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Healthy and Unhealthy Anger

Healthy angerEveryone gets angry from time to time.  Anger is a strong emotion that gets the attention of those around us and allows us to feel a bit better when we blow off a lot of steam.  Healthy anger is normal and helps us assert ourselves when needed.

Healthy anger isn’t like rage.

Anger isn’t always healthy, of course..  In fact, it can be enormously destructive, both to us and to those around us.  And expressing anger physically – throwing a punch, breaking something, aggressive driving – is an indication that we’re out of control and creating a dangerous situation.  Some of us grew up around parents who were “rage-aholics.”  Their anger was explosive and out of proportion to whatever it was that set them off.  Rage-aholics are often mean:  their fury became emotionally abusive and left all those around them feeling attacked, rejected, diminished…. and angry themselves.   Rage-aholics assault the other person and see him or her as worthless, a total loser.  The person on the receiving end feels like a scapegoat.

What healthy anger looks like.

Healthy anger is limited in scope and time and proportional to the occasion.  Unhealthy anger can go on and on and looks like nuclear war.   Example:  someone cuts you off on the freeway and you spend the next 10 minutes trying to chase him down to get back at him.  Instead of seeing the other guy as a bad driver, you feel like your sacred honor has been violated!

Healthy anger is acknowledged and owned by the person feeling it.  Unhealthy anger is often denied: “I’m not mad, you’re just an idiot!”

Unhealthy anger.

Men who are prone to unhealthy anger often secretly feel  incompetent or ashamed.  Their life strategy is that the best defense is a good offense, and they become expert at assigning blame.  They have great difficulty accepting their share of responsibility for problems.

Communicating with rage-aholics is difficult or impossible, especially around emotional issues.  Nothing seems to get through their defenses.  That makes a sort of sense, if you look at this as a defensive strategy.  They’re afraid they are going to look stupid or worthless themselves, so they’ve become adept at keeping people at arm’s length so no one will discover their secret shame.  In fact, they often don’t seem to be listening at all.

Unhealthy anger can come from growing up around rage-aholics.  Maybe it’s our model of how adults communicate, and we decide that if this is the way it’s going to be, we’re going to be the powerful person and not the victim.  And if we’ve grown up on the receiving end of all that rage, our own sense of self may have been undermined by those angry, obliterating messages.  We secretly fear we’re worthless.  So we learn to rage to keep others at bay and keep our fragile sense of self intact.  All that anger is just a cover-up.

It’s tough living with all that anger.  If you’re on the receiving end, it can take a toll on how you feel about yourself.  If you’re the angry one, your body is constantly being exposed to a bath of powerful hormones that can affect your digestive and circulatory systems.

For healthy relationships with others, managing anger is a basic skill.  When mastered, anger serves us as a tool used on occasion when we need to assert ourselves.  Without proper self-management, though, anger can be a bomb rather than a tool.





 John Ballew Counselor

About John

I have been  licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years.  My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression.  My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships. 

I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems.  My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate.  If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.

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Whether you've worked with a therapist before or are exploring counseling for the first time, you probably have questions.  It is important to have the information you need to make a good decision when selecting a therapist.  I welcome your questions -- about your specific situation, about me or about my approach to therapy. Making things better can start with an email, or you can call me at (404) 874-8536.