Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : March 2012

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Anger is a completely normal, healthy emotion that we all have experienced at some point in our lives. Feeling angry is neither good nor bad. It is, however, how you chose to handle it that makes the difference. So why do some people have such a hard time dealing with anger? 

How we deal with anger typically stems from our childhood and the messages we received while growing up. If those childhood messages were that it is ok to express anger in an appropriate manner, then we will feel more comfortable expressing it. If we learn to hold our anger in and that it is not ok to be angry, then adults are likely to choose not to express anger and therefore not resolve conflicts in a healthy way.

Myths and Facts about Anger

Myth: When I express my anger in an aggressive way people listen and I gain respect.

Fact: This is the way that a bully thinks, and someone who is truly respected is not a bully. Expressing yourself in an angry aggressive way will only make people not like you and not trust you. People are more willing to listen to your opinions when they are treated fairly and spoken to in an appropriate way.

Myth: When I’m angry it is healthy to vent and not hold it in.

Fact: While holding in your anger is not healthy and usually only causes you to become angrier, venting anger inappropriately is also not healthy. Expressing yourself in an angry aggressive manner can just make the situation worse. 

Myth: I can’t control my anger.  It’s just who I am. 

Fact: Although we don’t always have control of a situation, no one can make you feel a certain way. People can say things to you or do something to you, and then you choose how you are going to react. You always have control over how you express your anger. You can choose to express yourself without being verbally or physically abusive.

Myth: Learning to control my anger means I have to hold it in.

Fact: Recognizing anger is the first step to learning to manage it. Anger management gives you tools to help you learn to recognize your anger, and then make choices to help express yourself in an appropriate way. The goal is to learn healthy and constructive ways to express anger.

Why Do We Need to Manage Our Anger?

  • Being angry all the time can adversely affect your health. Being chronically angry can make you more susceptible to illnesses such as: diabetes, heart disease, insomnia, increased stress, and a weakened immune system. 
  • Chronic anger can affect your mental health. Being angry takes a huge amount of energy and therefore can affect your ability to manage your stress. This can lead to difficulty concentrating, depression and other mental health concerns.
  • Out-of-control anger can hurt personal and professional relationships, as well as your career. Someone who is angry all the time puts other people on edge and makes others feel that they can’t trust you. Communicating differences in opinion is healthy and important, but when you lash out at someone it can damage friendships and co-worker relationships. Anger can especially damage children, because they never know what to expect from you and therefore have difficulty trusting.
  • How you choose to manage and express your anger is the key.  Here are some tips on how to manage your anger:
  • Take a time out.  If you can, excuse yourself from the situation to calm down.
  • Take several deep breaths.  Breathe in through your nose for five seconds, hold for five seconds and then exhale to the count of five.  Repeat this exercise five times.
  • Count to 10 very slowly before you respond.
  • Use “I statements” to express your feelings. “I feel angry because…”
  • Get some fresh air.
  • Exercise
  • Listen to music
  • Write down how you feel
  • Talk to a counselor

Please call the Lawyer Assistance Program for free, confidential counseling at (410) 685-7878, ext. 3041 or (800) 492-1964. You can also email us at jquinn@msba.org.

Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C, CAC, is Program Counselor for the MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin : March 2012

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