By Charles H. Elliott, Laura L. Smith, W. Doyle Gentry

Before you can manage your own anger, you need to be aware of what anger is and isn’t. Unfortunately, myths about anger abound. Here are some of the myths you can dispel right from the get-go:

  • If you don’t express anger, you just might explode. The truth is, the more often you express anger, the more likely you will feel angry in the future. On the other hand, appropriately, carefully expressed anger can help you. So keep reading!

  • Males are angrier than females. If by angrier you mean how often people experience anger, it’s simply not true that men are angrier than women. Surveys show that women get mad about as frequently as men. Men and women may express anger a little differently, but research has been inconsistent on that issue.

  • Anger is bad. Anger serves a variety of positive purposes when it comes to coping with stress. When controlled, it can energize you, improve your communication with other people, and defend you against fear and insecurity.

  • Anger is good. When it leads to domestic violence, property damage, sexual abuse, drug addiction, ulcers, and self-mutilation, anger is definitely not good.

  • Anger is only a problem when you openly express it. Many angry people either suppress their anger (“I don’t want to talk about it!”) or repress their anger (“I’m not angry at all — really!”). People who express their anger are the squeaky wheels who get everyone’s attention; people who repress or suppress their anger need anger management just as much.

  • The older you get, the more irritable you are. It’s the other way around — as people age, they report fewer negative emotions and greater emotional control. People — like wine and cheese — do tend toimprove with age.

  • Anger is all in the mind. When you get mad, that emotion instantly manifests itself in muscles throughout your entire body, the hairs on the back of your neck, your blood pressure, your blood sugar levels, your heart rate, your respiration rate, your gut, even your finger temperature (it warms up!) — long before you’re fully aware of what’s happening.

  • Anger is all about getting even. The most common motive behind anger has been shown to be a desire to assert authority or independence, or to improve one’s image — not necessarily to cause harm. Revenge is a secondary motive. A third motive involves letting off steam over accumulated frustrations — again with no apparent intent to harm anyone else.

  • If you don’t express anger, you’ll be seen as weak. Not so. In fact, a calm, measured, assertive response not only works better but also is quite powerful.

  • People with anger problems have low self-esteem. In fact, sometimes they do. However, a much more common companion of anger is excessively inflated self-esteem.

  • Only certain types of people have a problem with anger. You can easily find angry truck drivers, college professors, physicians, grandmothers, lawyers, policemen, career criminals, poor people, millionaires, children, the elderly, and people of various ethnicities, nationalities, and religions. Anger is a universal emotion.

  • Anger results from human conflict. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. People get angry by being exposed to foul odors, negotiating traffic jams, aches and pains, computer problems, and hot temperatures — none of which involve (or can be blamed on) the direct, intentional actions of others.

The Seven Primary Emotions
Emotion How It’s Expressed
Sad The eyelids droop; corners of mouth turn down; people withdraw
from others; thoughts focus on negative, pessimistic issues,
losses, and inferior self-views; body temperature rises; and heart
rate increases.
Joy Corners of the eyes wrinkle; smiles and corners of the mouth
turn up; thoughts dwell on positive enjoyment; laughter.
Surprise Eyes widen and become rounder; the mouth opens; expression
occurs and recedes rapidly in response to an unexpected event;
thoughts focus on the unexpected aspects of what occurred and
why.
Disgust The nose wrinkles; the upper lip curls; also a rapid response
to something that looks, smells, or tastes unpleasant; thoughts
focus on avoiding or removing oneself from the disgusting
object.
Contempt The muscles in the cheek pull back, which results in a “half”
smile or sneer; the head often tilts a bit back; thoughts focus on
the inferiority of others.
Fear The eyes open wide; lips stretch out; heart rate increases;
body temperature drops; thoughts dwell on how to deal with danger
— whether to fight, flee, or freeze; posture slumps.
Anger The eyes glare and narrow; lips press together; body
temperature and heart rate increase; posture puffs up; thoughts
focus on issues such as unfairness, revenge, injustice, attacking,
and getting even.