Read below for part 1 in an ongoing series on anger. This installment will focus on myths about anger.
No matter what kind of recovery journey you are on (or maybe you don’t consider yourself on any recovery journey), you have experienced anger. Chances are, you’ve experienced a situation where you were so angry that you were unable to manage your response to this anger in an appropriate way leading to what we might refer to an anger explosion. This may or may not have had fallout or undesirable consequences. It may have happened more than once.
People struggle with anger for various reasons. Some of these struggles come from our understanding (or misunderstanding) of anger and what we have learned about anger in our life experiences. Understanding anger and the response to it in a proper context, is a step in the right direction to learning to manage it properly. Below are some myths you may have learned about anger:
Myth 1: The behavioral expression of anger is fixed and cannot be changed.
You may have learned your response to anger is inherited. While true some physical aspects of our response may be inherited or influenced by our genetic makeup, our behavioral response is not. The “what we do” is under our control. Our early life experiences teach us how to react or respond to anger, and if we learn these maladaptive responses we can also unlearn them and replace them with healthier, more appropriate responses. We can also learn to regulate our physical response to anger which helps us feel calmer. Anger does not have to be expressed in the aggressive ways we may have learned or witnessed growing up.
Myth 2: Anger automatically leads to aggression.
Anger does not always need to be expressed or communicated with aggression or violence. Anger does not have to build up and escalate to the point there is an explosion. Proper anger management actually helps de-escalate this build up. Learning assertiveness, positive self talk, challenging negative thoughts and beliefs, and behavioral strategies all help prevent a display of aggression.
Myth 3: People must be aggressive to get what they want.
Assertiveness is not aggression, these are often confused. Assertive communication expresses our emotions, wants, and needs with respect to others. Aggression often is meant to intimidate, dominate, cause harm or exert power over someone or a situation. While it is true aggression may help people get what they want, it often has undesirable consequences and outcomes, especially in the long run. Assertiveness overall is a more desirable communication style for all parties involved and still helps you get your needs met.
Myth 4: Venting anger is always desirable
We tend to learn that letting anger out in aggressive, negative, or destructive means is helpful. While there may be limited situations where this is beneficial, overall, aggressive expressions of anger just teach us how to be more aggressive. Essentially, when we vent anger aggressively we reinforce these responses. Reinforcing these responses makes it more likely in the future that we will act that way.
As you read these myths have you heard them before? Are these beliefs about anger you may have? If so, don’t fret. These misconceptions are common and the anger response can be corrected with awareness and practice. Stay tuned for more about anger and how to manage it or express it without aggression.
-Chris Dorian, founder of Know Your Why Recovery
Based on information on information in Anger Management for Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health Clients: A Cognitive–Behavioral Therapy Manual. SAMHSA Publication No. PEP19-02-01-001. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2019.