Anger Management

Anger Management has become common topic to write about not only because of the increase in worldwide violence in the media, but also the increase in workplace violence that appears to be escalating year after year. Therapists are seeing more and more cases of voluntary clients calling for Anger Management sessions, as well as court mandated sessions due to civil or domestic violence situations. Although complex processes are said to be at play as to why two individuals can react differently to the same stressors, helping those who act out is not only important to the aggressor, but also to the people who are closest to them. 

This series on Anger Management will begin with two definitions of "What is Anger?" first from the APA manual "Controlling Anger Before it Controls You" and second by nationally renowned speaker Israel Kalman, MS. The bulk of the material will utilize information from the workbook Stop Anger Now by Ron Potter-Efron, MSW, Ph.D. which will be broken down into subsections on Prevention, Containment, and Resolution of anger.

So, what is anger? 

"Anger is an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage" according to Charles Spielberger, Ph.D, a psychologist who specializes in the study of anger. Like other emotions, it is accompanied by physiological and biological changes; when you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure goes up, as does the level of energy, hormones, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. "Anger can be caused by both external and internal events. You can be angry at a specific person, an event, or anger can be caused by worrying or brooding about your past or current personal problems. Memories of traumatic or enraging events can also trigger angry feelings." 

The second definition states that "anger is the emotional drive to defeat anyone or anything we perceive as a threat." "In 'nature', anger is what we feel toward an enemy and it is a way of helping us to defeat our enemies." In nature, getting angry is the first step to winning and often, surviving. "In 'civilization', getting angry becomes the first step to losing and may bring along a host of civil, legal, financial, correctional, and other serious problems."  

In the following material, we will look at areas of anger Prevention, Containment, and Resolution in the realm of Actions, Thoughts, Feelings, and Spirit. This information is designed to bring about a greater understanding on how we deal with anger and develop insight into how to manage anger more effectively. I use this material in my Anger Management sessions. What are your thoughts on the following statements? 

Prevention: Actions

Choices: Anger is an emotion like other emotions that we can choose or not choose. We can actually choose NOT to be angry when something occurs that we don't necessarily like.

The Substitution Principle: Exchanging Old Behavior for New: For each angry or negative action that we quit doing, can a calm or positive action be substituted? For example, can the goal of substituting more positive than negative responses be developed?

How I Tick People Off: What do other people do that gets you angry (see list in previous newsletter)? What do I do that gets other people angry? Being honest here may be the first step in being aware of how anger originates. 

Doing, Not Trying: We have to make a commitment to DO and not just TRY to quit being angry. Like quitting smoking, trying doesn't make changes - doing does! Do we use trying as an excuse?

Prevention: Thoughts

Hope for the Best, but Prepare for the Worst: Have a "plan of action" when encountering a potentially anger-producing situation. Go into the situation with a positive mindset, but be prepared to exit if the plan does not go well. 

Know Your "Hot" Thoughts: Do you carry around "hot" thoughts, "trigger" thoughts, or negative "automatic" thoughts that are preloaded and ready to leap out at any given moment?

This is no Time to use Mood-Altering Substances: Alcohol, illegal drugs, and some prescription medications can allow anger to grow and manifest into an even larger problem. In order to be able to think clearly and manage anger more effectively, the use of mind-altering substances should be avoided. 

Setting Small Goals for the Future: Setting small goals toward anger reduction and achieving them helps to show that progress can be made and confidence built. In time, this may actually help to quell the development of a serious build up of anger. 

Prevention: Feelings

Where in Your Body do you First Feel Anger?: If we can begin to train ourselves to notice where we first feel anger in our body, we may be able to have the awareness in the future to relax and stave off a full-blown anger attack.

HALT: Hunger, Anxious, Lonely, Tired:

Our bodies are often more sensitized to emotion when our needs are not met. Feeling hungry, anxious, lonely, tired, or any other "deprivation" can strain emotions. Taking care of ourselves physically and emotionally can help to minimize emotional overload. 

Staying Calm: Preventative Relaxation Techniques: You can stop yourself from getting angry by relaxing BEFORE going into a potentially anger-producing situation. You cannot be both calm and angry at the same time so taking some deep breaths or getting some exercise before an interaction can be helpful. 

Who has Been Driving your Life - You or Your Anger?: Have you been in the passenger seat and has your anger been driving you around? Begin to take more control of your life - stand up to the anger and get back in the drivers seat!

Prevention: Spirit

Challenging Your Angry Spirit: Anger can perpetuate negativity down to the core of who we are. Can we begin to challenge the negative thinking and feelings and begin to build a more positive internal core?

Accepting Reality: You Can't Always Get What You Want: Can we learn to accept reality on Realities terms or do we often get frustrated with Life due to unrealistic expectations?

What Would you do if you Weren't so Angry?: Oftentimes anger can take up a lot of our time and energy. What do you think you would do with all the extra time and energy you would have if you were not so chronically angry?

Self Hate: The Saboteur of Anger Management: Low self esteem or thinking lowly of oneself can invite anger toward others and toward ourselves. Can we learn to be kinder to ourselves and in turn be kinder to others?

We will now take a look at Containment of our anger if our preventative skills were not effective.

Containment: Actions

Time Out: Recognize, Retreat, Relax, Return: Self-awareness and insight can teach us to be attuned to how we are feeling and to monitor our actions and behaviors. Can we learn to listen to our inner voice and take a step back for a while to cool down before returning to our interactions?

Time Out: Recognize, Retreat, Relax, Return: Self-awareness and insight can teach us to be attuned to how we are feeling and to monitor our actions and behaviors. Can we learn to listen to our inner voice and take a step back for a while to cool down before returning to our interactions?

I Know Exactly How to Hurt Them With my Words, But I Won't: Are we going to continue to hurt others with our words as perhaps a past caregiver once did to us, or can we learn to be more gentle with those we love to avoid the unnecessary hurt?

Do Something Different: The definition of insanity is saying the same things over and over again, but expecting a different response. Can we change our terminology and use more pleasant and caring words or is our vocabulary limited to only hurtful words. 

Turning Down the Heat: Anger cannot

only make a person physically "hot under the collar", but produce "hot" thoughts that can exacerbate the anger. Make a strong attempt to calm down so that your body physically feels cooler and work on thinking "cooler" less intense thoughts. 

Containment: Thoughts

Don't Jump to Conclusions: Irrational doubt, unreasonable mistrust, and excessive suspicious can lead one to assume the worst which can feed anger. It's better to think through situations and examine the facts before verbally attacking someone - you could be wrong.

Don't Make a Bad Situation Worse: As bad as some situations may be, they can always be worse. Try to look at and deal with the problems as they are and be aware that "fueling the fire" can often make the situation more difficult to solve.

How do you Justify Your Anger?: Oftentimes people justify their anger by blaming others for getting them enraged. Can we ask ourselves what role we played in a particular situation and how much responsibility is ours for the problem?

Containment: Feelings

Notice Your Other Feelings: Anger is, at times, a "runaway" emotion and can often mask other feelings. Can we identify other emotions we may be experiencing along with our anger that can help to identify how we may really be feeling?

How to Relax in the Middle of an Argument: What are some strategies that can be used if someone starts an argument with you? If your standing, sit down; if the other persons voice is raised, lower your tone and slow your speech down; listen to the other person and respect what they are saying; do not make faces or other negative gestures, etc.

Containment: Spirit

Why am I so Critical of Others?: Excessive criticism in the middle of an argument can often make a bad situation worse and if we're always overly critical it can become a habit. Try not to "nitpick", call others names, "grumble" under your breath, or make comparison of others that could escalate your problems.

Looking for the Good in Others - A Healing Medicine: Do we ever stop and think about another person's positive qualities, skills, and talents or are we only interested in badmouthing and disparaging them?

Resolution: Actions

Praise: Praise is finding the good qualities in another person. Some examples of praise are: acknowledging another person's accomplishments, their quick thinking ability, appearance, morals/values, creativity, concern for others and animals, or any other positive aspect about them rather than a negative trait.

"I" Statements: "I" statements are forms of communication that focuses more on how an individual is feeling as opposed to blaming another person for making the individual feel a certain way (For example say, "I feel angry when you don't listen to me" as opposed to "You make me angry when you don't listen to me"). 

Apologies Made, Apologies Accepted: How difficult is it for you to apologize after an argument or to accept another persons apology? Knowing how to apologize and accept apology can help diminish anger and begin to normalize a situation. 

Resolution: Thoughts

Be Willing to Compromise: How do you see compromise? Some people see it in terms of "losing" if they don't "win" it all. A compromise basically amounts to in order to get something we give something. How does this work for you?

Keeping Things in Perspective: When you are bothered by someone's behavior, it may be good to try to put the situation in perspective. Ask yourself, "Is it life threatening?" or "Is it trivial?" "Is it very serious?" or "Just annoying?" This may help in determining how we approach various situations. 

Resolution: Feelings

Understanding the Other Persons Feelings: Can we show empathy or put ourselves in another persons shoes or is it difficult to "trade places" with another person and see life from their perspective? 

Letting Go of Your Anger: Anger, like feelings of happiness, can linger for a while even after the experience is over. Take care of yourself after an argument and give yourself time to cool down by going for a walk, resting, or just being alone until your body begins to feel "normal" again. 

The Secret Attraction of Anger: Some people actually like the feeling that anger can produce: power, adrenaline, superiority, etc. Be careful not to fall into the trap of being "addicted" to anger. Like a drug, it can cause many problems in your life. 

Resolution: Spirit

Forgiving Those Who Have Harmed You: Can you begin to forgive those who have harmed you? Can you ask God for help in giving you the strength to forgive? Can you not carry around resentments toward the other person for the harm they have caused? These are some questions you may want to consider in the process of healing.

Doing More Good Than Harm: How would you answer this question, "Do I do more good than harm in my interactions with others around me or more harm than good?" This question can help to make us aware of our behavior around others. 

In this 3-part article on Anger Management, we have looked at anger Prevention, Containment, and Resolution in the realm of Actions, Thoughts, Feelings, and Spirit.In order for any Anger Management program to be effective, awareness of what we do, think, feel, and who we are all come into play. Awareness can be the prompting factor that helps us recognize when anger is getting out of control.

Awareness is the ability to feel, to be conscious of events, objects, thoughts, emotions, or sensory patterns. To the extent that we can be aware of these qualities in and around us, and the context in which we connect to the world, will play a major factor in the development of our anger.

Awareness of our Actions speaks to how much insight we have into our behaviors, awareness of our Thoughts gives us a view into our cognitive capacities and what may preceded our actions, awareness of Feelings let's us know when we are angry, happy, frustrated, and calm and awareness of Spirit gives us insight into our knowledge of ourselves and our place in the world. If we can learn to be more aware of the world in and around us, we will be in a better position to demonstrate self-control in compromising situations. 

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