“If anger were mileage, I’d be a very frequent flyer, right up there in first class.”
The Three Bears of Anger: Too Little, Too Much, and “Meh”
If you listen to the current political discourse from around the world, anger is the engine that seems to be driving much of it. Some days it feels like we live in a very angry world.
You’ve felt it… perhaps not over politics… but over something. That feeling that tightens your jaw and pushes a red blush into your cheeks. It’s a complex emotion. It doesn’t always manifest itself in the same way, and there is no singular reaction to it. There’s usually some sense of injury or insult involved.
With anger, too much control and you become bottled up and tense. Maybe your parents taught you that anger was dangerous and destructive. Whenever you are frustrated, you repress, repress, and repress even more. You smile even though it strains your face to do so. Passive-aggressive behavior might turn into your go-to outlet.
Too little control and you become erratic and perhaps even dangerous. You say things you wish you could take back. You leave a trail of hurt feelings. In some extreme cases, rage can evolve into violent acts.
Or perhaps you’re so calm and self-assured, you remain relatively untouched by anger. It’s not so much a matter of repression as it is attitude. “I can handle this,” you tell yourself. “What’s everybody so upset about?” But maybe you also forget how important the feelings of people you care about can be.
There are whole spectrums of ways to respond to angry feelings. And the targets of your anger may also be varied. You might be mad at yourself, someone else, or just life.
On the brighter side, you may have found that your anger sometimes brings you to the place where you are energized to right a wrong. There can be great power in anger. Just ask the Hulk.
Whatever your style and whatever your target, everybody gets angry. But some typically get angrier than others.
Anger Differences: Not Just Thinking and Feeling
So, how does all this fit with personality traits? Some personality types are more expressive with their feelings and are more likely to rely on them (i.e., those with the Feeling trait). Others prefer rationality and try not to let their feelings interfere too much (any with the Thinking trait). We might then assume that those with the Feeling personality trait become angry more often than those with the Thinking personality trait. Not so fast.
It’s never that simple, is it? Personality types with the Thinking trait rely on their analytical skills to test the waters of life and make decisions, but that certainly doesn’t mean they are immune to anger. If they feel someone is acting irrationally or impeding their carefully laid plans, they can become demonstrably peeved. They also often find less logical things like romance and social conventions extremely frustrating.
On top of that, sometimes letting people know one is unhappy can be a very efficient way to get things done – or at least get their attention. While not necessarily Thinking rationalists’ go-to emotional state, anger can serve a purpose even for the more analytical. (Some of our studies have suggested that Analysts are more likely than any other personality type group to fantasize about striking back and to take their revenge against someone who has hurt them.)
However, more than the Nature personality traits (Thinking and Feeling), the Strategies set the foundation for how different personality types deal with anger. Regardless of personality type, everyone falls into one of the four Strategies, which are determined by whether they are Introverted or Extraverted, combined with whether they are Assertive or Turbulent. These personality trait combinations describe how people traverse the world and their lives.
To this point, anger is a volatile emotion – and volatile emotions are more readily experienced and expressed by people with the Turbulent personality trait. Twentieth-century psychologists often accepted that “anger turned inward” was the most pronounced cause of depression. Current research, however, finds that this is not necessarily so. But linking anger to depression has its logic. Anger is often found to be in the mix when someone is depressed – just as it is when someone is sad, anxious, or otherwise fearful. Anger is frequently a comorbid state.
How Turbulent or Steady the Storm
So, this brings us to the Strategies that include the Turbulent personality trait. Individuals with the Constant Improvement (Introverted and Turbulent) and the Social Engagement (Extraverted and Turbulent) Strategies are more likely to say they experience anger. They are less likely to say they handle it well. These are not only backed by many of our studies. It also just makes sense, since these individuals feel less secure about their general footing in life than those with the Assertive personality trait. A wide range of emotions, both negative and positive, are associated with the Turbulent trait.
Anger is typically handled differently by each of the Strategies with the Turbulent personality trait. Those with the Social Engagement Strategy are more likely to be angered by the actions of others and may express it more freely, since connecting with people energizes them. That energy isn’t limited to positive energy as some might assume. The opinions of other people are important to Social Engagers, and so they are likely to feel slighted at times when people with other Strategies might not. These personalities are sensitive, and their feelings are easily hurt. It’s often said that other people can’t make us angry unless we let them. Those with the Social Engagement Strategy almost send out invitations to the annoying people in their lives.
Individuals with the Constant Improvement Strategy are not as likely to let others make them angry. These personalities are too individualistic to allow the opinions and actions of someone else to play as large a role as their Social Engager cousins might. However, it’s conceivable that anyone who tries to interfere with their lone endeavors might get a heated response. A Constant Improver might utter an angry “Butt out!” under the right circumstances.
For Turbulent personality types, aggravation of any kind kicks in a series of self-doubts. Self-doubts lead to frustration or defensive positions – even if they don’t express their doubts to others. And if you want to experience anger, just put yourself in a frustrating situation. For Turbulent types, frustration may be a frequent emotion, as they tend to strive for a perfection that can never be reached.
On the other hand, those who rely on either of the Assertive Strategies are typically confident enough to feel that they can handle anything that comes their way. If something bothers these personality types, they are quicker to conclude that they can deal with it and deal with it proficiently. This kind of confidence prevents whatever is vexing them from becoming too attached to their self-esteem. It’s less about themselves than about a more objective external problem that can be handled.
Do individuals with the Confident Individualism (Introverted and Assertive) and People Mastery (Extraverted and Assertive) Strategies have less trouble with anger? Being sure of oneself comes with its own set of problems. Not all Assertive people are positive thinkers in a simple sense, but they stride the earth with a sense that they can handle most things they come across. Because of this, there may be times when these personalities trivialize important negative emotions. “Not a big deal,” might be an automatic thought prompted by such situations. But anger has evolved for a reason and has its place.
There may also be issues with empathy. There is little that is more annoying than having someone brush you off in the middle of a livid rant. The two Strategies that include the Assertive personality trait may not always connect with someone else’s anger. The angry friend, coworker, or significant other may then walk away feeling diminished and misunderstood, which fosters even more anger. Being tone deaf to someone else’s pain has crippled many a relationship.
Anger With or Without an Audience
Regarding the Introverted and Extraverted personality traits, they may not contribute as directly to someone’s feelings. However, they are vital markers of how one expresses anger.
Introverted people are more inclined to go off on their own and lick their wounds when angered. Extraverted personality types are more likely to let others know what’s on their minds. Expressing anger can be a social activity for some.
Extraverts may have to be careful not to damage others when they are angry. Introverts may need to notice and avoid the social and psychological damage they do to themselves because of unexpressed anger.
For example, let’s suppose someone else takes credit for the work done by a less showy Introvert. If the Introvert takes their anger home to mull it over alone, they may stand on the sidelines as the unethical coworker gets a promotion or a raise. Then they can rightly add being overlooked to their cluster of angry feelings. If similar situations accumulate and add up over time, the Introvert may begin to live in a world filled with fuming resentment.
Sometimes anger sends an important message. It may be necessary to set aside one’s Introversion to express anger and achieve balance. Introverted personality types may want to learn how to do that in measured, assertive ways so as not to step too far out of their comfort zones while still honestly presenting their feelings.
What to Do about Anger, by Strategy
Constant Improvement (Introverted and Turbulent)
You are perhaps the most sensitive of the Strategies. You are a perfectionist, and you may expect others to be as well. That can be frustrating in an imperfect world. Your individualistic attitude can have you feeling separate from others, which in some ways can give you emotional distance. However, that may not buffer you enough to prevent you from feeling any less angry toward those who vex you.
On top of that, you may swallow your anger or feel embarrassed by it if it comes out publicly. You prefer your own company and counsel. You could be furious, and those around you might not know it. Learning to more discreetly let out some of your frustrations may be helpful.
If done in an assertive fashion, expressing anger doesn’t have to lead to high drama. Take a deep breath and say what’s on your mind. Use the first person to explain what you are feeling (“I feel…”) rather than the accusatory “you.”
Lao Tzu advised us to remember that the best fighter is never angry. In other words, you don’t have to rage to get results. You can express your anger and still keep things low-key, the way you like it.
If you feel anger at yourself because of your perceived flaws, talk to a trusted friend or seek counseling to gain more perspective. Always striving for perfection can be a terrible burden if not tempered with a little compassion toward yourself.
Social Engagement (Extraverted and Turbulent)
While you are also a perfectionist and emotionally sensitive, you are more likely than Constant Improvement personalities to play in a social playground. Your daily interactions and feedback from others can give you the perspective you need to deal with anger a little more realistically or directly. However, as always, there are two sides to the coin.
While feedback can be helpful, without gentle perspective, it can also create chaos for the more sensitive. You may need to be careful not to let the opinions of others influence your moods or your self-esteem.
Gaining perspective is one thing. Buying into the opinions of others is quite another. You may take too many comments more seriously than is warranted. That horrible post on the Internet may not need your attention or be worth the aggravation. Consequently, you may find yourself in a near constant state of anger at yourself and, probably to a lesser degree, your critics.
Learn to take everything you hear with the proverbial grain of salt. After all, nobody is more of an expert on your abilities and efforts than you are. You expect a lot from yourself. Chances are good that no matter what the criticism, you put in the effort to do the best you could. In that sense, it’s not really about you and your value. Learning to objectify any criticism – getting a little distance from it and separating it from your self-esteem – may be helpful. If you frame it so it’s not entirely about your capabilities, you may find yourself feeling less angry.
Confident Individualism (Introverted and Assertive)
Nobody would call you angry in any general sense. Even when you are angry, you probably are slow to express it. Your strong sense of confidence is likely to take frustrations and channel them into something productive. You probably don’t spend a lot of time worrying about such things.
When dealing with other people who are angry, it may help to understand that others may not be as confident as you are. Don’t be too quick to shrug it off when someone else gets upset. Taking another’s anger seriously while contributing your calm attitude to the situation could benefit everyone involved.
Make sure you talk to somebody when you’re angry. Sure, it’s cliché, but it helps to talk. There’s nothing weak about emotions or talking about them.
People Mastery (Extraverted and Assertive)
Your natural desire to communicate probably works in your favor when anger flares up. Your sense of teamwork can help you help those who are having anger issues. You are not shy about expressing your opinion.
Just don’t forget that, while People Masters are the least likely of the four personality Strategies to be affected by anger, that doesn’t mean you can discount the anger of others. This is especially true if you lean toward rationality (i.e., the Thinking personality trait) over empathy (the Feeling trait). When someone is angry, it rarely helps to explain to them why they shouldn’t be. With anger, offer empathy first.
Be careful not to let your confidence and outgoing nature overshadow your negative feelings too much. Anger sometimes serves a purpose, as do other unpleasant emotions. It’s great to be chill, unless that means you’re too relaxed to fix that which can be repaired. “Fire in the belly” sometimes comes from responding to tough emotions. Remember that anger is not always a bad thing that only happens to inadequate people.
Harnessing a Strong Feeling
Anger is a powerful emotion, and a better understanding of your relationship to it on any level is important. Taking time to discover how you typically deal with anger can help you avoid the pitfalls associated with this intense emotion.
If anger is a problem, take a brief inventory of how it plays out in your life, so you understand it better. Ask yourself, “What causes me to feel angry?” “Am I angry at myself or someone else?” “When am I most angry?” and so on. If you get an idea about where your anger comes from and how your personality type typically deals with it, you’ll find you have a better sense of control over it.