“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the only one who gets burned.”
‘Managing Anger’ means different things to different people. If you are regularly on the receiving end of someone else’s anger, you probably wish they’d learn to handle it better. If you are the one who has angry outbursts you feel unable to control, you probably wish that people wouldn’t provoke you so much. Deep down though, you’ll understand that blaming others is one of the consequences of anger, and you’ll recognise the relevance of Buddha’s words above; anger does the greatest harm to those who express it.
There is nothing wrong with anger – it is simply one of our emotional responses, and a valuable one at that – but when it is expressed badly it can lead to all sorts of problems. Being able to recognise and express anger in an appropriate way enables people to get better results, and to have their needs recognised and met, without causing a social disturbance in the process!
While I don’t think it is helpful to label others as having an ‘anger problem’ or ‘needing anger management’, we do need to start somewhere so the labels serve a short-term purpose of allowing us to talk about something that is spoiling our lives, or the lives of others on the receiving end of our anger. Examples of the sort of behaviour I mean are:
- Sarcasm, swearing or insults
- Bullying or constantly picking on someone
- Finding fault and blaming
- Explosive outbursts that cannot be mastered
- Controlling behaviour and/or domestic violence
- Outbursts of rage ages when driving or at work
- Constant inner hostility that interferes with life.
Anger Management aims to help the individual develop the skills to recognise the warning signs of anger early enough to do something about it, These may be feelings, beliefs or even situations or events. Normally a combination of all three is involved.
Anger involves the mind and the body. Our anger triggers the stress response, our breathing and pulse rate change, our thinking becomes limited to some extent and more defensive, and our feelings come to the fore. One of these is anger, of course, but other emotions are involved too, such as fear, insecurity and even a distorted sense of our own importance or invincibility.
Seen from a survival perspective anger signals action; to attack or defend ourselves when we are threatened in some way. The problem is, in a modern environment, we rarely need to extricate ourselves from threatening situations with a combination of rage and aggression, it is simply too ‘over the top’ to be relevant to what we think of as civilized society.
The problems with anger
Some of the problems associated with inappropriate displays of anger:
- Damage to relationships
- Social isolation
- High blood pressure
- Frequent misunderstandings
- Refusal to communicate
- Accusations of bullying
- Excessive drinking/smoking
- Repetitive arguments
- Controlling or disrespectful behaviour
- Stress and depression.
On the other hand, learning how to deal productively with angry thoughts and feelings can lead to all sorts of benefits:
- An increase in life satisfaction
- Better quality sleep
- Improved relationships
- Lower blood pressure
- Better self-awareness
- Workplace productivity
- A happier domestic environment.
On top of this, others can also benefit quite directly. For example, it is very important for our children to see how their parents and carers manage their anger productively. As parents, we all lose it sometimes, with our partners and our children. Hopefully though, as well as witnessing our (infrequent) outbursts, our kids also see us kissing and making up, apologising and generally showing remorse for our lapse.
Conversely, if the only thing they ever see is anger expressed in hostile outbursts – without the repair mechanism following it up – then they could be growing into the next generation of angry people.
Anger is a natural response and an important part of our makeup. In the face of injustice, threat, or attempts to thwart or control us, it is normal to feel some anger. In fact, to remain passive and unaroused by such situations would be unnatural and can be damaging to the individual.
- Appropriate anger is facilitative.
- It is measured and controlled
- It leads to constructive actions
- It is strategic and has a known goal
- It moves us to action, it energises and empowers us
- It can commands respect and attention
- It releases tension
- It provides a ‘cause’ for bonding with others
But beware, for as Charles Dawrwin said: “The free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it”. In other words, justified or not, anger tends to breed anger. To be sure that your anger is the ‘right’ kind of anger it must:
- Be directed to right target
- Restore a sense of control or justice
- Change the target’s behaviour or encourage new insights
- Use a common language between both parties
- Avoid angry retaliation from the target.
The trick here is to have insight to be honest with ourselves. On of the traps of anger is that we feel justified in our rage; we feel right even when we are not. Many people who are referred for anger management start out by defending their anger on the basis that they are provoked. Part of the role of anger management is to help people become aware of these distortions in thinking, and to take control of them and their other responses.
Managing anger is something that very few individuals, organisations or cultures do well. It is said to be the most talked about but least researched emotion, and it is only recently that psychologists have begun to study the phenomenon as a subject in its own right. It affects the vast majority of us at some time and our responses to our own anger will vary widely; some people express it openly, others make no public demonstration at all and in between these two extremes lie an unlimited number of reactions.
As anger affects our thinking, our emotions and our behaviour if follows that if we wish to improve our anger management skills will have to consider all three aspects.
Anger management aims to:
- Reducing general levels of anger
- Decreasing the intensity, duration and frequency of any episodes
- Identifying risks and vulnerabilities
- Understand and read our emotional responses
- Develop emotional management and life skills
- Recognise the triggers and keep levels of anger from escalating.
How to go about it
If you want to learn how to gain greater mastery over your anger you can start now by contacting me for a brief discussion. Send me your phone number and a time when I can call. If you decide to work with me we can start with some tools that’ll help right away. I work on a single-by-session basis, so you decide how much and for how long.
Anger is universal, we all experience it in some form. Just how much it affects us varies from person to person. If you would like to control your anger better, this is a good place to start.
You can contact me to discuss your needs.