Is it good or bad to get angry? Everyone feels anger at one time or another. The question really is whether it’s best to express, try to control, or put aside such feelings.
“I am all stressed-out. My husband claims I’m picking on him and my boss yells at me for no reason.” Jean, a legal assistant, complains that her boss has been yelling at her frequently without apparent cause. But she “tries not to let it bother her” because she really likes her job and she thinks at the end of the day she can forget her irritation.
Often people get angry or frustrated at work but are afraid to express it, for fear they may jeopardise their career. However, anger is one of those things that if left unresolved always reveals itself through different channels. It can come out as verbal or physical aggression, sarcasm, withdrawal, or over-reactions. Inevitably, it does emerge.
Jean is afraid to confront her boss, not only to protect her job, but also because she is afraid to express negative feelings in return. Emotions such as anger and frustration are particularly discouraged in many societies, so individuals learn from a young age to cover or divert them. People often are afraid to admit they have any negative feelings, especially anger. They deny or repress such emotions in order to maintain a “nice” front. Sometimes they intellectualise their own reactions in order to cover the anger feelings. For example: “I must be going through PMS, that’s why I feel so agitated.”
Jean doesn’t like being dumped on. She reacts with hurt and frustrations but at the same time she pushes aside the feelings and convinces herself it will go away. However, her pent-up feelings spill over into her marriage. She has become critical and irritated toward her partner and people around her. Without knowing it Jean actually is projecting her own anger onto her loved ones.
Anger and frustration will not disappear by themselves. Even if a person tries hard to hide it, still it shows through one’s demeanour, facial expressions or behavior. Such feelings have to be dealt with directly otherwise they will create bitterness, harm personal relationships, and may result in ulcers, headaches or insomnia.
First, one needs to acknowledge the existence of the anger. Don’t be ashamed of it or try to deny it. It is important not to disguise or load it onto others.
Second, is to identify who owns the problem. In Jean’s case, clearly her boss is dumping his own problems onto her, which she in turn does to her husband. Obviously Jean can’t change her boss’s behaviour. Yet she can help herself by not letting herself get sucked into his problems.
Third, don’t prolong or accumulate negative feelings. Quite often when an individual is upset at someone, the other person doesn’t even realise it. Clearly, sitting around thinking angry thoughts not only is a waste of energy, but creates distorted thinking, blowing things out of proportion. It helps to grapple with such feelings at the time instead of letting them become magnified in your mind. In Jean’s case, it would be helpful for her to discuss with her boss what needs to be changed in order for them to work together without such tension.
Fourth, be aware of one’s own soft spots and learn to detect what easily stirs up reactions of anger. Knowing this will help one to consciously avoid such situations.
Lastly, is to be prepared to forgive and let go. After all, pent-up anger really does more harm to yourself than to the person you are angry at.
Dr. Cathy Tsang-Feign is a Hong Kong-based psychologist and author of the book Keep Your Life, Family and Career Intact While Living Abroad. She is the former columnist for the South China Morning Post and American in Britain on topics of psychology and adjustment for expatriates and their families.