How To Use Anger Constructively

“Anger helps straighten out a problem as much as a fan helps straighten out a pile of papers.”
Susan Marcotte

Anger is a neutral emotion. It’s neither good nor bad. Even the Bible says, “Be angry, but do not sin.”

In other words, the feeling of anger is simply a feeling. It’s what you DO with your anger that is good or bad. It’s what you DO with your anger that HELPS or HURTS your situation.

So let’s start with the hurtful use of anger. If you DO any of the following things, it will HURT your situation. It will make things worse.


=> 1. Ignore the anger.

You keep telling yourself, “I’m not mad.” And you ignore the fact that your stomach is in a knot and you’re perspiring a little. You even rationalize your anger away … telling yourself it’s probably just too warm in the room.

Unfortunately, when you ignore and stuff your anger, you always pay a price. You’ll either get emotionally depressed or physically ill. As Oprah Winfrey notes, “What I’ve learned about being angry with people is that it generally hurts you more than it hurts them.”

=> 2. Blame the anger.

You blame the other person for causing you to get angry. After all, it’s her fault that you feel so badly, isn’t it? You can point out … with great precision … and a little exaggeration … exactly what the other person did wrong.

And when you’re in the blaming mode, you tend to do all kinds of things to make things worse. You raise your voice and utter contemptuous comments. You say such things as “It’s impossible to discuss anything with you … You’re so arrogant … You never listen … and … Who made you the king of the universe?”

The problem with blaming is it keeps you stuck. As long as you blame someone else for your problems and your emotions, you’ll never look at your part in the problem. You’ll never change, and you’ll never get better.

=> 3. Avenge the anger.

You focus on what the other person did wrong. And you determine to “get him” for what he did.

The problem with that is … it usually makes things worse. You tend to say things and do things before you think. You react rather than respond. And as 19th century cleric Henry Ward Beecher said, “Speak when you’re angry, and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.”

Whether you like it or not, you’re going to feel anger once in a while. It’s a real emotion, and it’s a powerful emotion that has to be dealt with. So what should you DO with anger? Try some of these suggestions. You may not have to do all of them, but chances are, you’ll be better off if you’re doing some of them.


=> 1. Admit your anger.

Take a good look at yourself, and accept the fact that you are angry. Don’t put it off as a little irritation or frustration. If you’re angry, admit it … at least to yourself. You can’t deal with anything that doesn’t exist.

=> 2. Calm yourself.

Notice I said, “Calm yourself.” I didn’t say, “ignore your anger”. I’ve already talked about the fact that doesn’t work.

But neither does the other extreme of “letting it all hang out.” Some people use this “let-it-all-hang-out theory” as a license to hurt others … as they pompously announce, “I’m just being honest!” Research has found that “let-em-have-it anger” actually increases your anger and aggression and does nothing to help you or the other person resolve the situation.

A healthy middle ground is to calm yourself … before you speak. You don’t want to say something or do something you’ll regret later. So you may need to do some deep breathing first. Breathe deeply, from your diaphragm. Picture your breath coming up from your “gut” … because breathing from your chest won’t relax you.

Or you may need to use some word therapy. Tell yourself, slowly, repeatedly, calming words or phrases such as “Relax … Take it easy … or … You can handle this.”

=> 3. Use defusing humor.

The underlying message of highly angry people is “things oughta go MY way!” Angry people tend to feel that they are morally right, that any blocking or changing of their plans is an unbearable indignity, and that they should NOT have to suffer this way. Maybe other people do, but not them!

If you feel that way some of the time, you’re taking yourself too seriously. And you’re getting too angry too often over too many things. You need to realize that even though anger is a serious emotion, it’s often accompanied by ideas that … if examined … can make you laugh.

Dr. Jerry Deffenbacher, a psychologist who specializes in anger management, recommends “silly humor” to help defuse your rage and give you a more balanced perspective for times like that. He says you should picture yourself as a god or goddess, a supreme ruler, who owns the streets and stores and office space, striding along and having your way in all situations, while others defer to you. The more detail you can put into your imaginary scenes, the more chances you have to realize that you may be unreasonable. And you may also realize that some of the things you’re angry about aren’t all that important.

One caution. I’m not suggesting that you merely “laugh off” your anger. I’m simply saying that some of the time you may use humor to help you face your problems more constructively.

=> 4. Apply logic when you’re being irrational.

Psychologists call it “cognitive restructuring.” Simply put, it means changing the way you think.

Very angry people tend to have very exaggerated and overly dramatic thought patterns. They tell themselves, “Oh, this is awful. It’s terrible. Everything is ruined.” Replace these thoughts with more rational ones such as, “This is frustrating, and it makes sense that I’m upset about it. But it’s not the end of the world and getting angry is not going to fix it anyhow.”

Be careful of using all-inclusive words like “never” or “always.” When you say things like “This !&*%@ machine never works” or “You’re always forgetting things,” you’re being irrational. Those are not accurate statements, and they only make things worse. They make you feel like your excessive anger is more than justified, and there’s no way to solve the problem.

Let go of the irrationality. They alienate and humiliate the very people who might otherwise be willing to work with you on a solution. As actress Marlene Dietrich put it, “Once a woman has forgiven her man, she must not reheat his sins for breakfast.”

=> 5. Schedule a time to talk.

This might sound crazy, because angry people often want to talk now rather than schedule something for later. But cooled-off timing and scheduled meetings with your spouse or coworkers may be a very smart way to handle the anger that is bound to occur in any relationship.

Smart managers, for example, want their employees to share their anger and complaints. They may even hold monthly gripe sessions to make sure everything is out in the open and on the table.

After all, smart managers know that every employee has problems with the department. So if the employees aren’t complaining to the manager, they’re keeping everything inside, and the manager won’t know about it until they leave. Or the employees are telling everybody else outside the company … which only hurts the company’s chances of success in the future.

If you decide to hold monthly gripe sessions, don’t hold the meeting in the conference room. Employees will feel like they’re still at work and may not speak freely. Instead, try meeting at a local coffeehouse the first Friday of every month, and do it on company time … not the employees’ time.

And, certainly, set up a few rules for the appropriate sharing of anger and complaints. For example, no name-calling or putdowns of individuals. Attack the problem and not the person.

=> 6. Listen more and talk less.

Angry people tend to jump to and act on conclusions, and some of those conclusions are just plain wrong. And to make matters worse, angry people want to say the first thing that comes to their head.

Slow down. Listen carefully to what the other person is saying. And listen to what’s causing your anger. If, for example, you’d like more time for yourself and your spouse wants more time together, take time to understand the clashing needs … rather than immediately calling your spouse a jealous, smothering idiot.

If you’re in a heated discussion, take your time before answering. Think through your responses before you give them. As cleric W. A. Nance put it, “Never answer an angry word with an angry word. It’s the second one that makes the quarrel.”

=> 7. Solve the problem … if possible.

In other words, your anger is often caused by some very real and inescapable problems in your life. So make a plan to solve the problem, and resolve to give it your best. Check your progress along the way, but don’t punish yourself by getting even angrier if you don’t get as much progress as you’d like as soon as you’d like.

Be careful of not falling into the all-or-nothing trap. Be careful of buying into the cultural myth that every problem has a solution … because that only adds to your anger when you find out that isn’t the case. Sometimes your best option … or only option … is focusing on how you’re going to face the problem instead of solving the problem.

So there you have it. Anger is a powerful human emotion. It can be used for good, but when it gets out of control, it becomes highly destructive, destroying relationships, environments, and productivity. Don’t let your anger get the best of you.

Action:  Choose one of the seven constructive anger techniques listed above that you need to improve. Write the technique on a card. Carry it with you throughout the day. Look at it several times a day as a reminder of how you should behave when you start to get angry.