Anger is a natural emotion. Everyone gets angry at some point in their lives. When you hear the word anger, you most likely picture someone hitting something or screaming at another person. What is important to remember, though, is that anger is a feeling; not a behavior. We control our behavior, so ultimately; it is our choice regarding how we react to anger. We probably all know someone who never appears to be angry or grumpy. They are not superhuman but rather, have learned effective anger management skills.
Where Does Anger Come From?
Like all personal characteristics, there is a nature-nurture interaction that fuels expressions of anger. From birth, certain individuals are noted to have a difficult temperament and low frustration tolerance. It could be argued that these people are hard-wired to respond to anger aggressively. After all, when we as human beings experience a threat, it is our instinct to instill our fight or flight response.
Anger can also be a result of environmental factors. Due to upbringing, someone may have learned that aggressive responses can yield positive outcomes. For example, say you grew up in a family where numerous family members had anger issues. If you reacted calmly you would slip through the cracks. In other words, loud and aggressive people get attention. So, you learned to be aggressive to get noticed.
Additionally, say you were raised in a community where aggression was respected or used as a form of protection. In those cases, anger may have been seen as a desirable characteristic. Of course, when you find yourself outside those specific environments, aggressive behavior is no longer considered acceptable.
Some people, regrettably, are “blessed” with a double whammy. They are more genetically predisposed to outbursts and they grew up in a situation where anger was reinforced. In those cases, individuals are working against biology and their environment to overcome anger issues. As you might imagine, that is easier said than done.
What Do We Mean By Anger Management?
When we discuss anger management, we are talking about the process in which we respond to anger. Some people express their anger inappropriately whereas others can express it in a healthy way. Aggressive expressions of anger are not tolerated well in most of our society. Fighting, either verbally or physically, usually leads to negative consequences. In contrast, some people turn their anger inwards rather than become aggressive. Instead of acting out, they feel chronically irritable and unhappy. Both types of people need to work on how they manage their angry feelings.
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A common misconception is that anger management is all about eliminating anger. That is incorrect. It is okay to be angry. You are human. What isn’t all right is when you punch someone in the face because they said something about your shoes. People with anger issues need to learn how to transform their anger into something healthy and societally appropriate. The following methods are commonly used to help people work on their anger management.
Anger Management Treatment
There are numerous treatment techniques within the realm of anger management. Almost all of these are directly or indirectly related to cognitive-behavioral therapy, otherwise known as CBT. Let’s take a closer look:
Know Your Triggers
In order to practice effective anger management, you must learn what makes you angry. There are two types of triggers: internal and external. An internal trigger is usually a physical sensation, thought, or emotion. For example, being tired or upset can be a trigger. External triggers can be a person, place, or thing that causes anger. Running into a boss who fired you, for instance, could be an external trigger. It is important to understand your triggers for a couple of reasons. First, triggers tell you the situations for which you need to be prepared. Second, by avoiding triggers, you can escape possible negative outcomes.
It is hard to be angry when you are relaxed. Performing effective relaxation techniques when you encounter a trigger can be critical to success. For example, deep breathing or muscle relaxation can significantly reduce your anger. Additionally, a regular practice of relaxation and meditation lowers your baseline anger level so you aren’t as angry in the first place.
Quick Coping Skills
Anger comes on fast. It is crucial to have some go-to coping skills to buy you a few moments. If you have to think about what skill you are going to use you have already lost. Therefore, it is best to have a toolbox ready. Deep breathing, for instance, can be used as an effective quick coping skill but there are many others that don’t involve relaxation. Coping skills, for example, could include distraction and walking away. These skills are necessary to give you the time to think through the potential consequences of your actions.
A primary aspect of using CBT for anger management is cognitive restructuring. That means working on changing rigid and unrealistic thoughts that cause people to become angry. Individuals with anger issues often exaggerate the negativity of a situation. After failing at a task, for instance, they may think that it is the end of the world. As a result, they become overly frustrated. Instead, they could simply learn to look at failures as a temporary setback, not something catastrophic. When you view the world through a realistic lens, it is often not as bad as it initially seemed.
At times, changing thoughts is not the answer. Sometimes situations really are unfair and being angry makes sense. In those cases, individuals need to work on their problem-solving skills. Learning a step-by-step process to solving problems will help you reduce your frustrations. You still won’t be able to solve all your troubles but you will feel better knowing you gave it your best shot.
The use of humor is a valuable skill for angry people. Let’s look at anger like a volcano. When it is full of rage, it is bad news for you and anyone in its path. You need to find something that will keep it from erupting. Humor is a quick way to cool off anger. It is similar to cognitive restructuring in that you are changing how you view something.
Instead of seeing a situation as disastrous, you try to find the humor in it. Using humor when angry is not easy but it can be a very effective technique. After all, how can you be angry when you are laughing?
Anger management is largely about finding an appropriate way to express anger. We tend to think about verbal and physical outlets but there are numerous other forms of expression, including art, writing, music, yoga and mindfulness. If you can find a suitable outlet that doesn’t hurt you or anyone else, you have gained a valuable tool.
Sometimes the root of our anger lies within our family. There may be deep-seated injuries or toxic relationships that produce significant anger. Those problems can be complicated and long-standing. In order to address those issues, you may need to go to marriage therapy. Other anger management strategies will likely prove unsuccessful if you can’t first resolve your family troubles.
Social Skills Training
Anger can be a result of a social skills deficit. Some people have never learned prosocial ways to interact with others and they instead turn to aggression. In addition, individuals who lack social skills frequently become frustrated because they are not able to communicate their needs to other people.
Furthermore, good social skills help develop friendships that build self-esteem and serve as support. Therapies, such as Aggression Replacement Training, use social skills training as a significant part of their treatment to reduce aggressive and maladaptive behavior.
Self-care is good for almost any emotional problem, including anger. In short, self-care is behavior that helps you to be healthier. For example, eating healthily and getting proper sleep and exercise will give you the base necessary to battle your anger. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, you will have almost no chance of overcoming your anger issues.
There is no medication designed specifically for anger but certain psychotropic medications are used for that purpose. Specifically, SSRIs, mood stabilizers, and anti-psychotic medications often have anger reducing effects. While you may be hesitant to turn to medication, it could be just what is needed when other anger management strategies have failed. This is especially true for a severe anger problem such as you might find in someone diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder.
People that express their anger in inappropriate ways tend to be unhappy with themselves and rejected by others. Unfortunately, it is not easy to combat long-ingrained behavior. It takes considerable education, practice, and perseverance. With work, however, anger management can help you take back your life.
While some of the above treatments can be successfully performed using self-help resources, more severe anger problems may require professional group, family, or individual counseling. Regardless of how you choose to treat it, if your anger is aggressive and excessive, it’s important that you not ignore it, as doing so can harm even your most valued relationships.