Q: What is the best way to manage a feeling of intense anger?
A: Anger is one of many emotions that comprise the human condition. In and of itself, anger is neither positive nor negative, though many of us were taught as children that no good could come of it. I don't totally agree with that.
Appropriate expressions of anger can instigate positive change in life circumstances, moving us out of old, self-defeating ruts. However, understanding more about what it is and how it can work for and against you only comes after you have acknowledged that you are in its grip.
Begin to be aware of physical reactions you have to certain people or situations. Without trying to blame someone else for a feeling that you must own, start to notice the various stages of arousal that you undergo and find ways to self-sooth, distract or re-channel that energy before it becomes overwhelming and you act in ways that you don't feel good about.
Once you are able to acknowledge that you are indeed upset and have begun to manage anger's stages, you are then able to be curious about what is generating this response in your life and put this information to good use.
Intense anger holds an important message: there is pain here that needs to be addressed. You don't say whether the intense anger is yours or someone else's. There are never reasons or excuses for treating someone or allowing yourself to be treated in an abusive way because of the misuse of this important emotion. Begin with a medical checkup to ensure that there are no physiological reasons for the condition and then seek support to understand and manage all of your emotions in healthier ways.
Something else to think about: anger is often considered to be a secondary emotion, meaning that before one feels anger, you might have felt sadness, fear or abandonment.
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The anger then is considered to be a reactive or protective response to a more vulnerable, primary emotion. Knowing that your own, or another person's anger, is coming from a vulnerable place rather than an aggressive, punitive place can sometimes help you to deal with the underlying causes and act in ways that are honouring to yourself and others.
So acknowledge it for what it is, an important source of information to be managed and learned from, and then respond proactively to re-direct this energy to bring passion and creativity into your life and important relationships.
Dr. Marion Goertz is a registered marriage and family therapist and a clinical member of the American and Ontario Associations for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT/OAMFT). Marion maintains a private marriage and family therapy practice in Toronto.