Top 10 Reasons for Not Changing Your Anger

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

People have reasons for continuing to express their anger. They hesitate to change because of beliefs that they hold about feelings, anger, and change itself. These beliefs can be quite powerful, so it’s useful to examine them. Then you can decide whether you want to consider alternatives to these beliefs.

The alternative perspectives listed under each reason or belief for not changing your anger are exactly that — another way you can choose (or not) to look at the belief.

People deserve your anger

This belief keeps the focus on blaming others for your anger. People do lots of things that deserve anger. They lie, cheat, steal, deceive, and generally screw up. So you have darn good reasons to feel angry.

Alternative perspective: Sure, people do all sorts of irritating, upsetting things. But does your anger change, prevent, or solve anything? Is it possible that better ways exist for addressing these problems? Or is it possible you can express your anger in a managed, constructive way?

You’re afraid to try changing and failing

This belief tells you that you can’t successfully manage your anger differently. You may also worry that you’ll look foolish if you try to change and flop. Therefore, you don’t make the effort.

Alternative perspective: You not only might fail, you will! After all, habits die hard. But persistence and practice pay off on almost everything in life. Have you ever achieved much of anything without taking a few risks along the way? Probably not.

You don’t like to be told what to do

Most people don’t like having other people tell them what to do.

Alternative perspective: You may feel like others are making you do things, like attend anger-management classes, but at the end of the day, you have to make your own decision about how you deal with your anger.

Who would you be without your anger?

Anger may so thoroughly saturate your life that you wonder who you’d be without it. You may feel that you’re an angry person and have no idea what it would be like to feel calm and controlled most of the time. Who would you be? Would others think something was wrong with you?

Alternative perspective: If you change your habitual ways of dealing with anger and don’t like the results, you can always go back to your old behaviors. Anger doesn’t have to define anyone. If you manage your anger, you’ll probably have most of your same likes and dislikes and probably most of the same friends — perhaps you’ll even discover that finding friends becomes easier.

Feelings can’t be controlled

Many folks believe that feelings or emotions are unchangeable. They can’t imagine how they could feel differently because situations beyond their control cause their feelings. They think that events directly lead to reflexive emotions. That’s that.

Alternative perspective: Scientific studies have shown again and again that people can acquire new ways of thinking about, interpreting, or perceiving events in ways that then lead to different feelings.

You have to express your anger or you’ll explode

A highly common belief in society revolves around the idea that anger is much like a pressure cooker without a safety valve. With enough time and heat (anger), the cooker will inevitably explode. So many people believe that they must express any anger they feel or risk going completely out of control.

Alternative perspective: Studies have consistently shown that calming down leads to better emotional, physical, and interpersonal functioning. There’s no truth to the belief that you must express all angry feelings.

Anger makes people do what you want

This belief provides motivation for expressing lots of anger. And, in fact, anger often does get people to do what you want in the short run.

Alternative perspective: Unfortunately, what works in the short run usually backfires in the long run. If you manage to bludgeon people into doing what you want, you’re pretty likely to create resentment, bitterness, and hostility. Like other bad habits, such as smoking and drinking, the long-term consequences are worse than the short-term benefits.

If you don’t show people who’s the boss, you’ll look like a wimp

This belief is based on the idea that only two choices exist in dealing with others — dominance and submissiveness. If you don’t push around others, they’ll see you as weak and take advantage of you.

Alternative perspective: Most people aren’t trying to push you around. In fact, most of the time, they’re too concerned with themselves to take much notice of you. Furthermore, you can express your needs assertively, which is neither overly dominate nor submissive.

Anger protects you

You may believe that unbridled anger keeps you safe from attack by others. Thus, you always feel justified in your angry responses, which you believe protects you from harm by other people.

Alternative perspective: Real attacks from other people aren’t actually all that common. Even in high-risk professions, such as law enforcement, keeping anger under control leads to better decision making and safer work conditions.

Your anger gives meaning to the bad things you’ve experienced

Many people with anger problems have had terrible things happen to them. They’ve been abused as kids, they’ve been victims of a crime, or perhaps they were injured during a war. Victims of trauma often believe that feeling anger or rage about those events helps them cope with what happened to them. They think that their anger is the morally righteous response to horrible events.

Alternative perspective: Giving up anger doesn’t mean that your traumatic experience was insignificant. You can give up your anger and move forward with your life.