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Think of a moment when you have felt utterly vulnerable and exposed… When your emotions were so raw you believed that you could not handle them… When you felt so hurt by someone that you wanted to curl up in a dark place and cry your soul out… When your own actions caused you intense fear, shame and guilt… When you were faced with an injustice… How easier it would have been to simply lash out at the person who was hurting you? How easier would it have been to shout and throw things rather than admit that you were in the wrong and you took responsibility for your mistake? How quicker is it to mask your pain and react in anger?

Why Anger? Why Aggression?

Anger is a powerful emotion which protects us from any perceived harm. It is a common mechanism used to defend us from any threat, be it physical or psychological. It is a form of self-preservation and it is very instinctual; in that it happens automatically without having to think about behaving in such a way. Anger and aggressive behaviours isolate us, and in this isolation,  it provides us with avoidance – diversion – numbing out – displacing our own feelings which in turn acts as a temporary protection. 

How does Anger work?

Anger is usually triggered by another emotion which may lead us to feel uncomfortable and not in control. It may trigger some negative experience from our past; some rejection perhaps, or criticism which may have challenged our sense of identity. This trigger may also be a feeling of helplessness, powerlessness, vulnerability, feeling exposed or inferior. Following this trigger, anger is expressed through a number of aggressive behaviours which may vary in their severity.

When the person senses any of the above and doesn’t feel in control, or grounded in some way, they will then react through their manifested anger. Through this anger, there is a shift in focus. Rather than experiencing the initial emotion and focusing on what is happening internally, the anger becomes the foreground. The attention and energy is on the anger. Physically the body ­changes resulting in an increased heart rate, feeling hot, sweating, feeling agitated and tense. 

In this way, the person regains the illusion of control and safety because the real issue or emotions are not being focused on. If you do not acknowledge and focus on them, it is easier to forget about them and pretend that they are not real. Attacking others also helps because they will not focus on the more vulnerable aspects of the angry person, but they will focus on themselves in order to be safe from the aggression being directed towards them. Thus, aggression establishes distance from others and ensures that people do not come too close.

How can I deal with my anger?

  1. Be aware of what your body is telling you.
  2. Acknowledge and validate your feelings and experience.
  3. Understand where this is coming from and why it is affecting you in that particular way.
  4. Stay with the emotion and work through it, channelling it in ways that are safe and growthful.
  5. Communicate your feelings and explain yourself.
  6. Gain skills in order to avoid losing control and to take time out of the situation before it escalates.
  7. Be conscious of how your actions are affecting others.
  8. Always learn and improve!
  9. Seek help and support.
  10. Be proud of your progress.

Abigail Church is a Humanistic Integrative Counsellor who works with adults and children through counselling with Willingness. She can be contacted on abigail@willingness.com.mt or call us on 79291817.