For years I’ve wondered, “why am I angry all the time?”
I do not know how to control my anger because I grew up in an angry family. But anger is also what put me on the path to Fat FIRE.
Today, I’ll share with you why anger management a myth, and how to (not) control anger, to feel anger, but to still act according to your values.
Define What is Anger
What is anger all about?
Anger is an emotion.
And there are three parts to an emotion like anger:
- First, there is how we experience anger.
- Then, there’s the physiological of how our bodies react to anger.
- And lastly, there’s how we behave in response to anger.
Why exactly do we experience anger? What role does it serve?
Well, turns out anger is pretty important.
It can motivate us to take action. It can help us survive, thrive, and avoid danger.
Anger can also help us make decisions and allow other people to understand us.
Anger is a Secondary Emotion
Before you feel anger, you’d often feel another feeling, a primary feeling, seconds, hours, or even days before anger.
Anger is a secondary emotion because we tend to resort to anger to protect ourselves from a more vulnerable feeling like fear, shame, or sadness.
For example, you might feel scared that you’ll get laid off; later, you get angry at your husband for throwing socks all over the floor as a way to take back control from feeling scared.
Why is this important?
Because as a secondary emotion, anger usually signals there is something else going on. And we’re better if we can explore deeper to take care of our primary feelings.
When we are no longer fearful or ashamed, we will be less angry.
I want to share with you the role anger has played in my family.
My Family’s Anger Issues
Our parents immigrated to the United States speaking no English and with no savings.
They also left behind a huge support structure.
My dad is a hard-working person and he loves me very much.
But dad grew up with an emotionally unavailable mom. This upbringing did not teach my dad to process negative emotions in a healthy way.
Due to his limited English, dad couldn’t do the most basic things in America, from ordering food, calling customer service, to filling out an application.
He lives in constant fear. And probably shame, too.
But dad would never admit his fear or process them in a healthy way. He’d try to suppress his fear, but it inevitably breaks in the form of anger at the people closest to him.
Anger is Fear, and the Need for Control
I could tell when anger is coming to dad.
His body would tense up, words become more commanding, and his face looks stiff and eyes strained.
My dad would force me to stand in front of him like a soldier while he reprimanded me about how I’ve messed up.
He’d always find a reason to release his anger onto me, from not doing homework, not respecting others to not obeying his commands.
Sometimes he’d hold me hostage in a moving car so he could unleash his anger onto me like a prisoner getting punished.
His anger is like a broken dam, full of energy and justification, words pouring out like bullets attacking my being.
It took many therapy sessions for me to realize that I have been emotionally and verbally abused by my father because of his inability to be vulnerable with his negative feelings.
In an America where he is barely able to survive, being kicked down and ignored, he took the only thing he could control, his daughter, and used anger to make him feel less afraid, more in control.
But dad never really understood why he was angry all the time, though. I know he wanted to stop being angry all the time.
Anger and Reconciliation
I am writing this as I sit next to my dad reading the news.
He’s here to help me take care of my daughter, and these days we wouldn’t have survived without him.
My dad and I have gone through years of no contact before reconciliation. And it’s been over 15 years since he’s last yelled at me.
Through many tears and his repeated apologies, we’ve since rebuilt part of our broken relationship.
My dad is the most patient and doting grandfather to my daughter. He treats her the way he’s treated me before coming to America. It’s impossible to imagine him as the monster he was.
Anger is a powerful emotion. It can transfer the pain and fear you feel to the person you love and swear to protect.
If anger is so bad, why did humans experience anger, ever? Let’s find out.
Acting and Behaving Angry
The truth is my dad wasn’t the only angry member of the family.
My mom was also angry. And I became angry at a young age, too.
Anger was the only way for us to release our negative feelings.
And anger created a vicious cycle of blame and resentment.
For years, I’ve felt angry toward my parents, but really, I was profoundly sad.
I felt sad that they’ve used me in their twisted struggle to survive and live. I’ve felt abandoned that when I most needed protection, I was overlooked, or worse, harmed.
It wasn’t until many therapy sessions later did I realize that I have so much anger toward parents because I couldn’t face the real feeling inside: that I felt unloved, terrified at being abandoned. I was also grieving the loss of my childhood.
It was too painful to face those truths and those emotions associated with the fact: that the circumstances of their childhood and their immigrant made them inadequate in raising me, that I grew up on my own.
It’s been difficult to process my feelings of abandonment, fear, and loss. It was so easy to just be angry.
But I’m glad I faced my worst feelings head on, because there is no shortcut, no tips and tricks to emotional growth. The only way is to confront and go through the darkest thoughts in order to see the other side.
And I did.
The ABCs of How to Anger Control
A large part of anger treatment involves understanding and identifying the situations or events that happened before to trigger anger, and the consequences of acting angry.
We call this the ABCs of anger.
A: Antecedent Before Anger
The A stands for antecedents, or activating event.
It is what comes before us feeling angry.
If you’re driving and someone cuts you off, you get angry and may even yell. In this case, getting cut off while driving made you feel angry.
But is that what really triggered your anger? The antecedent event that triggers anger doesn’t need to happen immediately before.
B: Behavior of Anger
The B stands for behaviors, or the reaction you may have in response to anger.
In the above example, the angry behavior might be honking your car and cursing at the driver.
In my family’s example, the angry behavior is a late night fight and lots of yelling.
It’s easy to look at my anger from the outside and say, “why can’t you just not be angry.” But the reality is: you cannot control your emotion.
You cannot magically turn anger on and off.
You don’t have to believe me but know this: you cannot choose how we feel. We can only choose how we act.
It wasn’t my dad’s anger that hurt me. It was his actions as a result of his anger that hurt me.
But you can choose to feel angry, but act differently.
C: Consequence of Anger
The C stands for the consequences of what happens as a result of your emotional reaction.
Now, this is the most important part, so read carefully.
Angry behavior has consequences.
After getting angry at the driver, you might discover that you know the person and that they were rushing to the hospital with a sick child.
The shame people feel toward anger after the fact is often why they keep repeating their angry behavior over and over, despite not wanting to hurt others and hurt themselves.
And then they stop and wonder, why am I angry all the time, but can’t stop? It is like a vicious cycle of denial and avoidance, making things worse.
The Myth of Anger Management
Anger and really, all emotions play an important role in our ancestors’ survival.
Being able to understand why anger exists will help you appreciate anger, and learn to use it in productive ways, and avoid using it to harm yourself and others.
Anger is really not that scary by itself.
Anger has a very natural course where it starts and finishes.
Have you seen a person who’s stayed extremely angry for days? Probably not. Whatever comes up must fall down.
Imagine if you were attacked by a bear – you’d first feel scared as you realize you’re in mortal danger.
This is when our ancestors would turn fear into anger, with eyes wide open and heart-pounding, ready to fight.
But what has worked well with our ancestors does not work in our modern world, where the anger we feel on a daily basis has nothing to do with saving our lives.
Anger and Fight-or-Flight
The fight-or-flight response is an automatic survival thing that prepares your body to take actions.
Our bodies produce sensations to prepare ourselves to run away or fight for your life. But the problem is that our lives are not threatened on a daily basis.
So this fight-or-flight experience that’s saved us in ancient times can actually harm us if we use it too much.
So next time when you feel embarrassed at work and feel like you “want to die” – just know that your stress has triggered your fight or flight response, making you feel like your life is in danger.
Unfortunately our body hasn’t adapted to this new reality where office politics and family drama are no longer going to get you killed.
Next time you feel angry and your body triggers the fight and flight response, simply recognize it.
Just by realizing that your life is not in danger implies it is okay to not act out your anger.
Accepting Angry Feelings
Imagine you are the most angry at someone.
Your anger can feel so overwhelming that you’ll do anything to stop feeling so angry that you might start screaming profanity at that person.
You might also start breaking dishes in order to show how angry you are. You might even start hitting that person to release your rage.
However, if you allow yourself to fully feel the anger, to just let anger flow all throughout your body, to accept feeling angry. You might be less inclined. to act out your anger.
Part of why you feel like you have to act out your anger is because you don’t want to feel angry, you want to make it stop, go away.
Doing nothing can feel very scary because, again, our ancestors would not have chosen to do nothing while their life is in mortal danger!
But if you choose to not do anything about your anger, soon enough, you’ll realize that the intensity of your anger will actually start to decrease and eventually go away.
By allowing anger to run its course, we can begin to associate a given situation with the natural flow of emotions knowing that when anger goes up, it must come down at some point.
So we should just wait out our anger.
There is no bear trying to kill us at this very moment even though our body makes us feel like we must fight or flight.
How to Not Control Anger
Anger has saved me.
Despite my dad’s uncontrollable, raging anger, and his insistence for me to be absolutely obedient, I learned to embrace anger.
I wouldn’t have thrived and rebelled and gotten to where I am without anger motivating me forward.
But anger has also harmed me because I have acted out anger in a way that harmed myself and other people.
How can anger be both good and bad? Well, it really depends on the actions we choose to take from feeling angry.
So don’t control. how you feel. But do control how you act.
Answer Why Am I Angry All the Time Using Cognitive Psychology
Through my years of psychotherapy, here’re the five things I’ve learned to manage and treat my anger.
1. Become Aware of Anger
The first step is to be conscious of the fact that you feel angry.
This may feel obvious, but oftentimes, we go from zero to explosion without even realizing what happened.
Next time, try to become aware that you are about to get angry.
And if you are already angry, try to take a step back and just recognize the thoughts that got you to feel anger.
Don’t judge yourself, don’t criticize or pity yourself for feeling angry. Simply note this reality.
You’ll realize that the simple act of standing next to yourself, recognizing the existence of your anger will make it a little bit better.
If your immediate feeling upon recognizing is guilt or annoyance, then STOP. You are actually placing judgment, try to repress or avoid feeling. this way. There is no need to do that.
Accept your anger with open arms. Welcome it, it is a valuable emotion.
Say to yourself, “I feel angry, and it is okay.”
2. Identify Primary Emotions
Next, review and articulate the primary feeling that triggered your anger.
Make sure to do this in as precise terms as possible, with only facts and no interpretations.
In other words, stay curious and kind to your anger. Treat it like a friend. Ask yourself
- Why are you angry?
- Where did this anger come from?
- What did you feel before feeling angry?
- How did you feel earlier today?
Perhaps you are angry because you feel abandoned, lost, cruelly mistreated.
Instead of feeling angry, try to feel those primary emotions instead and process them with openness and acceptance.
Believe me, it is not easy to feel abandoned. But being able to process all emotions is what makes us alive and ultimately our lives worth living again.
You won’t be able to feel the highest of the joy if you aren’t willing to experience the depth of despair.
3. Review Your Thought and Judge the Situation As Is
You should also review the thought that goes through in your head that made you so angry.
Ask yourself: what is the reality I’m making up in my head to cause anger?
Don’t invent narratives about why things are the way they are. It’s a human instinct to tell stories, but that can be bad.
If your boss is particularly quiet today, don’t assume he is mad at you.
If your partner asks you a clarifying question, don’t assume your partner is doubting everything.
Refrain from inventing a narrative about a situation.
What you are doing is really mindfulness: being an objective observer of the thoughts that go on in your head that leads to you feeling angry.
When handled with mindfulness, anger will cease to be a damaging act but can provide valuable guidance for navigating life.
4. Accept Anger as a Normal Part of Life.
Often, anger arises from a need for control because we feel negative emotions but don’t want to feel them.
But negative emotions shouldn’t be viewed as our enemies.
The question “why am I angry all the time” implies that it is not okay to be angry. But the more we try not to be, the more we are.
I wouldn’t be as successful, motivated, strong, independent, and smart as I am today without the anger I’ve felt all throughout my life.
So as much as anger has harmed my husband, anger has also motivated me to succeed. Now, if I could harness anger for only the good but not the bad, wouldn’t that be nice?
When people change their relationship to anger, they have an easier time managing it.
Don’t hope that you’ll build a life that will eliminate anger.
You can work to process anger in a healthy way, and use anger to behave in ways that are healthy and beneficial to you.
Sports people often use the anger of losing as a motivator to compete harder and win.
Michael Jordan famously uses anger as a source of motivation to beat his opponents through the impossible.
5. Act According to Your Values.
You can’t control how you feel. But you can always control how you act.
If you think angry people always lash out at others and abuse their family, then you are wrong.
Like Michael Jordan, you can use your anger to up your game, work harder, make progress, and win in life.
Someone could also be just as angry as someone else but behave in a way that strengthens their values in life rather than destroying it.
So how should you act in the face of anger to be more like Jordan? You should always act according to your values.
Make decisions that agree with your core values no matter how you feel.
Are you someone who values yelling at your spouse due to a difficult day at work? Are you someone who’d lash out when you feel overwhelmed?
Or, are you someone who values working even harder or finding a better job when you don’t feel like you’re being treated right?
When you gain clarity about your values, you can continue to feel all the anger in the world, but your response to anger becomes more flexible and healthy.
You see, the answer to. the question, “why am I angry all the time” is actually this:
When you gain clarity about your values, you can continue to feel all the anger in the world, but your response to anger becomes more flexible and healthy.
Use anger to your advantage. Face the fear head on and conquer it.
Don’t let anger use you to cause harm to you and your loved ones because you. are powerless to conquer your fear.
Summary: Why Am I Angry All the TIme And Is That Okay?
Anger is a valuable guide to navigating life. So don’t ask the question “why am I angry al the time” but ask “am I always acting according to my values.”
Anger signals to people that they are afraid, stressed out, overwhelmed, worried.
Anger also signals to people that something needs to change.
If you can gain clarity into the root cause of your anger, then you can figure out how you can act according to your values to live a better life.
Mentally tough people accept their negative feelings, including anger, and use it as motivation to live a better life.
Anger is valuable, but only if you are willing to step away from the default, instinctual, fight or flight response to anger.
Anger toward injustice started the civil rights movement.
Anger toward your mistreatment could bring your family closer together if you are willing to be vulnerable about your struggles.
Rather than falling into the cyclical, vicious cycle of flight-or-fight and then feeling guilty about it, anger can be an incredibly powerful engine that will fuel you to reach your biggest goals in life.
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