Time to get really angry

People who don’t really know me might be surprised at what a seething mass of anger boils beneath this hugely tolerant exterior. All sorts of things get me going, but most of the time I keep a lid on it and only those closest to me realise that not everything’s as calm as it seems. And then, just occasionally, I erupt.

OK, I exaggerate a little, but like most people, there are people or situations that make me want to scream, shout or worse. Somewhere along the way however, I bought into the belief that although doing so may provide temporary relief, it’s unlikely to help in the long run. Giving into negative emotions and acting out my anger risks permanent damage to relationships and my overall credibility.

When overcome with strong emotions, you can always try the familiar formula of taking a deep breath and counting to ten, whether literally or metaphorically. The idea is that this gives you time to regain emotional control and start engaging the analytical part of the brain, which can help keep those troubling outbursts in check.

Timing however is all important. I remember one unfortunate incident early in my career, where I left it far too late. Someone in a group I was training kept cutting across me with questions which I felt had nothing to do with the session in hand. Incandescent with rage, I finally stopped the session, told the individual the effect his behaviour was having on me and that I needed to take a few minutes out to regain my composure. Well, that’s my memory of what I did – in reality my exit was probably far less coherent. It actually took me well over an hour to calm down again, leaving the colleague I was working with to do a brilliant job of retrieving the situation.

Over the years I like to think I’ve developed a touch more emotional intelligence. Psychology Today summarises this as:

  • The ability to identify your own emotions and those of others
  • The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problems solving
  • The ability to manage emotions, including the ability to regulate your own emotions, and the ability to cheer up or calm down another person

Which is great, but I can’t help wondering however whether all this control is such a good thing. A recent article in the Oxford Review summarised research that suggests that remaining composed and trying to appear less emotional than we really are has a significant negative effect on us.

There’s a risk that we turn dealing with big emotions into a problem with only two options, neither of which are great: either we let our anger out and risk the consequences, or we suppress it and seriously damage our health.

The other option is to harness our anger and turn it into something powerful. In an article commemorating the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., Professor Hitendra Wadhwa says that “great leaders often have a strong capacity to experience anger. It wakes them up and makes them pay attention to what is wrong in their environment, or in themselves. Without anger, they would not have the awareness or the drive to fix what is wrong”.

Anger shows you care enough. So next time you get angry, instead of exploding or suppressing the feeling, work out exactly what you care about and channel your energy into doing something constructive about it.

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