Painful feelings such as anger, are often associated with worries about negative consequences — perhaps that an important goal will be blocked or that you will fail, be criticized, hurt or abandoned. The intensity of your feelings and worries can leave you stuck in a cycle of angry feelings, with resentment and rage fueled by worry, spiteful thoughts and memories of hurtful experiences.
Emotions, even those that are painful, serve an important purpose in our lives. Anger can motivate us to fight for an important cause or overcome obstacles.
But sometimes we can get stuck. We become annoyed and remember every past irritation. Or we feel resentful and begin to think only of how we’ve been wronged. When angry, we’re more likely to lash out, have a short fuse or act in other ways that perpetuate hostile and tense interactions. Once the cycle begins, anger can stick around, damage our relationships and keep us from positive life experiences.
Sometimes the only way to change painful emotions is by changing how you act. The key word here is sometimes. In the case of anger, it is not important whether you have a legitimate reason to feel angry. Anger often is justified, but not helpful. When angry, ask yourself “is the anger doing me any good?” If it is helping you, say by motivating you to stand up for yourself or causing you to right a wrong, than acting differently will not decrease your anger. But if anger is damaging relationships or making problems worse, changing your actions can have an impact on how you feel.
Changing how you act will only change how you feel if you change both your actions and your thoughts. Acting kindly towards someone with whom you are angry, instead of lashing out, will not reduce your angry feelings if you are thinking “what a hypocrite” or “I can’t stand this person” during the encounter. You have to change your thinking, as well as your behavior. This could mean “I can understand why this person acts as they do, even if I don’t agree with it.”
Steps to Change Angry Feelings
- Figure out your emotion. Emotions can be complicated and confusing. Figuring out what you are feeling, for example anger, annoyance or frustration, is an important first step. Are underlying feelings of guilt or fear influencing your anger?
- Ask yourself what action goes with that emotion. Aggression usually goes with anger. Aggression can be physical, verbal or indirect and passive.
- Ask yourself ‘do I want to reduce my anger?’ It only makes sense to try to change those feelings you want to change.
- Figure out what the opposite action is. The opposite of aggression is kindness or at the very least, decency. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and imaging their perspective is an effective way to change angry and aggressive thoughts into something kind or at least understanding.
- Do the opposite action all the way. Throw yourself in to acting differently in both your actions and your thoughts. Acting differently, without thinking differently won’t work. You have to do both.
The ability to solve life’s problems and live the life you want to live sometimes means acting in opposition to your feelings. You may need to gently leave a situation that makes you angry or be fair-minded in thoughts about someone who has hurt you. Doing so can release you from anger that has become destructive in your life.
Angry man photo available from Shutterstock.