Are You Expressing Anger or Aggression?

Anger gets a bad reputation. The problem? Feeling anger isn’t the problem. None of us have direct control over how we feel or over how others feel. Tapping into our anger can often illuminate important information about ourselves, our values, and our boundaries. What we do with our anger is usually what gets people in trouble. Feeling angry is different than responding to our anger by engaging in aggression or passive-aggressiveness. High anger situations can quickly become unproductive shouting matches or debates. We pour fuel on fire when we are aggressive or passive-aggressive with our anger.

Most people respond to this in a few ways:

They react aggressively or judgmentally back at us. They get hostile, point out your mistakes or get defensive. They ignore it or give in. Due to fears of increased anger or aggression from you, they’ll take it on and likely slowly build resentment and potentially enable your cycle of aggression and hostility.

It’s important that we distinguish between anger and aggression.

Aggression is:

  • Verbal aggression: insults, name-calling, hostile humor, sarcasm, put downs, shouting, aggressive speech
  • Physical aggression: hitting, slamming doors, and causing physical harm to you or objects
  • Passive aggressiveness: Stonewalling or becoming silent/shutting down during specific arguments or topics, indirectly not doing things over time, patronizing comments, unsolicited advice, backhanded compliments, negative or pouty body language, playing the victim, or procrastinating willfully, not letting things go or keeping score, silent treatment, shifting responsibility or blaming you for their feelings

Understanding anger as an emotion (and why we might go there, or go there frequently or around tough topics) helps us let go of feelings of guilt and responsibility.

Why do we get mad?

Anger itself is actually a pleasurable emotion. It can be self-righteous, inflating, and ego-boosting. For those who feel small, they may NEED this to feel good about themselves.

You may resonate with the following:

  • Anger can assess that others are dumb and if “they’re dumb” then “I’m smart.”
  • Judgments of “that’s wrong” boost the idea that “we know what’s best”
  • Understanding that anger boosts people’s egos and can feel good, you can understand why people can be easily angry and stay angry.

Other functions of anger:

  • It alleviates and distracts from other primary emotions like fear, shame, or sadness
  • It’s a defense mechanism from more painful feelings – this is another reason that can be SO judgmental.

The next time you are feeling anger, ask yourself: “What function is my anger serving?” “What does anger help me do, achieve, escape, or think?”

Understanding and getting to the root of our anger, can help us respond in ways that are less aggressive and more effective. If you struggle with responding to feelings of anger with aggression, repression, or passive-aggressiveness you would benefit from working on feeling and dealing with anger with a therapist. Many clients I’ve worked with work on how to feel and deal with anger and it is an essential part of building their self-respect and healing their relationships with others.

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