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Dealing with Anger

Dr. Ken Shapiro, Ph.D., Executive Director, PSYETA



As when dealing with stress, the first step in dealing with anger is to identify the emotion. This is not as easy as you might think. Anger often produces anxiety, so we unwittingly conceal it from ourselves. Be alert for irritability, impatience, and argumentativeness, all symptoms of anger. Impulsiveness, compulsiveness, physical symptoms (headache, stomachache), and–this is a big one depression, although less apparently related to anger, can be symptoms as well.

Many of us deal with anger by turning it inward; self-blame (guilt) and anger get mixed up. Those who have difficulty expressing their anger directly blame themselves and feel depressed. Others deal with their guilt, by blaming (being angry at) others primarily surrenders. The guilt many shelter workers feel around animal welfare issues, such as euthanasia, turns into blame.

Once you have established that you are angry, the next step is to identify what is prompting the anger. It may be an individual situation or relation, or it may be a general condition. In either
case, you need to distinguish what can be changed from what can’t. You can turn anger into constructive action by brainstorming with others. This also diffuses the anger and lessens the burden and sense of isolation anger brings. Converting anger into working for change is
probably a dynamic that attracted many shelter workers to their jobs in the first place.

Analyze your reactions to situations or people. Distinguish between acting angrily or hostilely and assertively. Perhaps you deal with your anxiety about being angry and losing control by being passive or too unassertive. Work on your interpersonal style to enhance assertiveness. This will promote changes in conditions prompting anger and prevent anger from getting built up to the point where it is difficult to express it constructively. We all must accept some situations, people, and conditions that make us angry. Relaxation techniques like taking a deep breath and counting to 10 are surprisingly effective from moment to moment. In the broader context, we have to learn to let go of our anger and to accept some level of frustration while retaining the hope for and working toward a more humane world.

Kenneth J. Shapiro, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Editor of Society and Animals and Coeditor of Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science.

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