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  • Writer's pictureDr. Marianne O'Byrne

I'm fine... Acknowledge and take control of your anger.

Anger is a normal and healthy emotional experience that is associated with a range of thoughts (e.g., “I feel alone / misunderstood / disrespected / unsupported / disempowered”), physical sensations (e.g., flushed face, bodily tension, headaches, pounding heart), and behaviors (e.g., agitation, avoiding confrontation or emotions, raising voice).  When anger is used as an adaptive response to empower change or to assert yourself, the felt violation and unmet need(s) can often be resolved through problem solving strategies. Yet, anger is often used in maladaptive and puzzling ways that signal deeper underlying issues, such as feeling ashamed, inherently bad, incompetent, unlovable, and lonely, and can result in difficulties in relationships. As time progresses and the anger is repeatedly expressed in a maladaptive fashion, it becomes more difficult to change. Moreover, on a seemingly basic level, anger is often an emotion that is easier to express in an attempt to avoid the true feelings, such as sadness, hurt, shame, guilt, loneliness, or fear. This type of anger interferes with fluid emotional functioning and can result in defensive responding. For example, when primary needs of feeling loved, supported and understood are not met by a partner, one may feel pain, hurt, and shame; however, expressing such feelings may be socially unacceptable and painful, resulting in the expression of anger.

Individuals who are depressed in various stages of life, including during the postpartum period, can experience anger towards themselves and close significant others (e.g., child, partner, or other family members). This anger can signal an emotional experience of feeling overwhelming guilt, worthlessness, trapped, frustrated, or sad and can be an attempt to be noticed, approved of, or to seek help. Moreover, irritability, anger, and rage can be a sign of frustration with unexplained anxious (e.g., “I’m a terrible mother for not know how to console my child”, “I feel like I’m going to lose my job”) and even scary thoughts (e.g., “I will lose control and shake my child”, “I will get so angry I will lose control of my actions at work”). Anxiety, low mood and anger often go hand in hand because most of the situations encountered are often ambiguous, that is it’s uncertain of whether the short-term or long-term outcomes will be good or bad, which often leads to assumptions of the worst case scenario and increased anxiety.

How do you know if you are struggling with irritability and anger? At an emotional level, you might feel out of control, angry for no reason, having difficulties expressing emotions other than anger, or your irritability leads you to seek out conflict. Sometimes, the easiest signs are in relationships, that is you might notice that you are alienating yourself from close others, your feelings might have changed towards your partner, you have a hard time compromising or that those around you are avoiding you fearing an angry emotional outburst or are “walking on egg shells” around you.  If you feel your anger is spiraling out of control or you are hurting yourself or others emotionally or physically, you may need more help. Although it may feel uncontrollable at times, anger can be managed by understanding the triggers, the underlying emotional experiences, creating self-compassion (see video) and treating associated symptoms of depression and anxiety. Seeking help might involve learning strategies to cope with your anger, depressed mood and anxiety through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques and getting at the root of the problems through Emotion Focused Therapy interventions.”

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