Michael N. Ceo, M.A. Home     Published Articles
        Licensed Professional Counselor Biography          Contact

Coaching for Life: Anger relationships and health

By Michael Ceo



I would like to invite you to look at anger differently. While most of us regard angry feelings as bad and something to be avoided, there is much to be gained from learning to give and receive anger. Couples and families who have developed resources to productively talk over resentments, annoyances and behaviors that trigger angry feelings are stronger and come to relationships more competently. This may be so because they accept a broader range of what it means to be human. Learning to “do anger” also conveys mutual respect. It avoids the harmful and undermining indirect expressions of anger that lead to more trouble in the form of unresolved conflict and buried resentments. When the only outlets for anger are indirect or shadowy, the resulting undercurrent of tension can eat away at relationships. It is this “slow burn” anger that is so damaging to our health.


If the only outlets for anger are indirect, then physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms destructively become the language of our anger.


Indirect anger sends a message of hopelessness that the original problem will never be addressed, let alone resolved. Symptomatic anger becomes calcified and disconnected from our awareness, making it difficult to decipher and recognize as anger.


Much of the dysfunctional acting out behaviors that people demonstrate around us reflect indirect anger.


There is an important distinction to be made between anger and hostility. The goal of anger is to send a protective message that we experience some behavior as threatening, wrong or hurtful to us. The goal of hostility is to hurt or demean someone. Hostility is abusive and always destructive.


One way to understand anger is to imagine an anger scale or spectrum with internalized anger at one extreme and outwardly expressed aggression at the other. The ultimate form of internalized anger is suicide, while at the other extreme is aggression and homicide. In the middle is assertiveness. This is a communication style that expresses anger in a socially acceptable and more productive manner. Learning assertiveness skills is what to strive for.


On the internalized anger end of the spectrum, look for headaches, hypertension, irritability, alcohol abuse, self-mutilation, marital affairs, depression and other symptoms.


On the aggression end of the anger spectrum, look for behaviors invested with anger, such as conduct disorder, verbal abuse, vandalism, spouse battering, road rage and other anti-social behavior. Not surprisingly, people with violence problems are typically poor communicators who are overwhelmed with feelings that provoke a sense of powerlessness. They experience themselves as stuck or misunderstood and resort to lashing out.


The first step in anger communications is to let the angry person know how important it is that you understand what they feel so strongly about. This sends them a reassuring signal from you that they are not crazy or imagining something. Signal them that you care enough to listen to them. .


Once you let the angry person know that they have your utmost attention, try and get him or her talking about what is really bothering them. Most likely you will start hearing about some perceived threat or loss that you can deal with constructively together.


Practicing anger communication in your marriage and family actually leads to less anger and more productive dialogue and conflict resolution. If people get the message that they don’t have to turn up the volume to be heard or have their concerns taken seriously, they learn to trust more. Anger communications should be taught in schools as a life skill. By learning these skills we invest in ourselves and our loved ones.

The do’s and don’ts of anger communication


Validate another’s anger. Say, for example, “Its important to me that I understand what you are feeling so strongly about.” Or, “tell me what’s bothering you.” The angry person might escalate momentarily but will calm down at seeing your seriousness and caring.

Grow your anger vocabulary. It can be beneficial to learn to grade anger by using words like ticked off, annoyed, resented, miffed, enraged, furious, outraged, etc. Try using lines like “I can see you are quite enraged about this.” Or, “You seem miffed.”

Link feeling with behavior. Try and link an angry feeling with a behavior such as “When you didn’t call, I felt annoyed at being kept waiting.” Or, “I felt enraged when my boss turned down my vacation request.”

Diagnose the threat. Once the anger has subsided, try and clarify what underlying events or feelings triggered the anger. Convey to the angry person that you are concerned and care. This is the beginning of conflict resolution.

Do an autopsy on the argument. After the smoke has cleared, go back and clarify what each of you were “really” feeling before and during the conflict.


Don’t deny anger. Never tell an angry person, “Don’t be angry.” Or, “It’s in your imagination.” Denying someone’s anger is an invitation for it to escalate.

Don’t walk away. With the exception of abuse, try and lovingly engage the angry person rather than abandon him or her.

Don’t endure abuse. Learn to set limits with someone who behaves abusively. Have an escape plan if you are threatened. Name calling, intimidation, criticism, put down talk are examples of hostility.

Don’t avoid getting help. If you suspect hostility or abuse, contact a counselor or health-care professional. If you are threatened, contact the police.