The Difference Between Constructive and Destructive Anger

How you can prevent anger from becoming destructive.

Last week, we talked about the benefits of anger. But as one of my friends pointed out, there is a very fine line that separates constructive anger from destructive anger:

Let’s define these terms so that we can better understand the differences between the two:

  • Constructive anger is used to build up. It activates you into action when you’re stuck, it protects something you value, and it builds self-respect.

  • Destructive anger is used to tear down. It responds out of spite, it acts with complete disregard of the well being of others, and it tries to control others.

When Constructive Anger Turns Destructive

All anger starts off constructive in the beginning. It is a natural emotional response that you can use to process, protect, or activate. But because anger is such a powerful emotion, it can overwhelm you and quickly turn into something destructive.

For example, let’s say you get angry because a friend offends you. After briefly processing your anger, you decide to talk them about it. This is constructive because you are looking to share what bothered you and not tear your friend down.

However, the confrontation doesn’t go well. It quickly reduces into a shouting match. You get so angry that you lose complete disregard for your friend’s well being that you start saying anything and everything to hurt them. Your anger has become destructive.

Therefore in order to prevent our constructive anger from becoming destructive, we must learn how to manage it. This requires us to explore our Emotional Iceberg and to develop strategies to pay it down using PAALP. By exploring our anger, we learn what triggers it. We learn what cycles of behaviors we engage in that causes us to cross the line into destructiveness. We pay down the Emotional Debt related to our anger and decrease its effects on us.

Strategies to Manage Anger

Here are three strategies I’ve discovered using PAALP that help me manage my anger:

  • Practice self awareness.

  • Tell myself I’m angry.

  • Walk away.

Practice Self Awareness

The number one strategy that has helped me manage my anger is practicing self awareness. This required a lot of reflection and examining my past experiences of anger. I not only explored what triggered my anger, but how I was responding.

I began to notice trends in my behavior and the way my body reacted when I engaged in destructive anger. For example, my body would tense up and my fists would clench. I would respond quicker to what someone was saying and listen less. My voice would start raising and my heart would start pounding.

All of these were signs that told me I was about to enter into the realm of destructive anger. Therefore when I see these behaviors, I start taking active steps to disrupt them.

Tell Myself I’m Angry

One trick I use to disrupt these cycles is telling myself that I’m angry.

Anger has a tendency to overwhelm and take over. Telling myself that I’m angry grounds me. It brings awareness to what is happening emotionally and even physically to my body. It separates my mind from my emotions which then helps me not to become controlled by it.

By doing this, I’m able to disengage from the emotion of anger and have a more objective perspective. From here, I can start taking the steps I need to calm down.

Walk Away

This has been one of the most helpful strategies in my relationship with my parents.

When I was growing up, we butted heads a lot. There’d be a lot of yelling and things said that were very destructive to our relationship. What I eventually realized was that we would only become destructive in our anger when our fights became heated. That’s when I decided to start walking away from the fights.

When things got heated, I would tell my parents that I needed to step away and that I wanted to talk to them later. The next day, we would come back together and would have a lot more productive conversation. The reason this worked is because everyone’s emotions were lowered and we were able to have a calmer discussion.

I hope this helps with understanding the difference between constructive and destructive anger.

What did you think about my 3 strategies to manage anger? Did you relate to them? What strategies do you use? Share with the Heem community by commenting on the post below!