Anger has many faces. The positive face of anger serves a beneficial purpose in our family and our life. It helps us identify and clarify our priorities. It communicates those priorities to our family members through facial expressions and words. Anger also injects us with energy to deal with any obstacles that frustrate our efforts to live by our chosen priorities and values. Unfortunately, the negative faces of anger use that energy but do clarify, communicate, or serve our priorities. In fact, these ineffective faces of anger prove counterproductive, and even detrimental, to our priorities and our family! Consider whether you wear any of these five ineffective faces of anger. Then, read the suggestions that follow to help you put on a more effective face of anger.
1. The Passive-Aggressive Face of anger. This style of anger expression withholds praise, attention, and affection. The person wearing the passive-aggressive face of anger intentionally forgets to follow through with commitments and “promises.” They deny feeling angry while behaving in a way that will knowingly “get back at” and upset the other person.
2. The Sarcastic Face of anger. This face of anger feigns humor; but, sarcasm has a cutting edge to it. It hurts. The person who uses sarcasm may reveal embarrassing information about the person with whom they are angry. Or, they may publicly humiliate the person with various sarcastic comments. The sarcastic face of anger carries a tone of voice that reveals disgust or disapproval. If you are on the receiving end of sarcasm, you may feel hurt, embarrassed, confused, or even angry.
3. The Cold Face of anger. The person who practices the cold face of anger simply withdraws from the other person when angry. They remove their affection, hold back intimacy, ignore attempts at interactions, and refuse to repair the relationship for a period of time. This cold face of anger also refuses to explain why they are upset. Instead, they punish the other person by shutting them out and avoiding interaction.
4. The Hostile Face of anger. The hostile face of anger reveals an inner intensity that boils over in a raised voiced and angry gestures. In general, people who wear the hostile face of anger appear more stressed out and impatient. They show visible signs of frustration and annoyance if others do not move fast enough or fail to meet their expectations for competence or performance.
5. The Aggressive Face of anger. People who wear the aggressive face of anger raise their voice, becoming verbally loud and aggressive. They may curse, call the other person degrading names, and blame others for their behavior. They often have thoughts and mental images of anger that include hurting the other person somehow (even if they know this is wrong and do not engage in physically aggressive behavior). They may, however, act out their anger by hitting walls or breaking things around them. In some instances, they may resort to pushing, blocking, or hitting the other person.
As you can imagine, these faces of anger are damaging to personal relationships and family life in general. At the very least, they pound a wedge between people and result in hurt feelings. Ultimately, they destroy intimacy, devastate relationships, and crush people’s self-image. What can you think you wear one of the faces of anger described above? Here are 4 ideas to get you started.
1. First, admit that anger interferes with your relationships, destroys family intimacy, and hurts your spouse and children…the very people you love. Admit that the negative face of anger interferes with your goal to have family filled with joy, playfulness, security, and intimacy. The negative face of anger tears down the people in your family rather than building them up. In fact, the negative faces of anger have a long-term impact on each family member’s self-image, confidence, and future relationships.
2. Learn how you fuel your anger, how you contribute to its creation and escalate its negative expression. What thoughts race through your mind from the time you begin to feel just a little bit annoyed? What bodily sensations do you experience? How does your body tell you that you are beginning to get upset, annoyed, irritated, or angry? Write these thoughts and sensations down. Begin to be aware of these thoughts and sensations in your everyday interactions. Being aware of your anger escalating thoughts and bodily sensation allows you to address them, calm them, and reduce them before you put on one of the angry faces described above.
3. When you begin to have the thoughts related to irritation or the bodily sensations of annoyance, take a long, deep, slow breath and look at your surroundings. Really, take a deep breath and notice what hangs on the walls in the room, what the other person is wearing, what you are wearing, and what expression the other person has on their face. Make a mental note of your surroundings while slowly release a deep breath. This will help calm the body sensations of anger, allowing you to think more clearly and respond more appropriately to the other person.
4. Talk…and listen. Listen for what the other person really wants to say. After you understand the other person, calmly explain your thoughts and priorities regarding the topic. This means becoming somewhat vulnerable, revealing yourself. Although this can prove difficult, it pulls people together. You will find that you grow closer with your family member this way, even in the midst of an irritating situation.
These four brief steps begin the process of putting on a positive face of anger. A positive face of anger allows you to reveal yourself and build intimacy. If you struggle with anger in your family, I encourage you to read Taking Charge of Anger by W. Robert Nay, PhD. Dr. Nay describes the faces of anger in more detail and offers a comprehensive and effective method for learning to manage anger…an excellent investment in your family!