Anger is a normal and healthy emotion. It is neither good nor bad. Experiencing anger is not the problem; it is how we respond to anger that can become problematic and even destructive. Anger is a very strong emotion, so it can easily lead to strong reactions. Dealing inappropriately with our anger can result in serious problems in our personal and professional relationships, particularly for lawyers, judges, and law students. Dealing inappropriately with our anger can get us into legal trouble, affect our health, impair our judgment, and negatively impact our quality of life.
Anger triggers a physiological stress response. It causes our heart rate and blood pressure to increase, our muscles to tense, and it releases a surge of adrenaline and noradrenaline. Chronic anger becomes a true health hazard by making us susceptible to heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, weakened immune systems, insomnia. With these health effects, chronic anger generally speeds up the aging process. Thus it becomes crucial for us to deal effectively with anger as soon as possible and improve our ability to calm ourselves.
Lashing out at others and being verbally abusive can leave lasting scars in the people around us. Unfortunately these people can often be the people we love and care about the most. Whether in our personal or professional lives, unrestrained anger creates an atmosphere where we alienate ourselves from others because they don’t want to be around us. It makes it difficult for people to trust us, to be open and honest with us, or to even feel comfortable around us. It erodes the respect others have for us, and often the respect we have for ourselves. Personally it may cause us to lose friends, and make us more susceptible to domestic violence and divorce. Professionally it can create a negative reputation that can counteract even the most astute lawyer’s superior work, thereby impeding clients’ and/or colleagues’ desire to work with us. Unrestrained anger also causes disciplinary problems.
When we are in a state of intense anger, our ability to reason and think logically is drastically impaired, which increases the likelihood that we will respond impulsively. Even though it may feel as if we have no control over our anger reaction, it actually takes a large amount of mental energy to stay angry. Staying angry in this way makes it much more difficult to concentrate, to reason our way out of feelings of paranoia or suspicion, or to filter our thoughts before they become words that we can’t “unsay” or actions that we can’t “undo.” The emotional toll is high. After a rage, we may feel intense feelings of guilt, remorse and shame, which can lead to depression and self-medicating with substances or with other self-destructive behaviors.
Another unhealthy way that we express our anger is in the form of passive-aggressive behavior. While the anger may be just as intense, our reaction is through indirect and covert forms of hostility. It is a way to “get even” without openly communicating our anger to someone. This hidden expression of anger can be even more destructive to relationships than outright angry and aggressive behaviors.
Despite the fact that our anger can be very intense and destructive, we may not be fully aware of it, or we may have ignored or suppressed the impact that it has on our lives. Some signs and indicators of anger management issues are:
- Inability to let go of situations or to accept disappointments or frustrations
- A hair trigger: getting very angry very easily, increased stress and anxiety
- Reaction disproportionate to the circumstance (an overreaction)
- Impatient; intolerant; inflexible
- Saying or doing things in anger that we later regret, and in response, either avoiding people or acting as if nothing happened
- Intimidation or bullying
- Verbal attacks through criticism, sarcasm, or name-calling
- Cursing, such as in the courtroom or at our children
- Impaired sleep due to thinking about a situation that has angered us
- Unrealistic expectations
- Getting so angry that we can’t remember what we said or did
- Becoming vindictive when we are angry at someone
- Family or co-workers expressing fear of our temper
- Hurting ourselves or someone else as a result of our anger
- Feeling depressed or even suicidal after becoming very angry
- Comforting ourselves with alcohol/drugs, food, spending money or other behaviors when angry, frustrated, or hurt
Passive Aggressive Anger Signs and Indicators:
- Refusing to comply, or verbalizing agreement and doing the opposite
- Putting off tasks or neglecting certain responsibilities
- Missing or being late for appointments
- Giving someone the silent treatment
- Procrastination and intentional mistakes in response to others’ demands
- Being cynical or sullen
- Constantly complaining, blaming others, and feeling unappreciated
The Roman poet Horace said, “Lawyers are men who hire out their words and their anger.” The competitive nature of law, the stress and fatigue from working too many hours, and the lack of balance in personal and professional life, combined with having to work with difficult clients and colleagues makes lawyers very prone to anger management issues. The intensity of that anger can quickly escalate from a fleeting annoyance to an uncontrollable, destructive rage, making us feel as though we are at the mercy of a very powerful and unpredictable emotional force. While we may not be able to avoid or change the people and situations that make us angry, we can learn to control our reactions. If you think you might have some anger management issues, please call or email us today.