Recognizing & Managing Anger

4. Identify Emotional Clues

Anger ranges from displeasure to rage. Catching this emotion in the early stages prevents the damage created by an onslaught of full-blown emotion. You can probably cite experiences where anger has had a detrimental impact on your life. Identifying the anger in your body is an important step in the recognition of emotional clues.

You need to:

  • Inventory internal and external clues.
  • Listen to your own words
  • Observe your non-verbal actions
  • Listen to the tone of your voice
  • Monitor your thoughts for angry intent

Inventory Internal and External Clues

Most people have been taught to control and even hide their anger. You may have followed this societal rule so well that you have hidden your anger from yourself. You may have learned to deny that you are even angry. There are many clues to help you determine if you have suppressed anger. It’s important to pay attention to these clues. In fact, they are your best weapons when recognizing and managing your own anger.

Please refer to the Internal and External Clues Tool and take a moment and assess your clues. If you find any, they are usually a sign of hidden unexpressed anger.

Internal and External Cues

Pay attention to these cues to help you determine if you have symptoms of suppressed anger.

  1. Procrastination in the completion of tasks.
  2. Perpetual or habitual lateness.
  3. A liking for sadistic or ironic humor.
  4. Sarcasm, cynicism, or flippancy in conversation.
  5. Frequent sighing.
  6. Over politeness, constant cheerfulness, attitude of “grin and bear it.”
  7. Smiling while hurting.
  8. Frequently disturbing or frightening dreams.
  9. Over-controlled monotone speaking voice.
  10. Difficulty in getting to sleep or sleeping through the night.
  11. Boredom, apathy, or loss of interest in things you are enthusiastic about.
  12. Slowing down of body movements.
  13. Getting tired more easily than usual.
  14. Excessive irritability over trifle matters.
  15. Getting drowsy at inappropriate times.
  16. Sleeping more than usual—maybe 12 to 14 hours a day.
  17. Waking up tired rather than rested or refreshed.
  18. Clenched jaws — especially while sleeping.
  19. Facial tics, spasmodic foot movements, habitual fist clenching, and similar repeated physical acts done unintentionally.
  20. Grinding of the teeth—especially while sleeping.
  21. Chronically stiff or sore neck or shoulder muscles.
  22. Chronic depression or extended periods of feeling blue for no reason.
  23. Stomach ulcers.

Listen to Your Own Words

Have you ever paid attention to the actual words you use when you are angry? If you are agitated and disturbed it can be difficult to hear them. Take a minute to really listen to your arguments and statements. Are you blaming, threatening, or bringing up the past? Your words will give you clues as to what you are really feeling.

In order to more carefully listen to what you are saying you will need to quiet down your emotions. Are you being critical, judgmental, or just plain mean? If the answer is yes, you are angry. Do you recognize sarcasm in your voice? If so, be careful. Sarcasm is almost always an indication of anger.

Breathing exercises are a simple, quick method to help you slow down to hear your words. By quieting your mind you can hear the content and choice of what you are saying. Then you can stop reacting and begin focusing on the real issue that made you angry.

Observe Non-Verbal Actions

Finger pointing, snubs, slamming doors, clenched fists, drawn facial expressions, and defensive postures (such as crossed arms) are all non-verbal actions that betray anger.

Each person uses his or her own non-verbal actions. What are yours? Think back on when you were last angry. Did you slam the phone down? Did you stand up with your hands on your hips? When you use these types of actions or gestures you often fuel the fire and make it difficult for you to move out of and beyond the state of anger.

Listen to the Tone of Your Voice

Think back on your childhood. Were there people in your life who used a critical or condemning tone to communicate displeasure? Tone is the best cue for anger. Did you realize that only 15% of communication is the actual content of words? The other 85% of communication is the non-verbal exchange—the strongest component being the tone of voice expressed.

You may have learned as a child to gauge just how angry your parents were by the tone of their voices. In turn, as an adult you use the same tones to reveal your anger to others. You probably tend to emphasize the words you feel the strongest about by using either louder tones or pauses.

Monitor Your Thoughts for Angry Intent

Quiet your mind and listen. Do you hear vengeance? “Just wait until he wants something from me!” Any thoughts of getting even or punishing someone are rooted in anger. Be particularly cautious with your children. While disciplining children is a primary role of a parent, it should never be done when angry, when the intent may be just to punish and vent anger. Take time out, reflect, and return to the disciplinary issue with a clear mind. Determine the real intent of your anger. That will drive the way you respond.

Do you want to express your anger by punishing, or do you want to keep the situation that made you angry in the first place from happening again? How you express your feelings will determine the response and the final outcome.