Relationship Anger? 7 Skillful “Healthy Anger” Communications
© 2023 Richard Chandler, MA, LPC
We all experience frustration in the course of our daily lives. Sometimes, those frustrations escalate. It’s okay to feel angry, but it’s important to express it in healthy ways appropriate to the situation.
Healthy expression of anger can be a positive force for increasing focus, establishing boundaries, and communicating your wants or needs. But how can we express anger so it doesn’t injure our vital relationships?
Here are seven ways to express anger in healthier ways:
1. Healthy Expressions of Anger are Measured & Appropriate to the Situation
While in the moment, when you are upset by what another did or said, it is easy to allow frustration or even anger to come out in your words or your actions. But from your experience, has expressing yourself while in the thick of anger helped?
Rather than reacting, pause and ask yourself two questions:
- If I first think through what I want to communicate, would my message be better received?
- Will the other person be more receptive to my feedback later when they are less mentally or physically occupied?
In most cases, you are more likely to respond to the situation appropriately when strong emotions like anger do not cloud your thinking.
If the other person perceives that your interpretation of what occurred is measured and not reactive, they are more likely to:
- Agree with your understanding of the incident.
- Apologize for their words or behavior.
- Make the changes that you are asking of them.
2. Keep Control Over Your Anger
Controlling your anger is essential. Here are three ways to do so:
First, let those around you know you’re upset.
It is healthier and easier to manage anger by informing than keeping it under a lid, building pressure, and then exploding.
By communicating your feelings without implying that others are their cause, you can prevent causing harm to those around you by keeping irritation or frustration from boiling over.
Note: Informing is not expressing the anger itself; it is simply saying that, at this moment, you are feeling some anger and want the person to know what you are experiencing.
Second, you can take a time-out.
Without expressing anything, you can remove yourself from the environment to cool down and to understand why you became irritated, frustrated, and upset.
Third, relax your body and breathe slowly and deeply.
- Release muscular tension by shrugging your shoulders and doing some stretches.
- Notice the physical sensation in your lower body. This will help ground you and relax your nervous system.
- Deepen your breathing by squeezing more air out on your exhale, then relax for your inhale.
These three steps will go a long way toward staying with the other person without escalation.
3. Understand Your Anger Triggers
It’s vital to understand your unique anger triggers. Knowing them in advance can help you interrupt their predictable effect. Some common ones could be yours:
- You sense the other person didn’t give you their full attention. Ask if there would be a better time to talk about this when they could give you their full attention.
- You feel misunderstood. When this happens, say: “I must not have explained myself accurately.” Then, start over using a different approach.
- They dismissed what you had to say. Perhaps they denied it or placed the blame on others, including you.
- You expected agreement but didn’t get it. Factor in that what was evident to you, from your perspective, wasn’t apparent to the other person, so they had a different opinion.
- Your thoughts are puzzled, judgmental, or rapid-fire. When observing your thoughts while upset, are they jammed together, filled with righteous certainty, or judgment? Are you puzzled by how stupid the other person seems to you at that moment because they can’t seem to see that you are right?
Take some time to reflect on what proceeds your anger. Identify those factors as triggers. Say to yourself: “This has been a trigger for me to become angry, but now that I can identify it as a predictable trigger, I can choose not to be reactive to it.”
Pivot away from reactivity and express yourself in a way that is appropriate to the situation.
4. The Other Person’s Perspective & Temperament When the Recipient of Anger: They Aren’t You!
The Receiver of Your Anger’s Perspective:
Everyone has different backgrounds, life experiences, beliefs, and biases than you have. Unless you factor what you know of theirs into your communication, you will likely miss the mark on how your message is received. How is the receiver’s perspective different from yours?
The Receiver of Your Communication’s Temperament:
A person’s temperament contributes to their response to your healthy expression of anger. In the past, how has this person responded to more measured expressions of anger? Have they been:
- Defensive and denying?
- Argumentive or even combative?
- Quiet or withdrawn?
- Open & accepting of their part in it?
5. Communicate Anger Respectfully: Commit to a “No Disrespect Zone”
An indicator of anger expressed in healthier ways occurs when you and the other person feel heard, acknowledged, and respected. Listening to the other person’s perspective and validating their feelings is essential.
How do you keep expressions of anger respectful?
Choose your words carefully:
- First, state why you are talking with them so they know your purpose is to clear up the misunderstanding and avoid having the same difficulties reoccur.
- State what is important to you in a way that does not disparage or blame them.
- Don’t use words that threaten or scare.
- Never resort to name-calling!
- After describing what happened, gain agreement that their understanding of what occurred matches yours.
- Express the emotions you felt before you became angry. Tell them about your sadness, fear, embarrassment, hurt, or misunderstanding which came first.
Careful word selection can prevent the situation from escalating and having to apologize later for how you communicated. Intentionally thinking through or writing down what you want to say can lead to a more productive conversation and a better outcome for everyone involved.
6. Know the Outcome You Want by Expressing Angry Healthily
Finally, a discussion that leads to an acceptable resolution for both parties indicates healthier anger expressions. Finding a solution that works for everyone involved is essential, rather than just one person getting their way. Doing so leads to a more positive outcome and can prevent future conflicts.
Did You Pass the Test of Healthy Anger?
After communicating your thoughts and feelings, the best test for healthy versus unhealthy anger is how you and the other person feel about the discussion.
If you and the other person feel good, relieved, and okay, you likely expressed it healthily. In other words, getting it off your chest has improved the situation. However, if you feel guilty, upset, or even angrier, your chosen avenue was not the best for you or the other person.
7. Seek Professional Help to Learn “Healthy Anger”
If you’re having difficulty controlling your anger, seek professional help. A therapist, counselor, or anger management author can help you understand your unique anger pattern and help you develop healthy coping mechanisms.
As a psychotherapist and author specializing in rage and anger, I have witnessed many clients and course participants move away from unhealthy and destructive anger to more effective, relationship-enhancing ways of expressing themselves when frustrated.
Please check out our 8-hour Transform Anger: Gain Calmer Thinking, Skillful Actions & Harmonious Relationships Course.
We also have the 12-Hour Anger & Domestic Violence Course.