Anger Management is about both behavioural strategies for anger management and dealing with underlying issues that lead to anger. There is a difference between feeling angry (an emotion), and reacting angrily (in your behaviour), and it is important to be clear which one is causing you a problem. For example, some people are seething with anger but have trouble expressing it any kind of constructive way, and it reveals itself in all sorts of unhealthy ways such as poor health, bitterness, and withdrawal from relationships. Others cause themselves and others difficulty by behaving angrily out of proportion to the event that triggers the anger.
What can you do you to tackle the angry behaviour? Read our list of tips below…
Simple relaxation tools, such as deep breathing and relaxing imagery, can help calm down angry feelings. There are books and courses that can teach you relaxation techniques, and once you learn the techniques, you can call upon them in any situation. If you are involved in a relationship where both partners are hot-tempered, it might be a good idea for both of you to learn these techniques.
Some simple steps you can try:
Breathe deeply, from your diaphragm; breathing from your chest won’t relax you. Picture your breath coming up from your “gut.” Slowly repeat a calm word or phrase such as “relax,” “take it easy.” Repeat it to yourself while breathing deeply.
Use imagery; visualize a relaxing experience, from either your memory or your imagination.
Nonstrenuous, slow yoga-like exercises can relax your muscles and make you feel much calmer. Practice these techniques daily. Learn to use them automatically when you’re in a tense situation.
Learn to Change the Way You Think
Angry people tend to curse, swear, or speak in highly colourful terms that reflect their inner thoughts. When you’re angry, your thinking can get very exaggerated and overly dramatic. Try replacing these thoughts with more rational ones. For instance, instead of telling yourself, “oh, it’s awful, it’s terrible, everything’s ruined,” tell yourself, “it’s frustrating, and it’s understandable that I’m upset about it, but it’s not the end of the world and getting angry is not going to fix it anyway.”
Be careful of words like “never” or “always” when talking about yourself or someone else. “This !*%@ machine never works,” or “you’re always forgetting things” are not just inaccurate, they also serve to make you feel that your anger is justified and that there’s no way to solve the problem. They also alienate and humiliate people who might otherwise be willing to work with you on a solution.
Remind yourself that getting angry is not going to fix anything, that it won’t make you feel better (and may actually make you feel worse).
Logic defeats anger, because anger, even when it’s justified, can quickly become irrational. So use cold hard logic on yourself. Remind yourself that the world is “not out to get you,” you’re just experiencing some of the rough spots of daily life. Do this each time you feel anger getting the best of you, and it’ll help you get a more balanced perspective.
Angry people tend to demand things: fairness, appreciation, agreement, willingness to do things their way. Everyone wants these things, and we are all hurt and disappointed when we don’t get them, but angry people demand them, and when their demands aren’t met, their disappointment becomes anger. As part of their cognitive restructuring, angry people need to become aware of their demanding nature and translate their expectations into desires. In other words, saying, “I would like” something is healthier than saying, “I demand” or “I must have” something.
When you’re unable to get what you want, you will experience the normal reactions-frustration, disappointment, hurt-but not anger. Some angry people use this anger as a way to avoid feeling hurt, but that doesn’t mean the hurt goes away.
Sometimes, our anger and frustration are caused by very real and inescapable problems in our lives. 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.
Make a plan, and check your progress along the way. Resolve to give it your best, but also not to punish yourself if an answer doesn’t come right away. If you can approach it with your best intentions and efforts and make a serious attempt to face it head-on, you will be less likely to lose patience and fall into all-or-nothing thinking, even if the problem does not get solved right away.
Angry people tend to jump to-and act on-conclusions, and some of those conclusions can be very inaccurate. The first thing to do if you’re in a heated discussion is slow down and think through your responses. Don’t say the first thing that comes into your head, but slow down and think carefully about what you want to say. At the same time, listen carefully to what the other person is saying and take your time before answering.
Listen, too, to what is underlying the anger. For instance, you like a certain amount of freedom and personal space, and your “significant other” wants more connection and closeness. If he or she starts complaining about your activities, don’t retaliate by painting your partner as a jailer, a warden, or an albatross around your neck.
It’s natural to get defensive when you’re criticized, but don’t fight back. Instead, listen to what’s underlying the words: the message that this person might feel neglected and unloved. It may take a lot of patient questioning on your part, and it may require some breathing space, but don’t let your anger-or a partner’s-let a discussion spin out of control. Keeping your cool can keep the situation from becoming a disastrous one.
“Silly humour” can help defuse rage in a number of ways. For one thing, it can help you get a more balanced perspective. When you get angry and call someone a name or refer to them in some imaginative phrase, stop and picture what that word would literally look like. If you’re at work and you think of a coworker as a “dirtbag” or a “single-cell life form,” for example, picture a large bag full of dirt (or an amoeba) sitting at your colleague’s desk, talking on the phone, going to meetings. Do this whenever a name comes into your head about another person. If you can, draw a picture of what the actual thing might look like. This will take a lot of the edge off your fury; and humour can always be relied on to help unknot a tense situation.
The underlying message of highly angry people, is “things ought to go my way!” Angry people tend to feel that they are morally right, that any blocking or changing of their plans is an unbearable indignity and that they should NOT have to suffer this way. Maybe other people do, but not them!
When you feel that urge, picture yourself as a god or goddess, a supreme ruler, who owns the streets and stores and office space, striding alone and having your way in all situations while others defer to you. The more detail you can get into your imaginary scenes, the more chances you have to realise that maybe you are being unreasonable; you’ll also realize how unimportant the things you’re angry about really are.
There are two cautions in using humour. First, don’t try to just “laugh off” your problems; rather, use humour to help yourself face them more constructively. Second, don’t give in to harsh, sarcastic humour; that’s just another form of unhealthy anger expression.
What these techniques have in common is a refusal to take yourself too seriously. Anger is a serious emotion, but it’s often accompanied by ideas that, if examined, can make you laugh.
Changing Your Environment
Sometimes it’s our immediate surroundings that give us cause for irritation and fury. Problems and responsibilities can weigh on you and make you feel angry at the “trap” you seem to have fallen into and all the people and things that form that trap.
Give yourself a break.
Make sure you have some “personal time” scheduled for times of the day that you know are particularly stressful. One example is the working mother who has a standing rule that when she comes home from work, for the first 15 minutes “nobody talks to Mom unless the house is on fire.” After this brief quiet time, she feels better prepared to handle demands from her kids without blowing up at them.
Some Other Tips for Easing Up on Yourself
Timing: If you and your spouse tend to fight when you discuss things at night-perhaps you’re tired, or distracted, or maybe it’s just habit-try changing the times when you talk about important matters so these talks don’t turn into arguments.
Avoidance: If your child’s chaotic room makes you furious every time you walk by it, shut the door. Don’t make yourself look at what infuriates you. Don’t say, “well, my child should clean up the room so I won’t have to be angry!” That’s not the point. The point is to keep yourself calm.
Finding alternatives: If your daily commute through traffic leaves you in a state of rage and frustration, give yourself a project-learn or map out a different route, one that’s less congested or more scenic. Or find another alternative, such as a bus or commuter train.
Visit the British Association of Anger Management (BAAM) website at www.angermanage.co.uk for useful advice and information including:
- A ‘Keep Your Cool Kit’ which can be used by individuals, or in groups. This kit consists of anger management activities, as well as tips on handling anger appropriately and calming strategies for defusing difficult situations.
- A ‘Rage Gauge’. This helps with identifying anger issues and gives useful steps for tackling your anger.
- Calming strategies, rules for anger management, and ways of clearing out the anger.
Dealing with the Angry Feelings
Behavioural techniques for managing your anger may be sufficient to break the cycle of angry outbursts. However you may also need help to resolve the underlying unresolved anger. This second approach may be more effective than struggling with the surface symptom of the anger, without understanding the cause. As an emotion, anger can sometimes be a secondary emotion, and it may mask other feelings such as fear, sadness, and hurt. Identifying and addressing these more vulnerable feelings may help the anger decrease.
Anger can get displaced from one situation to another. It may belong to other frustration situations in your current life, or have originated in the past but gets expressed towards people in your current life. It can be difficult to see the connection between these events, and talking it through with a professional can help you to work through these feelings so that the other hurt has a decreased effect on your present life.