Giving your partner the silent treatment, breaking a water glass in the middle of a fight, responding to criticism with the meanest thing you can think to say. Once you’ve done it, you regret it, but it’s too late to take it back. You can only hope the next time you’re angry, you respond in a better way.
To gain control over your reactions to your emotions, you have to know why you’re feeling the emotion in the first place. A helpful tool for doing this is noticing and naming your feelings. Recognizing the subtle differences between different types of anger will give you a greater sense of your experience and more profound knowledge of yourself. And, as you come to understand your inner world better, you’ll gain the tools to understand others’ experiences better, helping you become more empathetic and in turn a better partner and friend.
To get started, here is a list of words that describe different types of anger. See if you can recall having felt any of them. Try to remember a specific experience that brought up that type of anger.
•Agitated •Aggravated •Annoyed •Belligerent •Bitter •Boiling •Brooding •Contemptuous •Cross •Disgusted •Displeased •Enraged •Frustrated •Fuming •Furious •Grumpy •Hateful •Heated •Ill-tempered •Incensed •Indignant •Inflamed •Infuriated •Irascible •Irate •Irritated •Livid •Mad •Mean •Miffed •Offended •Pissed off •Resentful •Riled •Upset •Vengeful •Wrathful
As you can see, there isn’t just one type of anger. Anger, like all emotions, isn’t one-size-fits-all. What makes you angry, and the kind of anger you feel, can be traced from your present situation back to your childhood experiences and then back to the culture at large. If your caregivers were anger withholders, feeling resentful, bitter, or brooding may be common responses to things that make you angry. If your caregivers were anger dumpers, enraged, wrathful, and boiling might describe your feelings better.
On NPR’s Morning Edition recently, reporter Michaeleen Doucleff spoke about her difficulty managing anger (“Got Anger? Try Naming It to Tame It”). She spoke with Northeastern University psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett about how the plethora of words for anger from around the world can teach us about the richness of the emotion. One example is backpfeifengesicht, a German word that translates roughly as “a slap in the face.” Feldman Barrett explains that it means, “you’re so furious with someone that you look at their face, and it’s as if their face is urging you to punch them.”
Linguist Yao Yao at Hong Kong Polytechnic University introduced Doucleff to the Mandarin Chinese word huǐhèn, which means “You regret something you did so much, that you’re angry at yourself.” Abhijeet Paul, a South Asian literature professor at Middlebury College, describes the abundance of words for different types of anger in India, including one that describes “a loving anger,” anger you feel toward someone you can’t help but love. “It’s a mixed bag of love, grief, sorrow, and anger,” Paul says.
Studies show that more precisely identifying your emotions can help you better control your responses to those emotions.