It’s 8:30 a.m. and you’ve staggered to Starbucks, desperate for a jolt of java. You were up way past midnight studying for a chem exam that will take place in half an hour. Your turn to order finally comes and someone cuts right in front of you. How do you feel? Angry! It’s only natural.
Anger is a feeling that ranges from mild irritation to intense rage. Everyone gets angry sometimes. It’s a natural reaction to feeling threatened, mistreated, victimized or frustrated. Anger can have positive effects, like motivating you to change things that are making you unhappy. But it can also have negative effects. It can make you act without thinking and hurt people with harsh words or violence.
Feeling angry is not a problem in itself. It becomes a problem if the anger is too intense, if you feel it too often or if you express it inappropriately. What’s “inappropriately?” People with anger-management problems frequently respond to their angry feelings with aggressive behavior. They tend to act without thinking about the consequences. That can hurt relationships, academic performance, chances for a successful career and may even get them into trouble with the law.
We all need to learn to deal with anger effectively, but the first step is separating truth from myth. Here are four common myths.
People are not born with set ways to express anger. Research shows that the ways we express anger are learned behaviors. That means we can “unlearn” destructive old habits and learn good new ones, making our anger work for us rather than against us.
Anger is not the same as aggression. Aggression is behavior that includes insults, threats and physical violence. Anger is an emotion that does not necessarily lead to aggression. Just because you feel angry doesn’t mean you must express that anger by acting aggressively. Anger does not have to increase until it’s released by losing your temper, shouting or hitting. You can have angry feelings and still control your behavior. Myth #3: Letting your anger explode is healthy.
On the contrary: Screaming or telling someone off is not a good way to release anger. In fact, studies have shown that people who express anger in these ways only encourage their own aggressive behavior and then suffer the consequences. There are much more effective ways to deal with your anger. See “Managing Your Anger” for ways to keep your cool and achieve your goals.
Many people confuse aggression with assertiveness, but they are not the same. Assertiveness is a way of saying how you feel and what you want while being respectful of other people. If you don’t blame, insult or threaten, people will be much more likely to listen to you and make changes.