Feeling Angry? Try Being More Assertive!


Brian M. Murray, MS, IMH


It may sound contradictory for an angry person to be more assertive, however being more assertive can help release built up anger. Anger is a normal emotion and we all experience it at one time or another. However there are times when we have a tendency to hold things in regarding issues in life such as a perceived injustice or the lack of boundaries. When anger goes unexpressed for too long it can turn inward, manifesting in resentment and compulsive behaviors. It is not uncommon for anger held on to for long periods of time to turn into depression. Other symptoms of mismanaged anger can be strong use of sarcasm, isolation, substance abuse, relationship problems and a general sense of the loss of self. Anger manifested outwardly is much more obvious. It appears as rage directed at inanimate objects, e.g. road rage and yelling or becoming abusive toward others.

Since anger is a common emotion, the idea of dealing with it is not to eliminate it, but to learn how to manage it. One common way is to learn how to be more assertive which is different than being aggressive. Being assertive is about expressing thoughts and feelings toward someone else in an open manner that fosters dialogue. Being aggressive is about dominance and trying to control someone or a situation in a more hostile way, usually as a monologue directed at someone. When anger becomes such a problem that it has a strong negative effect on others, or leads into self-destructive behaviors, then it may be time to get help.

How Assertiveness Releases Anger

In a metaphorical sense, anger directed at us is like a balloon being filled with air. Destructive anger is like the balloon that has been filled to its breaking point and then it explodes. With constructive anger, the balloon takes in some of the air, and then some of the air is let back out releasing the tension and preventing a blow up. This is the idea of being assertive; we do not take and take until we explode, we breathe in and breathe out. This is the boundaries part where some assertiveness training could come in handy on learning how to be more expressive with others. This often takes a little practice and getting used to, if being assertive and expressing yourself is something you are not used to. It follows the old cliché along the lines of “it’s not necessarily what we say, but how we say it” that matters. What will happen over time is this constructive outward flow back toward others provides a sense of empowerment and well-being that relieves stress, anxiety and, most importantly, anger.

If you find yourself struggling with trying to manage the more destructive anger and wanting to react in a negative way, there are a few techniques that you can use to help. The first is to ask yourself what you are reacting to and what exactly it is that is pressing your buttons. Once this is identified, begin to challenge it by asking how important it is to react this way, or are the feelings appropriate to the perceived threat? This can be a lead-in to the next thought challenge by asking “am I over-reacting to something? “ Other thought challenges include looking at how a situation is perceived, assuming the worst or thinking that someone meant harm when they really didn’t mean any harm at all. Think realistically: what outcome will my anger have on the situation?

When all fails and the anger still cannot be resolved, get away from the source of the anger. Think about the color blue to calm yourself and breathe in and out slowly while counting to 10 or 100 if necessary. Even better, if you are able to get outdoors to a place such as a park or lake to take a slow walk, do so. Remember, this is about managing anger. Being assertive with others and expressing our thoughts and feelings can go a long way in preventing tension and anger from building up inside.

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