You can learn to manage anger. It’s not as hard as many people think, but it takes commitment. Some people believe they have a chronic problem with anger, and we all lose it sometimes. Not all anger is bad though, so before you beat yourself up it’s worth understanding what triggers your anger and what you intend it to achieve.
Beware; it’s no good reviewing your anger while it is still fresh and raw. Anger has a way of justifying itself, so you can only appraise it properly when you have properly cooled down and you can view it from a safe (detached) distance.
If it IS justified, remember Aristotle’s caution:
“Anybody can become angry– that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way– that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”
Also, beware of the anger myths. Some, like venting, for example, can simply make the anger more likely to erupt.
Here are some suggestions for developing awareness and confidence in handling anger.
Simple relaxation tools, such as deep breathing, mindfulness exercises and relaxing imagery, can help calm down angry feelings in the present. They also help train the mind and improve emotional control more generally.
Simply put, this means changing the way we think. When we are angry, our thinking can become polarised and overly dramatic. The skill of reframing allows us to create alternative interpretations. This helps for three reasons; first, it forces us to interrupt our destructive and limiting thought patterns; second, it replaces anger sustaining thoughts with alternative, less limiting ones; third, it actually gives us something to do and when we choose to act in a certain way (rather than being at the mercy of our anger) we start to calm down.
A magic word
Some people find that a word or idea can act as a talisman and help to make the anger-provoking incident less important. It also helps to remind yourself that anger, though seductive, does not usually produce good results or make you feel better.
Develop an Early Warning System
The real skill in anger management is to recognise early on when we start to get irritated or aroused so that we can take evasive action. It is much easier to ʻnip it in the budʼ than to deal with full blown anger (whether expressed or not).
Externalise your anger
Treat the anger as an external intruder. Ask yourself how it manages to trip you up, persuade you to do its bidding or interfere with your life. After all, if someone you called a ʻfriendʼ kept doing you harm and upsetting you, how long would you go on allowing them into your life?
Call a halt
If you notice yourself getting angry or entering a situation which might put you under pressure, be ready with a Plan B. For example, call off the discussion, change the venue or take a walk (and time to plan your next move) before continuing.
Sometimes, our anger and frustration are caused by very real and inescapable problems in our lives. To manage anger, it is useful to be able to think in a solution-focused way so that we can move past problems or resolve the anger-provoking situation. It is also an essential cognitive skill to be able to identify things that canʼt be changed and practice the art of acceptance. No point in railing against things we have no control or influence over.
Not all anger is misplaced, and often it’s a healthy, natural response to these difficulties. There is also a cultural belief that every problem has a solution, and it adds to our frustration to find out that this isn’t always the case. The best attitude to bring to such a situation, then, is not to focus on finding the solution, but rather on how you handle and face the problem.
Improve how you communicate
We tend to jump to conclusions when we are angry and some of those conclusions can be very inaccurate. The first thing to do if you want to manage anger, is slow down and think through our responses. This is easier said than done. A good approach is to start by really listening to what the other person is saying. The aim is to strengthen our own listening skills rather than weaken the otherʼs argument with words. The rule is ʻFirst, seek to understandʼ. Focusing in this way helps to take the heat out of the situation.
Ease up on yourself
Anger often has underlying personal factors that are stress-provoking. Having high or unreasonable expectations for yourself, for example, or a tendency towards perfectionism. Such traits can be useful in some situations, for sure. Having high standards for oneself can be useful in getting the results you want. But there is wisdom in knowing when things are ‘good enough’ for a particular situation or circumstance (for example when external events prevent you from giving it your all). When you set out to learn to manage anger, be aware of any expectations you have which, if thwarted, could make you lose your temper.
Some other tips for easing up on yourself
Anger is often a consequence of feeling stressed. In some people this is such an automatic response that they don’t even associate their angry outbursts with the stressful situations they are living through. Learning to manage stress in yourself can help you manage anger.
Choosing the ʻright momentʼ (for ourselves as well as others) can often make a huge difference.
Assume that, for the other person, their statements are true and start from there.
Think in advance: When approaching an anger-provoking situation to prepare yourself, for example by reframing your thoughts on the subject.
Can you change the context, duration or some other aspect of the encounter to reduce threat and tension?
See the other person as a potential ally in a problem-solving exercise rather than an adversary.