IS ANGER SOMETHING THAT’S REALLY A CHOICE?
By Lorin Harrott
Have you ever seen the signs with slogans like, “Choose happiness” or “Choose love”? They seem to be everywhere these days. It makes you wonder if it’s just that easy. And if you can choose happiness, does that mean that anger is also a choice?
If anger is a choice, then why would anyone choose it? It’s not a lot of fun to be angry, and it can be really destructive to your relationships. I would personally much rather choose happiness and love. Unfortunately, it’s really not that easy or straightforward.
The Purpose of Anger
We’ve all felt angry before. Anger is a normal and appropriate emotion that occurs as a reaction to inequities, injuries, threats, or danger.
From an evolutionary perspective, anger has helped to keep us safe by inspiring a reaction to danger. When you get angry adrenaline is released, you become focused, and you’re ready to do what is necessary to protect yourself or what’s yours.
Anger can also help us to ensure the safety of others. For instance, seeing children exploited, taken advantage of, or unable to protect themselves can make us angry, and that anger can drive us to help or work to protect them.
When anger occurs as a natural response to a circumstance it doesn’t feel as though there is a choice to be made, it’s simply how you feel.
That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t choices to be made when it comes to anger.
Understanding Your Anger
Although anger is an emotion we all experience, not all anger is created equal. In fact, some anger isn’t really anger at all.
Getting angry when someone threatens your family is one thing, but getting angry because someone looked at you the wrong way is completely different. One is appropriate and understandable – the other is not.
For those that struggle with feeling constantly angry, get angry at inappropriate times, or can’t seem to manage their anger response, there’s very likely something else going on that needs to be addressed.
When anger is disproportionate, aggressive, constant, or lasts for too long over a single incident, it’s probably masking deeper problems. Feelings like sadness, depression, or painful, unresolved experiences from our past can all be masked by anger. This is particularly true in men and it can cause big problems.
Anger is a strong emotion but it’s not a vulnerable emotion. Many believe that anger doesn’t make you seem weak, and they may feel depression, fear and insecurities, or talking about feeling hurt will. Or they may not even realize what’s going on. This is particularly common in men for whom anger is a more convenient and socially acceptable emotion.
So, before you can understand what choices you may or may not have when it comes to anger, you need to understand if you’re really angry. Or is anger a crutch you’re using so you don’t have to deal with what’s really going on?
Anger can also be used as a way to control and manipulate others. This is a form of emotional abuse. If someone fears your anger to the point that they behave in ways that are uncomfortable, dangerous, or against their own desires, you’ve now become an abuser using anger as your weapon. Unfortunately, anger that becomes emotionally abusive can easily become physically abusive as well.
Can You Choose To Stop Getting Angry?
While you can’t really choose to never feel anger again, there are some aspects of anger that you absolutely can make choices about.
Anger gets a bad rap because of the damage it can cause if uncontrolled. But trying to bury your anger can backfire. Unexpressed and ignored emotions do not disappear but rather find small fissures to erupt through at inopportune times.
Anger can also be beneficial, as mentioned above. Properly expressed it can keep you safe, facilitate change, and pave the way for happiness once the situation is resolved.
Choice #1. You can choose whether to acknowledge your anger. Angry feelings happen to us all. Some people, however, choose to ignore them and try to supplant those feelings with a smile and intentional happiness. Sounds like a very mature and evolved way to handle things, doesn’t it? Not so fast.
Choice #2. You can choose how you express your anger. The initial experience of feeling angry can be intense and make you want to lash out and say or do things that can be very damaging. But you have a choice about what you do with your angry feelings. This can be difficult for many people and really learning how to manage your anger response can take time, practice, and patience.
Choice #3. You can choose how long you stay angry. Many people will claim they “can’t let go” of anger over certain things, or that something was so bad they will never get over it. Neither of these things has to be true. The anger response can be a short-lived emotion if you manage it. But this is also a choice that will require you to be able to identify anger vs. sadness and pain.
For instance, if your partner cheats you will feel a variety of emotions and anger will be one of them. But long-term anger over the situation is more likely diverting your attention from the pain and problems that led to the cheating. So, choosing to move past the anger and focus on healing the pain is a healthier plan.
Of course, all of these choices can be difficult. Sometimes you have to make them repeatedly and try repeatedly before they stick. And sometimes you may need the help of a counselor to even see the choices that are available to you and how to make them effectively.
The Biggest Anger Choice
If you are a person who experiences anger frequently the biggest choice you have is how to manage it. While there may be underlying reasons why you anger so easily and often, when you are working through those things you still need to find a way to effectively manage your anger.
Anger management incorporates behavioral and psychological strategies that can help a person deal with their anger response in a healthier way. Dr. Kurt works often works with people who need anger management help. Here are a few things he’s learned in his many years of counseling:
Asking whether anger is a choice seems like a simple question, but it’s actually very complex. The answer is both no and yes. Can you choose to never get angry – not likely. We all feel a range of emotions, anger being one of them, and none of them are bad or wrong. How we express them and allow them to affect us can make them so though. So, is anger management really as simple as just telling yourself to choose happiness rather than anger? No, of course not. You can, however, with the right tools choose the level of your anger and how it gets expressed. When we understand the psychology of what drives us and why we respond the way we do, we can develop strategies that will help us to effectively manage our anger.”
Learning how to manage your anger is one of the most important choices you can make for yourself and those you love. Relationships and even careers have been ruined by poorly controlled anger.
So, is anger a choice? No. We all experience emotions and those come in response to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. But do you have choices when it comes to anger? Yes, absolutely. And the choices you make when it comes to the anger you feel may be some of the most impactful to your life.