Control your temper, for anger labels you a fool.

Ecclesiastes 7:9

 Has anger been battling with your peace today? When it showed up, did it bring with it brutal, pounding waves? Did the waves of anger win the day? I woke up this morning angry with some unpleasant family issues I am dealing with, but I don’t have a choice as my late mother left me with these responsibilities. But when anger was about to overtake me and ruin my day, I realised I had a choice – to squarely deal with it.

It has taken me my entire life learning how to deal with anger, and I confess I have not yet fully succeeded. When I was younger I screamed at those who made me angry; now I tend to shut out those who make me angry. But experience tells me none of these is a good way of dealing with anger, hence my continuous quest for knowledge on how to deal with this emotion, some of which I want to share with you.

You can only stand against anger attacks and survive if you have learnt how to deal with anger. You should not let the forces of anger defeat you and bring you down. You should not let them transform your joy into sorrow. You should also not let them destroy bridges connecting the world of love, hope, peace, and where all things lovely dwell. These are the first lessons on dealing with anger.

What do you do when you get angry? Keep a lid on it or blow it up? Are you really honest about your anger or often try to suppress how you feel? If you are a woman, do you justify suppressing your anger using the much-touted female temper factor – how women are notoriously bad at expressing anger? There is some truth in this. There are times I get angry and find myself asking “what’s the use of talking about it with anyone? Am I not a strong woman who can deal with it?”

 

You know you have bottled up anger when you start acting up on things that may not be related to your original source of anger, for example you find yourself criticising people behind their backs, having one drink too many, oversleeping, binging on your cravings, or going out shopping to feel better. When you are angry you carry a lot of physical tension that may culminate in headaches or you may feel irrationally irritated by small things such as your order in the restaurant taking a bit longer or a motorist blocking your way. You have little patience and often snap at people around you including your spouse, children, friends or workmates if you have bottled up anger.

Research shows there are many social-cultural reasons that make women best at bottling anger. From a young age, girls are conditioned to please others and not to ruffle feathers. While boys are allowed to be aggressive with each other, girls are, on the whole, frowned upon for losing their temper. So women grow up with the message ‘it’s not acceptable to be angry’, and many of us subconsciously learn to repress those feelings.

Throughout my life, I never saw my mother cry or express her anger openly. She always put up a brave face, no matter the circumstances. I am so much like her in many ways. Studies suggest society still views a woman who shows anger as emotionally unstable, while a man is perceived simply as assertive.

What every woman ought to know is that anger does not vanish unless you deal with it – it simply simmers within us, potentially causing physical symptoms such as muscle tension, headaches and lowered immunity. Mentally, this can trigger depression, excessive drinking or eating, poor sleep and more. It can also lead to low self-esteem, as angry people tend to turn anger in on themselves and become self-critical.

There are healthier ways to deal with anger and the first step is to be honest with yourself. This means identifying and acknowledging feelings of anger and digging out to find what has brought them. If your behaviour or action is the source of your anger, acknowledge it so you can deal with it.

Next, stop all the behaviours you currently use to deal with anger, from sniping at people to overeating or overdrinking or shutting out the people who have annoyed you. Try to accept your feelings, as that is the only way you can deal with them. You can shut off people who annoy you if you don’t have to see them or deal with them ever again, but you can’t do this with those close to you such as family members and workmates.

You should see anger as a sign you are uncomfortable and something needs to change and you have to be part of that change. Also realise expressing your anger doesn’t have to mean flying off the handle. There are many healthy ways of venting off anger such as exercise, deep breathing, taking a walk, or calmly explaining to whoever has upset you how you feel and resolving the issues immediately. In fact, being able to express anger openly leads to deeper and more fulfilling relationships.

 Published in June 2014