Have you ever been advised to withhold emotion – particularly anger – at work? According to Dr. Susan Bernstein – who led the October Women Lead webinar, Get Angry at Work, for a Change – women are frequently told not to be emotional or angry, and to be nice no matter what.
But, as Dr. Bernstein explained, suppressing an emotion like anger an actually lead to staying angry.
Different types of anger
Anger comes in various forms. Recognize anyone you know in the following descriptions?
Avoidant: This person says everything is fine and puts on a happy face even though inside she’s burning with rage. By burying aggression, you miss an important signal your body is giving you. Like the “check engine” light on your car, your anger deserves your attention.
Passive aggressive: When you feel unsupported and afraid to stand up to someone, deeply buried anger can lead to underhanded, sideways expressions that frustrate others. Give yourself permission to feel angry, try to be an advocate for yourself, and reach out for support.
Self-abuse: If you constantly tell yourself, “It’s my fault,” you burden yourself with your own anger. Women tend to do this more than men, and it often demonstrates a blow to self-esteem early in life. Boost your self-worth by truly understanding your personal strengths, and consider seeking professional support to foster self-esteem.
Habitual irritation: We all know a person whose constant refrain seems to be, “I’m sick and tired of xyz.” Being frequently irritable leads to frustration. The solution? Speak out if you’re upset rather than holding it in.
Sarcasm: A snide comment or “dig” can derail relationships. Sarcasm is common among people who were not allowed to express themselves directly, and jokes became a habitual way of expression. To get rid of sarcasm, be clear and direct in when communicating to take the bite out of the conversation.
Explosive: Letting things build up allows anger to take over and leads some people to explode like a volcano. By holding in anger, pressure builds and eventually needs to come out. Bernstein advises to share concerns as they arise in smaller increments to minimize damage. It is important to learn to say, “I’m upset about your behavior,” instead of lashing out.
Another perspective: Anger as an invitation to change
Start noticing the physiological signals of anger – for example, do you feel it in your chest as heat, in the jaw as tension, in your head as a headache, or in your gut like a twisting?
According to Dr. Bernstein, anger is an invitation to change – a request that says, “Please make a shift!” She recommends to start noticing anger by looking underneath it, and asking yourself, “What kind of change or shift is this anger requesting?”
Instead of thinking of anger as a force for destruction, think of it as a force to clarify what’s going on. Maintaining a journal and writing in your own handwriting can open you up to healthy solutions for anger.
To learn a simple, tried-and-true method for dissolving anger and tips on dealing effectively with other peoples’ outbursts, listen to the on-demand recording of Get Angry at Work, for a Change.
Anger is a natural reaction, but how we respond is what makes the difference between damage and growth. The next time you feel the anger building and are about to erupt, take a breath and follow some of the steps above. You – and those around you – will be glad you did.
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