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    You've Been Thinking About Anger All Wrong

    Not only can anger be helpful, but acknowledging and expressing it is good.

    Anger is one of the most complex emotions, and yet it often gets boiled down to a simple frown and yelling.

    It's a "bad" emotion, we're told, one that's better to shut down than let creep through in any way. It's mean, it's destructive, it's fiery red. But it doesn't have to be that way. I spoke with four anger experts, and they all agreed: not only can anger be helpful, but acknowledging and expressing it is good. Since there are so many misconceptions about anger, I asked them to break down the basics so we all can understand and handle our uncomfortable feelings a little more productively:

    1. For starters, anger is better understood as a signal, rather than an emotion.

    Pixar / Via

    Yes, it's about being mad, but Dr. Julie Catalano, a licensed social worker who runs anger management workshops for women, tells BuzzFeed that anger is actually more of a signal that something's wrong. "It's very simply an indication that we need to adjust or change in response to something in the environment around us," she says. "There's something that’s not quite gelling with us and our expectations, so we need to adjust."

    Recognizing anger as a sort of flag that's waving in the direction of what's actually wrong is more constructive. "It’s just telling us something," conflict expert Dana Caspersen says. "What’s waving this emotion? What do I care about? What do they care about? It’s a simple question."

    2. Which means it's not the big bad monster it's been made out to be by * gestures hand broadly toward everything *.

    FOX / Via

    What is bad is repressing it, not using impulse control, letting it out on other people, or not attempting to get at the root of what's making you angry. Otherwise, don't fear anger.

    3. But it's also not good. It just kind, you know?

    As nice as it would be to say, "Love all of your emotions!" Catalano isn't so unequivocally warm and lovey toward anger. "It’s neither bad nor good. It is what it is," she says. "Sometimes, it’s daunting, like if it's showing you that maybe your relationship isn’t the best one to be in, and knowing that major change is needed is anxiety provoking." Overall, though, don't let it get you down (or up). Anger is just...OK. It's fine. What is good is acknowledging it and realizing when something needs to be done.

    4. You might be angry and not even realize it.


    According to Loriann Oberlin, clinical professional counselor and co-author of Overcoming Passive-Aggression: How to Stop Hidden Anger from Spoiling Your Relationships, Career and Happiness, there are many traits of angry people to look out for in other people (or yourself) that indicate that things are getting more than a little heated. Here are a few:

    • Acting childish

    • Criticizing everything, and doing it a lot

    • Blaming other people for things

    • Exploding and/or imploding

    • Putting other people down

    • Using a lot of sarcasm

    • Remaining passive and then feeling resentful or disappointed when they don't get their way

    In addition to this, there are two different kinds of angry people: dumpers and withholders. According to Dr. Andrea Brandt, dumpers discharge and spew their feelings and leave no doubt that they're angry. "Those people cannot tolerate the feeling of anger in their body," she says. "They dump it so easily they don’t even get the wisdom or clarity the anger has to give them; they don’t know why they’re angry." Withholders, on the other hand, "might know they’re angry, but they’re not going to let it out," Brandt adds. "They’d just as soon leave their body, they don’t want to deal with it in any direct way."

    5. And FYI, being a withholder is almost as bad as, if not worse than, walking around like the angry guy from Inside Out.

    I can see why that's confusing! The truth is that withholding anger is a fast-track to becoming passive-aggressive, a corrosive behavior for yourself and your relationships. Maybe inside, you think, "If my roommate suggests pizza for dinner one more time, I'll scream," but outwardly, you say, "I don't care what we have for dinner." And then you get unhappy when she suggests pizza for dinner. Tamping that anger down only builds resentment and annoyance, and is actually kind of a low-key form of gaslighting.

    "Hidden anger is underlying theme of all passive-aggressiveness, but a lot of passive-aggressive people don’t even know they’re angry," Brandt says. It can have a slower burn than the upfront conflict that dumpers create, but it creates an environment of manipulation and indirect hostility, and leaves mixed messages and mislaid blame in its wake.

    6. There is a happy medium between holding it all in and unleashing it with fury...

    Disney / Via

    The happy medium is employing some basic mindfulness and other tactics that'll help you handle your anger in the moment. Here are some of Catalano's tips for when you feel your anger meter going off the scale:

    • Go for a walk or do any other kind of physical exercise you can manage

    • Do progressive muscle relaxation (breathing in while tensing your muscles and breathing out while releasing them), especially if you can't leave where you are at the moment, such as your desk at work

    • Change the temperature of your body. "If you can tolerate it, splash water on your face, or hold an ice cube," Catalano says. "Changing the temperature helps distract your mind."

    • Listen to music, watch TV or a movie — whatever it is that works for you to distract your mind while you calm down

    • Play with your pet, if you have one

    And when the mood has passed, figure out what made your anger flag fly. This will go a long way in helping you prevent and predict anger flares in the future. "All feelings have wisdom attached to them, but if you’re busy getting rid of it or running from it, you don’t get the wisdom," Brandt says. "Sit with it, explore it, feel it, express it, but do it in healthy and constructive way." Once you locate the source of your anger, the real issue of what's making you react, write it down so you're more aware of your triggers.

    (Get more tips here: 12 Ways To Calm Down When You're Pissed Off And Don't Want To Be)

    7. ...and your coping technique might change, depending on whether you're a dumper or a withholder.

    Twitter: @eekshecried

    If you're more of a dumper, Brandt suggests some grounding exercises, in which you do deep breathing, close your eyes, hold the charge in your body, and count to 10. "Take a time out while you reassure yourself that you'll be OK," Brandt says. "Have the experience of keeping the anger in your body while you're doing this. Otherwise, you dump it so easily that you don’t even get the wisdom or clarity the anger has to give you."

    Withholders who'd just as soon run, avoid, or get involved in work than address their anger should try to feel it — to remind themselves that nothing bad will happen. "They should keep their eyes open so that they have to stay there with the anger — otherwise, the anger turns into anxiety, and then you disown it and put it on someone else," Brandt says.

    8. If you're really mad with someone, there are some steps for gently bringing it up with them in a constructive way.

    First, take a step back and ask yourself, "What is the question that’s between the two of us?" and "How would I describe conflict in a way that’s agreeable to the two of us?" Caspersen suggests. Define what's important to you and to them, and what each of you care about in this situation. "Find a level of caring so that it can be more of a conversation about what’s important to everyone on a deep level than the little thing that triggered your anger," she adds.

    Then, talk in person with them, but avoid trip-wires that could rile them up, like "I know you're angry," or seeming too scripted. Instead, use phrases like "I get the sense that..." or "Is that right?" so that you can unfold the complexities of the situation, layer by layer. Talk it through, but know that you might not get the conversation or resolution you might want. And if that happens, that's OK! "Developing the ability to be present with someone you disagree with is a valuable form of strength," Caspersen says. "Be willing to acknowledge what someone is saying without feeling like you’re diminishing yourself."

    9. But above all else, be kind to yourself about your anger.

    Terri Pous / BuzzFeed

    There is no shame in anger! Catalano recommends validation as a helpful technique on being gentler with yourself when you feel your internal tension rising. "If your loved one came home in a huff, you'd reach out with validation, saying, 'It looks like you're having a hard time right now, maybe take a break and we can come back to this later.' Try speaking to yourself that way the next time you feel angry, rather than berating yourself." Let your anger flag fly, y'all — just remember to really examine what's on it before taking it down and folding it up.