The answer falls somewhere in between these two extremes. Having to learn about our anger and what to do with it and when, demonstrates our difficulty in dealing with this powerful emotion.
When our anger is expressed in a healthy way, we let others know the depth of our despair and disagreement over their choices, in such a way that doesn’t frighten or intimidate them.
If our anger doesn’t get expressed in a healthy way, we can begin to brood and feel like a victim. If we hold it in long enough we risk turning it inward toward ourselves and becoming depressed. The longer we brood over our feelings, the more emotional pain we feel and the more we are sensitized to how others don’t respond to our inner feelings.
Anger that is held in can also lead to passive-aggressive behavior. Here we express our anger in such a way that the other person is caught off guard and does not know how to respond to us. They can feel controlled or emotionally manipulated and may begin acting like this toward us or begin to pull away. This way of dealing with our anger is very damaging to our relationships.
Some of us who hold our anger in eventually have an emotional explosion. A triggering event occurs which makes clear to us and to others just how hurt and angry we are and how little we believe that others care. While we want to feel that we are, at last, taking control of our hurt feelings, what happens is that we lose total control in an explosion of rage.
Research now indicates that people who emotionally explode tend to get even angrier. And people with significant everyday hostility have been found to have more plaque in their arteries and less oxygen reaching their hearts so they have a greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
The answer to the question – letting your anger out or keeping it in – has to do with first, accepting yourself even though you have angry feelings, secondly getting to know your anger, and thirdly learning how to express it better. One important goal to strive for is raising your threshold of anger so that fewer incidents are able to trigger an angry response in the first place.
Another goal is to realize and remember that you have a choice in how you react to a situation that can trigger your anger. Once you know all about your anger and how to express it better, you will be able to both hold it (that is, contain uncontrolled anger) and let it out, but in a healthy way. There is great value in increasing our capacity to tolerate difficult feelings so that we are not at risk of turning our actions over to them.
Anger is perhaps our most powerful emotion. It can help us convey our deepest feelings in a constructive way, or it can cause us the most difficulty in our relationships and can have adverse effects on our physical and emotional health.
Understanding our anger, plus knowing what triggers it, and then developing healthy alternatives to angry outbursts and hostility takes considerable understanding and practice. Through the help of a trained therapist we can come to know our anger, what it means in our lives, and how it can help us to live better.
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