Anger management. An often used expression, something people joke about, and something we tell our friends that they need. But what is anger management? How does it work? What does it do? And do I need it?
Anger is a primal human emotion that is hardwired in the brain. It serves to protect us from real and imagined threats, makes us stronger, more aggressive, and readies us for self-defense. It is a normal emotion with a wide range of intensity, from mild frustration all the way to black out rage. It is designed to protect us from physical and emotional threats both real and imagined. While it serves a purpose, it often gets people into trouble when they react too strongly to its powerful effects.
There are three components to anger:
1. Physical reactions. Anger often begins with a surge of adrenaline, increased heartbeat, and muscle tightening. This is the classic “fight or flight” response.
2. Cognitive factors. What we say to ourselves, and how we internally interpret outside events is a huge factor in how we handle the powerful chemical events that can take place and I brain. We may a label events as threatening, dangerous, or unfair. The way we think determines how we feel, how we act, and the consequences of our feelings. (Check the “Therapies” category to the right of this article for more information on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.”)
3. Behavior. People often shout, slam things, hit, and become aggressive. People could also verbalize that there upset, take a deep breath, and respond assertively rather than aggressively.
In order to gain control one must first recognize their “anger script” and slow down the 0 to 60 response. People who are prone to anger frequently enjoy their anger on some level. They’ve been frequently rewarded for the behavior and often get their needs met by a display of bluster, threat, or rage. This makes the cycle very difficult to break and requires considerable insight that can only be developed through introspection. Willingness to do this work is the biggest reason why anger management training succeeds or fails. Many who attempt anger management try strategies halfheartedly, then fail with a “see I told you I couldn’t do it,” attitude. Willingness to change is the critical factor in mastering this emotion.
The first step is trigger identification. What events are most likely to trigger anger in a person? These sensitive areas or “red flags” usually refer to long-standing issues that can easily lead to anger. In some cases just thinking of these events creates a chemical change. Long waits to see your doctor, traffic jams, being wrongly accused, having to clean up for someone else, or having something stolen from you, are all good examples.
The next step is your internal triggers need to be identified. How does your body respond for example. Do you ball your hands into fists? Does your breathing change? Does your face feel hot? Does your pulse throb by your temples? What do you say to yourself at that moment? Do you swear? Are there certain swear words that you use either to yourself or out loud? These questions are key in slowing down the chain of events that lead to an anger outburst. The first step in changing any behavior is always awareness. A person simply cannot change an unconscious response.
The third step is to choose an alternate behavior that is more appropriate and under your control.
So what are the actual steps that need to be taken for one to get control of their anger? Anger management can be learned through classes, in individual counseling sessions, and through the systematic self study. While I believe in both classes and individual counseling, this article will address self-study.
GET A NOTEBOOK and make a list of things that evoke anger for you. Don’t judge or overthink, JUST WRITE OUT ALL THE THINGS THAT MAKE YOU ANGRY! Think hard about this as some of these triggers may not be things you are consciously aware of.
Begin to analyze the point in this process where you begin to “lose it.” What’s the point of no return with each of these triggers? LABEL your anger on a scale of 1 to 10. This is your Anger Meter.
At what point do you lose it? When does the traffic jam cross the line? At 6? Or at 8? How angry did he make you before you got violent? At 8, or was it 9? This is the point where resistance begins to emerge but if you’re patient you will begin to see points where you may be able to control your behavior. Labeling and evaluating emotions quantitatively enable you to see that behaviors such as anger can be evaluated, and therefore potentially controlled. This activity done consistently teaches emotional control. And angry outburst is by no means automatic. The goal here is to enable you to fly over the hurricane without landing in it. Become an observer to situations rather than an unwilling participant.
Daily reflection using this labeling with a number system is vital to success. Breaking the chain of events will not occur automatically. SLOW THINGS DOWN, THINK IT THROUGH, and MAKE A BETTER CHOICE.. DECIIDE what to do, rather than let events dictate your reactions.
Change the way that you talk to yourself about these events both before, during, and after. Review and analyze after events to assess how well you did. This is important because it reinforces the key concept that these internal of events are not necessarily what really is going on. Your INTERPRETATION is the key here.
In addition to the mental changes required for anger control, there are physiological skills that make it easier. Calming the mind regularly through meditation, exercise, proper diet, and relaxation techniques will certainly help. The catch 22 here is that usually people who are prone to anger don’t have the discipline to engage in these practices on a regular basis. In future articles I’ll go into detail on strategies to calm the inpatient but for now we’ll just look at one strategy. Progressive relaxation where one that tenses each muscle and then relaxes it is often the best way for an inpatient person to learn to relax. Start either at your face or your toes and tense each muscle group as strongly as possible for 5 to 10 seconds each. Relax after, noticing the contrast in feeling. This feels good, relieves stress, teaches muscle control, and enables one to relax on demand. Breathing techniques take a little more patience but often creep their way into progressive relaxation. Diligent practice of progressive relaxation usually inadvertently teaches some level of breath control.
Like most behaviors that need to change, the key is PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! This must be pursued daily. Anger management classes generally last at least six weeks in duration. There is no magic here, you must be motivated to change. Focusing on the side benefits of anger management makes things a little easier. You’ll feel better physically, your family and friends will react more positively to you, and you will probably find that you get more of your needs met than you did when you were blowing up on a regular basis.
“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished BY your anger.” —The Buddha
“If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape 100 days of sorrow.”-Chinese Proverb
P. S. Let me know if you’d like me to write more on this or any other subject. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please follow this blog by signing up through the box to the right of this article.