological process of how anger kills!
Anger can be a highly distressing emotion that results in all kinds of negative consequences. And, among the many possible stress related emotions (depression, grief, anxiety and fear, jealousy and so on), anger seems to be the most common. And not without reason. Anger has some appeal:
- Anger is activating and mobilizing. When you’re angry, you feel as if you’re doing something about whatever is triggering your stress. You feel there is a response you can make, a way of expending energy toward resolving the distressing situation. It can get you to take action and do something about whatever you perceive is the problem.
- Anger sometimes makes you feel powerful. Anger can make you feel like you’re in charge, even when you are not. When you tell someone off or give them a tongue-lashing, you feel stronger and in control. Anger enables you to express yourself in a forceful way.
- Anger often gets results. By becoming angry, as opposed to remaining calm and pleasant, you may get what you want. Many people are intimidated by anger and are more obliging and cooperative than they normally would be…
- Anger is often a respected response. We often interpret anger as standing up for ourselves and not letting others take advantage of us. And other people may see it the same way. Our anger may be labeled as assertive, strong, courageous, and confident.
- Anger is often seen as being an authentic response. Many people, even some victims, see an angry person as being real… responding from the heart – and they often call that: “speaking truth to power…” In many communities this type of “real-ness” is preferred over a so-called diplomatic or strategic response.
- Anger is also an expected response… So someone does you something and if you don’t get angry as you are expected or as other ‘normal’ people would – then you might be labeled as a softy, or coward… or strange… or some other word that implies being weak!
- Some people believe that anger is necessary. There are many who believe that anger is necessary to take your game or your performance to the next level… Like Mike Tyson for example. Years ago, I used to run around (more like jog) a High school track here in Washington DC at least a couple of times per week. And I would watch the American Football coach working with his senior team… And having been a school coach myself (some track and cricket but mostly soccer) I was really mortified by his style of coaching. He would try to work on the young men’s emotional energy and psyche by telling them things like… (Kick his butt… Push his ass… Grab the so-and-so… F him up!) Now remember these kids are practicing with their own team members and he is trying to stir up their anger in a practice session… to get them to perform. I kept wondering about what these kids were learning… And what messages this coach was giving… He seemed to be telling them… that they needed to be angry to perform and execute well… In stead of focusing on tactics and strategy, his singular and most important approach angergy! Of course… there are ways to get teams to exert high energy – focus… determination – and intensity… But none of that should be about anger… At least that’s how I think….
So… I know many of you will argue that anger can be a useful emotion… and I certainly – but cautiously agree. Mother Teresa started her worldwide social justice movement purportedly and reportedly on a day when she was extremely angry. Dr. Martin Luther King used his anger and sense of injustice to foster change through the civil rights movement! These and other historic figures – for example… Nelson Mandela – Mahatma Gahndi… turned what could have been negative angergy into positive passion for social justice.
So yes… we can use anger as a powerful and passion vehicle for positive good.
Now Lets examine the downside of anger
Although your anger does have its upside, the downside may far outweigh some of those positive benefits. Besides being emotionally distressing and making you a prime candidate for a black eye, – or a bullet in some environments – your anger can give you other things to worry about.
ANGER CAN MAKE YOU SICK
When you’re angry, your body reacts much the same way it does when you are experiencing any other stress reaction. Your anger often times triggers your body to take a defensive stance, readying yourself for any danger that may come your way. When your anger is intense and frequent, the physiological effects can be harmful. Your health is at risk, and any or all of those nasty stress-related illnesses and disorders can become linked to excessive anger.
ANGER CAN BREAK YOUR HEART
Recent research now indicates that your heart (or more accurately, your cardiovascular system) is particularly vulnerable to your anger and its negative effects. In his book, Anger Kills, Redford Williams describes a number of possible ways hostility can negatively affect your cardiovascular system.
Here are a few of those negative effects identified by the research:
- When potentially hostile individuals are angry, they have larger than normal increases in the flow of blood to their muscles (suggesting an exaggerated fight-or-flight response). They also experienced an increase in their levels of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which can have negative effects on the cardiovascular system as well. In other words, an occasional increase of adrenaline and cortisol is OK –
- But when these are released on a regular basis… then your body goes into fight or flight mode too often: Your blood pressure goes up… there is increased blood flow to your arms and legs… the pressure increases in your eyes and ears… However… because more blood is directed to your arms and legs an brain… it has to come from somewhere else…. So… blood flow is significantly decreased to your kidneys and liver, stomach and other organs.
- So imagine that happening 30 minutes a day… couple of days every week… every month … every year… for 20 years… That’s the epitome of how anger kills…. High blood pressure… Liver problems… Ulcers… Stroke… kidney problems… and much more… Not to mention… Violence against others… alcohol use… not getting along at work or at home… etc.
- Potentially hostile or angry individuals with higher levels of blood cholesterol were found to secrete more adrenaline than those individuals with lower levels of cholesterol. For these individuals, the linkage between higher adrenaline secretions and higher cholesterol levels means they have a greater likelihood of arteriosclerotic plaque buildup. In other words… your veins become clogged… like a rusty iron pipe… or a water hose that’s now stiff and cracked and leaking…
- People who scored high on measures of hostility tend to have fewer friends. This lack of strong friendships means a weakened social support system. Being able to talk to someone about what’s stressing you can lower your blood pressure — and having no one to talk to certainly doesn’t do anything to help you. Research has shown that socially isolated individuals excreted higher levels of stress hormones in their urine than those who had strong support systems.
- Hostile individuals typically don’t take good care of themselves. They tend to engage in a number of destructive health behaviors, including smoking, drinking, and overeating. All of these behaviors can have negative effects on the cardiovascular system.
Does this mean that all of your anger is inappropriate or destructive? No, not at all. In fact, as indicated before, in measured doses and expressed in the right way, anger can be appropriate and effective, helping you to take action, solve problems, or in some way better deal with the situation at hand.
Anger clearly has a place in your emotional repertoire.
However, a big difference exists between feeling annoyed or somewhat angry for a brief period and having strong feelings of anger that simmer for hours. When it is intense and prolonged, anger can result in incredible amounts of stress and damage to your overall well-being…. And as I just indicated… It can seriously damage your physiology.
So… Anger has long been recognized as a huge problem… Even the Christian Bible contains some Anger Management Strategies:
Here are a few:
- The Lord is slow to anger. (So al of us are exhorted to take heed and pay attention)
- Similarly, The Bible says… That even when the Lord gets angry… “His anger endureth for but a moment.”
- And so we are also warned “Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry.”
- Why? Because “He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly.” In other words when you are angry – you are likely to do stupid things.
- And finally, The Bible advises that even when you do get angry… as we all do… We should not “Let the sun go down on our wrath.” In other words – don’t carry it as a chip on your shoulder or let it continue to be a wedge between you and others… You should let it go…
Now… I didn’t say let it out… I said let it go… A lot of people don’t know the difference between letting it out and letting go… For example, I had a colleague who carries a lot of stuff… But there is this particular “beef” – particular issue or problem or vexation or thing that he has against someone in his family…
And at least every couple of days… he would recount the incident that made him angry… a couple of times Every week… every month… for the 7 years we worked together…
And every time he talked about the incident and family member – he was angry… very upset… almost bent out of shape… You could hear it in his voice… see it in his face… you could feel the angergy come off of him… Every time… every week… every month for 7 years…
And— that was only when he talked about it at work… You can imagine how he bent the ears of his close friends… other family members… maybe even strangers he met… Every opportunity he got… he let it out… BUT he never let it go…
Until finally… well… the rest is tragic… tragic…
Understanding how you create your anger and knowing how to reduce that anger are the keys to anger control.
So, when we realize that our energy is moving towards or is already in the danger zone we should shift ourselves – walk it out… talk it out.. write it out… move it out… sing it out… meditate it out… or pray it out.
Think about this: How can we use this moment for something positive… to change… and transform ourselves… our staff… our kids… our family… our community… our organization… our world? But – Yes first starting with ourselves…?
The point? Do something positive! Don’t give the angergy free rein… don’t allow it to take you over… don’t allow yourself to remain stuck in the muck… don’t give it any room in the temple… don’t allow it to suck the rest of your energy… don’t allow it to make you an ineffective manager, parent, spouse or… human being.
Instead… let the sunshine in… put the spotlight on it and drive it out! Let it go… Like blowing up a balloon with your dirty breath… and letting go… seeing the balloon disappear in the distance… getting smaller and smaller… never coming back… And doing that again… blowing that negative energy into the balloon… letting it go… watching it disappear in the distance… getting smaller and smaller… and never coming back…
Why don’t you try doing that….
Take that negative feeling… imagine getting some imaginary balloons… Take the negative thoughts and feelings… hold them… then imagine blowing and pushing and releasing them into one balloon…. Then let it go… watch it move up and out and away… watching it get smaller and smaller… and feeling the relief as you do so…
Then do that again….
And then one more time….
With practice… with practice… with practice… this process of getting relief can take anywhere from a few days to … a few minutes – eventually a few seconds!
You may just find… that your anger and pain and hurt may just have diminished – a little bit…. Or a lot …. And you may just realize how relieved you are… that you are no longer carrying that hurt – that anger… on your shoulders – anymore…
Why? Because You have both let it out… and then let it go – forever and forever more. Good riddance to that Angergy!