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Taking the “Grrrr” Out of Anger!

(This newest blog post was written by Elisabeth Mandel, LMFT. Elisabeth is an Associate Therapist at our practice and specializes in working with couples.)

Miriam Gottlieb’s “The Angry Self” lists signs of unhealthy expressions of anger.

Please review the following list and check off which one(s) applies to you or your partner:

-Holding anger in until it explodes

-Punching walls or throwing objects

-Abusing other (anywhere from name calling to hitting)

-Self-medicating through alcohol or drugs

-Neglecting responsibilities

-Running away

-Experiencing physical pain related to stress

-Destroying property

Whereas unhealthy expressions of anger in relationships can lead to the breakdown of trust and safety, healthy expressions of anger can actually promote trust and safety and enhance intimacy.

The first step in communicating anger to your partner in a healthy way is learning to recognize the signs of anger in yourself. The use of an anger scale is a helpful way of measuring your level of anger from 1 to 10, with 1 being mildly angry and 10 being super angry.

In order to determine your level of anger, you will need to assess your signs of anger, whether they are behavioral and/or physical. Behavioral signs of anger can include: verbal threats or physical outbursts, withdrawal and avoidance, confrontation and escalation, passive aggressive comments and difficulties with impulse control. Physical signs of anger resemble the physiological symptoms of anxiety: elevated heart rate and body temperature, cognitive distortions and impaired judgement, dry mouth, muscle tension in the lower back, chest, head or neck, and disruptions in sleep, appetite, concentration or performance.

The next step in learning healthy expressions of anger in your relationship is understanding your anger. This involves identifying what triggered your anger and evaluating your attribution of those triggers. For example, your partner may have forgotten to do an important errand after work. You feel angry and this can lead to misattributions including assumptions that your partner was intentionally neglectful and therefore does not care about you.

Finding a healthy way to express your anger starts with recognizing behavioral or physical signs of anger in yourself, then determining your level of anger on a scale from 1 to 10, followed by identifying what triggered your anger and finally understanding the way you are reacting to your interpretations of those triggers.

Once you have completed these steps, you will need to utilize self-soothing techniques for managing your anger before you are ready to confront your partner. As we saw earlier in the list above, holding in your anger can manifest in very destructive ways for your relationship, so early intervention and preparation are the key components of learning healthy expressions of anger.

When partners are able to express their anger in healthy ways, they provide each other with the reassurance of safety, which leads to greater trust and a thriving intimate relationship.

Gottlieb, Miriam M. (1999) The Angry Self: A Comprehensive Approach to Anger Management. Phoenix, Arizona: Zeig, Tucker & Co.

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