Do you ever have moments of anger? Of course, the answer is yes, in the sense that each person feels this emotion at some level, and there are multiple types of anger styles.
Let’s not stereotype our understanding of anger by presuming that it only involves rude, mean-spirited communication. Yes, people often misuse it that way, but it is much broader than that. Included in our identification of the five anger styles are reactions of frustration, annoyance, irritability, agitation, impatience, and so forth. It is a broad based emotion with many manifestations.
Anger is part of your personality’s alert system, and it is triggered by the need to preserve oneself.
Specifically when you feel angry, you wish to preserve:
- Your worth as a human: “Would you please show me respect!”
- The legitimacy of your needs: “I want you to regard my needs.”
- Your primary convictions: “I have beliefs that define who I am, notice them.”
It is well and good that you might feel angry, but as you acknowledge the emotion, you can go deeper by also asking, “What does my use of anger reveal about me in general?” Unfortunately, many people are not disciplined with their anger, and it is little more than a force for disruption. Others, fearing what might happen as they express anger, allow insecurity and pessimism to prompt coy or devious expressions.
But let’s hold onto the notion: With all anger styles, you have choices. You can choose to let it run its course negatively. You can let it eat away at your inner self, resulting in an unhappy manner of living. Or you can choose to blend your anger management in with a constructive manner of life. Where do you want to go with it?
Once your personality registers anger, there are five different anger styles that you can choose.
Let’s examine the five anger styles, noting along the way what these anger styles reveal about who you are in that moment. Becoming self aware, you can be poised to handle anger in ways that enhance, rather than diminish, your quality of life.
- Suppressing anger
The suppression of anger represents an attempt at temporary pain avoidance. When you suppress anger you have weighed the potential of an undesirable power struggle, and you have chosen the path of least resistance. You might even have drawn the false conclusion that if you do not address the anger-producing problem, it will just fade and go away.
The suppression of anger can be handled in many ways:
- Withdrawing physically from a problem
- Saying “I’m fine” when you are not
- Appeasing in an effort to make the problem disappear
- Being too low-keyed in your exchanges
- Succumbing to the controller
- Shying away from controversial topics
- Letting legitimate frustrations pass without saying a word
- Smiling, pretending not to feel the resentment that resides inwardly
- Acting as a team player even as you disagree with the rules of the moment.
Suppressors make the false assumption that follows the “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy. They can presume that if they keep their emotions hidden, they will disappear. In fact, the suppression of anger virtually guarantees a build up of other problems like resentment, depression, and anxiety.
What suppression can reveal about you:
Your inclination to suppress demonstrates a generalized fear. It is as if you dread conflict because you presume nothing good will come of speaking out or acting upon your convictions. Suppression illustrates an attitude of futility and disillusionment. It shows that you have allowed cynicism to take over, leaving you in a general state of pessimism. The more commonly you suppress, the more it implies that you have discounted your own personal legitimacy.
2. Openly aggressive anger
Usually when people think of anger, it is the openly aggressive style of anger that comes to mind. That is only natural since it is the loudest, most boisterous way to communicate the emotion.
While the aggressive person is in a self-preservation mode, it is handled in a manner that shows little regard for the others involved. The reason for feeling angry may actually be valid (although sometimes it is not), but the delivery is so disruptive that the appropriate message gets lost.
Openly aggressive anger can be displayed in these ways:
- Being critical or bossy
- Speaking dogmatically about your beliefs
- Being forceful and pushy
- Shouting, using a raised tone of voice
- Blaming, accusing
- Going into rants or long lectures
- Displays or threats of physical force
- Being blunt and insensitive
- Complaining and griping
- Bickering and being snippy
- Cursing, name-calling, insulting
- Interrupting, refusing to listen
- Pushing an agenda that others will inevitably resist.
By using the openly aggressive style of anger, you can illustrate a strong belief that others cannot or will not make good decisions without you being overwhelming. It implies a lack of confidence that people will coordinate life with you if you just leave them to their own devices.
What open aggression reveals about you:
First, when you use this style of anger, it implies that haughtiness has taken over your personality. It is as if you are saying: “No one knows better than ME.” There is little or no room for separate ideas, preferences, or interpretations. Additionally, the aggressive style illustrates little or no empathy. Surely the other person has feelings and preferences, but filled with aggression, you have concluded that the only person whose feelings matter is yourself. You are showing no deference to the other’s distinctions.
Likewise, fear is revealed via the openly aggressive style. The severity of the anger is your way of indicating: “I’m afraid that no one will take me seriously if I speak in a normal tone of voice.” Aggressive people have concluded that they have to coerce to be heard. Their overwhelming style is a compensation for feelings of inadequacy, fearing that they will be nobody without this caustic veneer.
3. Passive aggressive anger.
Some people have decided that there are times when the openly aggressive style will create more problems that it will solve, so they instead become stealth with anger. Feeling aggressive, they still harbor disdain, but they communicate it in more hidden means that allow them to be less exposed.
People inclined toward passive aggressive anger have concluded that “less is more,” in the sense that they can preserve personal needs while revealing little about their vulnerabilities. They like keeping others guessing because it is its own form of power.
Passive aggressive anger is displayed with these types of behaviors:
- Being evasive in general
- Shrugging, then giving “I don’t know” responses
- Promising one thing, then doing something quite different
- Procrastination, laziness
- Sabotaging others’ plans
- Being unreliable
- Refusing to prepare for tasks, assignments
- Making lame excuses for poor behavior
- Giving the silent treatment, withdrawal as punishment
- Prioritizing play or frivolity when other matters need attention
- Giving half hearted efforts
- Being wasteful, even after requests are made otherwise.
Often passive aggressive people can feel rewarded for their style of anger since it generates much strain in others. It can feel empowering.
What passive aggressive anger reveals about you:
People inclined toward passive aggressive anger reveal low levels of trust toward others. They have concluded that being self-disclosing is too risky, that others will use information against them. That is why they have become clandestine. They have little optimism that conflict can be managed cleanly, leaving them with little incentive to share personal matters clearly.
These individuals operate with a fear of vulnerability. The less that is known about them, the better. They still have aggressive impulses, but they have chosen a conniving manner of self-preservation. Beneath it all is a quiet sense of entitlement that they should be above others, even as they reveal little about how they truly struggle inwardly.
4. Assertive anger.
Remember, anger can have a constructive purpose. When misunderstanding has occurred, when a person has wronged you, your anger can prompt decisive and
corrective action. In self-preservation you can speak and act in ways that let others know of your desire to be respected. The assertive style of anger is typified by open efforts to address problems while at the same time choosing to maintain dignity toward the ones being addressed.
Assertive people feel no need to belittle others in the process of managing tensions. They can be firm, but also respectful. They can maintain strong principles without having to invalidate others’ principles.
Examples of assertive anger would include:
- Knowing when to say no
- Being straight-forward in communication
- Speaking with a clear, concise voice
- Showing concern even as problems are addressed
- Demonstrating confidence when others disagree
- Being known as one who can and will follow through on responsibilities
- Standing firmly when others are clearly irresponsible or uncaring
- Holding to correct standards without being demeaning
- Responding to resistance with calm resoluteness.
By choosing the assertive style of anger, you recognize that you deserve to be heard, and that preserving personal convictions is an act of responsibility. Yet you can also maintain a sense of modesty as you make room for the needs and perspectives of others.
What assertiveness reveals about you. As you consistently manage anger assertively, you show yourself to be a “big picture” thinker. That is, you want your momentary choices to coincide with your long-term plans. You are not inclined to let petty, momentary moods derail your reputation as a strong person.
Assertiveness is grounded in an overall respect for the well being of others. When conflict arises, you care enough to address it, yet constructively. Being assertive, you demonstrate empathy since you are aware of the impact your message can have on others. Goodness and love remain strong, and clearly you consider others as your equal.
6. The release of anger.
There are times when you feel a surge of anger, yet wisdom reveals that the emotion needs to be left unspoken. Not every agitating circumstance has to be addressed. You can acknowledge that although anger can have a constructive function, there are times when other personality traits need to be given utilized. This allows you to appeal to higher priorities.
The release of anger requires discretion as you determine that sometimes the greater good can be served as you simply accept life’s imperfections.
The release of anger can be displayed in many ways:
- Showing tolerance toward others’ differences
- Being patient
- Choosing forgiveness as a means of finding personal peace
- Accepting others just as they are
- Knowing when not to press a point
- Choosing to be decent even when others have not acted decently toward you
- Staying out of fruitless debates or arguments
- Acknowledging that life is not always fair
- Dropping the requirement that others should be ideal
- Choosing kindness as a means of finding influence.
By choosing the release of anger you recognize your personal limitations, and that people will not always fit your mold. You recognize the inevitability of human error. And instead of having to correct all wrongs, you make allowances for human fallibility.
What releasing anger reveals about you:
When you choose to release anger, it can reveal that you have realistic expectations about life. You can certainly still exercise the need to assert your self-preserving needs, but not at the expense of emotional balance. By releasing, you display wisdom, and even courage, as you seek to be known as one who can be taken seriously when difficulties arise. You demonstrate poise, which positions you as a voice of reason.
People who properly release anger are inevitably mindful of their own imperfections. They often think: “I know I don’t manage everything right in my own life, so it makes no sense to be overly demanding of others.” They display a willingness to bear a certain amount of discomfort if it seems apparent that good will can ultimately prevail over discord.
Your predominant anger styles provide a window into your soul. You can learn most about a person’s guiding beliefs, not in the smooth moments, but in times of tension and conflict. That is when the real you shows up.
Stereotypically, we tend to think of anger as an impulse-driven emotion, and that is often the case. Yet by comparing and contrasting these five anger styles, you can choose to be more measured in your use of the emotion. It’s possible, after all, to use reason in the midst of an emotion like anger.
You can find the necessary focus and discipline as you ponder a primary question: How do you want to be known?
Let’s hope that you will be aware of the necessity of self-preservation when anger alerts you to the need to stand firmly for what you believe is right and best. But let’s also hope that wisdom will prevail as you choose the anger style that keeps alive the potential for ongoing dignity, respect, and civility.
Les Carter, Ph.D.
If you need to adjust your anger style, please consider signing up for my course Free to Be. You can sign up HERE!