Anger Management Strategies for keeping anger at bay (part 1 of 4)

‘The man who gets angry at the right things and with the right people, and in the right way, and at the right time, and for the right length of time, is commended’ – Aristotle –

‘Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.’ – Buddha –

‘To be angry is to revenge the faults of others on ourselves.’ – Alexander Pope –

Anger is a driving force and creative energy, which, if judiciously applied, becomes a motivation for change. Anger will be destructive only when it is used as a tool for controlling others through fear (narcissistic rage) or when it results in a total loss of control over your emotions.

Anger is never an issue. How you handle it is the issue.

Where’s the boundary here? Emotions deemed ‘negatives’ are classified according to their disruptiveness to your wellbeing and that of others (emotional and psychological), depending on their frequency and magnitude. Some people have frequent and loud outbursts that do not result in harm to self or others.  Why is this so?

Anger can be dramatic in its intensity, a true volcanic eruption. What matters is what is said and done to others during the burst, how long it takes you to come back to calm, and your ability to ponder about the causes of your anger. So, managing anger is a delicate balancing act, in which you need to assess whether you were righteous or aggressive and if your response was proportional to the slight or exaggerated. If you are the kind of person who represses anger or expresses it too forcefully in the eyes of others, the following might help.

Anger defined
An instinctual emotional response that ranges from mild frustration to explosive rage. A response to a perceived or real threat that releases a cocktail of stress chemicals in your blood stream and provokes various bodily responses. When you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, as do the levels of your energy hormones, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.

It is also a normal and healthy human emotion that is biologically wired to keep us safe from danger. The most instinctive, natural way to express anger is via an aggressive response.

Anger can be painful and disturbing, so angry people seek an immediate solution to the source of anger. They must force the obstacle or problem away, immediately, to get relief. This is how anger can become explosive.

There are three means to handle anger: express it, repress it, or calm it.

If negatively expressed, impulsively, irrationally or in out of control fashion, it can damage relationships, reputation, and health and even lead to issues with the law. This emotion can result in snap decision-making and self-defeating behaviors.

If positively expressed, it leads to appropriate action, relief, discussion and resolution.

If repressed, its energy must be expressed in an activity, because if turned inward, it can lead to anxiety, depression, somatic illnesses, irritability and a range of physical complaints, even to heart attack.
If calmed down inside, you are controlling your outward behavior and internal responses, such as lowering your heart rate, you are letting the feelings subside.

Reasons for being angry and the magnitude of the anger vary according to people. Everyone expresses it differently, which makes reading and managing angry people difficult because it is a bespoke task. Individuals who are easily angered have a low tolerance for frustration. They can’t tolerate much inconvenience or annoyance. They are particularly infuriated if the situation seems unjust. Causes may be genetic, physiological or sociocultural.  Some people are born with low tolerance levels. Others acquire it. Other get very stressed, and their tolerance lowers over time.

Reasons for being angry

Anger is caused by internal events, such as brooding about personal problems, or external events, such as being caught in a traffic jam or handling a difficult work colleague.

– Unfairness or injustice was done to self or others, rightful or perceived.
– Frustration at a situation, event or person (impatience)
– Being hurt by the actions of another
– Being harassed
– Sensing a threat to ideas and beliefs we value.
– Feeling dismissed (your needs are not listened to)
– Internal mood states (like the memory of past trauma springing up to mind)
– Fear
– Accumulated stress
– Use of street drugs
– Certain medical conditions
– Seeking revenge
– Getting attention
– Being unable to express other feelings.

Why we bottle up…. Until we can’t any longer

We’re raised with the belief that anger is ‘bad’ and we are actively discouraged from expressing it. As a result, we don’t learn how to handle it or channel it constructively, we suppress it and internalize it. Several assumptions underlie this behavior.

Part 2. > What we’re told about anger – the myths.

Anger Management Strategies for keeping anger at bay (part 2 of 4)

 What we’re told about anger – the myths.

“Getting angry is destructive and harmful”.
We believe that we will be damaging to a person or a relationship. Anger is the way to make a person take notice that you have a grievance. Anger is natural and can be an appropriate response, that is justified if you are betrayed, physically attacked, or subject to major social injustice.
→ Express your complaint immediately, as it happens if you can refrain from blowing up. Otherwise, wait a bit. Say “ I feel angry, when…..” or “I feel angry, because…..”. It will feel less destructive to the other as it does not involve tantrums, punching or shouting.

“Anger and love don’t mix”.
Hence you would believe that you should never feel anger toward someone you love. We can be angry at our love ones. What matters is to be firm, assertive about the grievance.

“If I show my anger, I’ll destroy her.”
People who appear frail and unable to cope with your burst might be manipulating you. You think they can’t deal with it. This is seldom so (unless of course, you express your anger destroying things, or the person is seriously raw on a particular topic). This might lead you to bottle up anger or to show your resentment at this situation through passive aggressive actions.
→ Express the anger to open the reality of your relationship with the other person. Subsequent anger will be less explosive.

“Getting angry is not the proper way to behave.”
This is impossible. We are biologically wired for anger. We need to express it when felt. The real question here is “how will I express that I am angry in a proper way”?
→ if your grievance is genuine, anger brings it to the notice of others. If properly handled it then leads to a resolution of the problem through discussion.

“If I allow myself to get angry, I might lose control and cause injury.”
Expressing anger directly does not necessarily lead to catastrophic results. Permitting the release of this emotion allows you to get in touch with it and less frightened by it, leading to better control over it.
-→ if your grievance is appropriate, express it. Assess the magnitude of its expression and how it is expressed (e.g., does it lead you to criticize or diminish the other?) Self-control is everything, which means to have the ability to calm down, on your own.

“If I get angry, they will retaliate.”
This is a childhood belief from seeing adults express anger and punish you.
→ Not likely to happen in adulthood unless you are dealing with a disordered or vindictive person.

“If I get angry, they will behave.”
No relationship ever can be based on fear. If you use anger to manipulate another into submission, people will avoid you.

“If I get angry, I’ll be rejected.”
A negative response to your anger does not imply reject.
→ While negative reaction might happen in a social or work relationship, an indication of closeness with a partner is their acceptance of who you are as a real person.

“We inherit anger”.
It doesn’t matter if dad or mom were angry people. You might have been born with a more reactive temper. This is not the issue. Anger is a learned behavior and can be changed.

Next: Being Angry without being destructive – Strategies for keeping anger at bay. (part 3)

The Anger that drives them away

You love him/her deeply and so they do love you. And yet, you are unhappy, maybe you are considering leaving them. It is not the lack of care that makes you think that way, but the sheer despair at having to once again experience one of their anger flares. The pain of it is now exceeding the happiness of the sum of all the good moments you have with your partner.

Anger is natural, and if  expressed within bounds, is an enriching experience for all involved. Natural anger is rightful: it is the one that directly relates to someone’s questionable action, and you  express that anger at them. It will call for expressing the feeling, taking time out to calm down, resolving the flare up by talking it through and then forgiving and letting go, by closing and never revisiting the matter again. These steps allow both of you to positively handle anger and use it as a vehicle of growth and greater emotional maturity and sharing.

I am referring to another kind of anger in this article. One that is not rightfully expressed,   one that hurts you and the people around you when expressed impulsively and explosively; anger that is:

  • expressed out of context, at the wrong target or recipient, generally the closest people around you
  • expressed as pent-up release of inner frustrations and dilemma, such as fear of failure, rejection, abandonment, not being in control, shame, guilt, etc.
  • stored up over time and released by over-reacting to something your partner just did, and is not much related to the original cause for anger
  • related to untreated depression and blowing up suddenly as tension release
  • learned to be an effective means to bring people in line through creating fear or other strong emotions in them, such as intimidation.

That kind of anger destroys reputations out of a single action enacted in a raging, out of control  moment; it kills relationships, as trust is replaced by fear.

As the impulsive actions of anger are expressed, and the angry one goes at war with the persons he/she loves most, love and respect disappear and are replaced by anxiety and confusion in the loved ones.

Some causes of angry blow ups:

  • unresolved past issues, triggered by memories, stress and tiredness
  • getting struck in a current situation  that reminisces of a past negative experience
  • lack of assertiveness toward the rightful recipient of the anger (e.g., the boss, because of power relationships) and deflecting the anger to the next available or safe person, generally a family member.
  • Frustrations just past ( e.g.,  being caught in a queue or traffic jam earlier in the day) deflected to close ones
  • Misunderstandings with a person, and interpreting their actions
  • Bottling up feelings, building tension and needing to release in safe settings (the home)
  • Anger about the anger, not feeling able to express it. This is especially true if expressions of anger were strongly punished by adults, in your family of origin
  • Fears about relationships, involving insecurities, jealousy, abandonment issues.

Do you recognize yourself in the following situations?

When you are not the angry one:

  • Your partner comes home and screams at you for no clear reason – chances are he is angry at someone at work, or something that happened just before he came in the house, as you may learn later.
  • You no longer feel as relaxed as you used to be around him or her, and you feel you must walk on eggshells to avoid triggering all his/her known buttons
  • You are exhausted, for being so careful and second guessing all the time, avoiding any action of your own, that you know will risk triggering an anger impulse
  • You feel you are becoming resentful and angry, as you feel your partner does not allow you to express yourself in safety
  • You catch yourself adopting some of his /her behaviours, which you do not like, and you know you did not have them in the past
  • You say something you think innocuous, and the anger lash back is out of proportion with what you expressed or did.  You feel over punished and over victimized through critical words, silent treatment, violent words or actions, raised voice, etc.
  • You can no longer talk about the anger bouts without feeling fear or being threatened
  • You are getting depressed.

When you are the angry one:

  • You feel unwell and don’t quite know why, and before you know it, you scream at your partner or child in total frustration because the light switch is on
  • You feel intense guilt afterward and can’t cope with it
  • You try to make up with gift or by saying sorry after it
  • You rationalize that they made you angry and it is their fault
  • You think they deliberately created those feelings in you and deliberately pushed your buttons
  • You get angry at being angry
  • You are upset that they can’t take it after all you do for them
  • You feel the urge to punish and retaliate for the wrong they’ve done

Things you can do to manage the anger

If you are the angry one:

  • understand anger is an emotion, not an action. Action follows and derives from emotions. The stronger the emotion, the more the resulting action can harm.
  • Anger is addictive. It gives you the feeling that you are, for that moment, in control and you’ll seek that high more and more.
  • Anger does not make you a bad person. It makes you behave badly if not destructively.
  • Your close ones will be too afraid possibly to tell you how your anger makes them feel and how it hurts them. After all, they don’t want to provoke more anger and more pain. Don’t blame them for avoiding.
  • You can learn to manage your anger. Standard courses of 8 sessions in counseling and anger management are highly effective.
  • Learn to protect your close ones as you learn the skills to handle the anger. Walk out when you feel the urge.
  • Possibly seek the cause for the anger through therapy. If not willing, learn the techniques to diffuse it.
  • Develop compassion for your partner who has to cope with the effect of your angry actions, their own grief and mixed feelings and the explosion of your emotions, which can be highly traumatic to them.
  • Know your triggers; work at identifying your hot buttons.
  • Learn to calm your physiological responses.
  • Broaden your repertoire of responses in a variety of situations, find other ways to deal with a situation (e.g., take time out)
  • Identify what feelings underlie the anger (fear of hurt, rejection, or real threat)
  • Take the time to listen to your partner, about why angry behaviour is not acceptable in this relationship, even if it was so in your family of origin.
  • Understand that you learned anger in your family and that which was acceptable to your siblings and parents, may not be acceptable to your partner, friends and colleagues.

If your partner is the angry one – beginning of a relationship:

  • Know that if you let your partner get away with such anger, it will repeat, growing in intensity and frequency. Address the problem immediately. Once one situation of conflict is established, it is immediate and lasts forever unless you correct it. Use any of the techniques listed below as in an established relationship.

If your partner is the angry one – established relationship:

  • Don’t ask yourself why he/she is angry. Don’t try to appease. Don’t assume responsibility for the anger and blame yourself.
  • Leave them where they are at,  and,
    learn to walk out and not stay in the situation of anger as it happens. Come back later, give them space.
  • Take this incident as time off to look after yourself.
  • Don’t force them to talk about it immediately but….
  • Do not brush the anger event under the carpet, hoping it will not repeat. Because it will and may lead to abuse. Discuss it as soon as possible. Give yourself a chance to discuss, resolve, forgive and let go. Express how you felt when you had the anger directed at you. Not doing this will result unavoidably in resentment and retaliation, in loss of self-esteem, fear and/or depression over time.
  • If your partner refuses to engage in that talk, and brushes you off when you try to discuss this topic, consider seriously where your relationship is going.
  • Try not to retaliate nor make him/her feel guilty. It will make the situation worse.
  • Take a class in assertiveness skills if you feel you have difficulties implementing any of the above tips or go for counseling
  • As you change the way you handle the situation, expect more anger blow up for a while: your partner may be confused by the way you now change your responses.

On anger & its management

Anger is positive. It provides us with a vital boost when we need it, physical and mental.

When anger is just, it is appropriate response: lies, being embarrassed in front of others, betrayal, being abused, broken promises are situations of just anger. Basically, the anger is triggered by the intentional action of someone else.

Unjust anger includes: interpreting negatively a comment or action, assuming accidental event is caused purposefully, kids make noise, friend is late . In this case, the anger is triggered by your own hot cognitions and the accidental action of someone who did not want to upset you.

Whether the anger is just or unjust, expressing it  becomes a problem sometimes: when the anger occurs too frequently, is too intense, lasts too long, is directed at the wrong event/person and leads to aggression.

A person lying to you is no reason to yell at them. A person accidentally pushing your hot button is no reason to threaten them.

That’s when we need learn controlling the Anger.

It  is an emotion defined as impulse to attack, defend or protect as a response to PERCEIVED threat or challenge. It can be triggered by many things: insult, assault, injustice, unfairness, criticism, annoyance or verbal abuse.

It is also a very basic reaction to childlike feelings of abandonment, rejection, loss and hurt.

A basic need is not met.

As we get angry, a subtle chain of events occurs – which has nothing to do with ‘snapping’ and hence is fully controllable:

– an external trigger (an event known as provocation). This leads us to respond in an anger feedback loop: thoughts,  body responses and behavior. Each escalates our anger as each influences and reacts with the others;

– we interpret the trigger ; we have a thought or mental statement we make to ourselves; we basically appraise the situation and this then leads to feelings;

– we experience angry feelings about the situation based on our thoughts; next follows a typical arousal response;

-we experience an increased level of physical arousal: pounding heart, increased pulse, tightened gut. The body gets the message of anger;

-we finally enact the anger: screaming, slamming the door, leaving, etc.

we may be totally unaware of this chain of events.  Anger Management is about learning to identify, break down and  alter this sequence of events.

It also involves acknowledging that our responses and our going along with them is NOT someone’s else action nor event. Our responses are our own.  We frequently misinterpret how a provocation may not actually be a threat to our need.  Naturally, we sometimes interpret correctly too!!!!

Rule of thumb: whenever you think or say “s/he makes me feel angry”, then chances are you could find a more appropriate response to the provocation. Whenever you think or say “I am angry at this situation”, then chances are anger is ok; now the matter is to decide how to express it constructively.

Best strategy: time-out. Isolate yourself from the situation, calm down, come back after an hour or so, after doing something that discharge the tension in yourself. Advise all that you feel angry and that you’re going and coming back later. Engage in dialogue with the person afterwards, but only if they agree to it.  Wait from an hour to a few days, but, go back to discussing the situation. Don’t let it slip.

If the person still refuses to discuss the matter and is intent on letting it slip, this a warning signal that communication is breaking down: see conflict resolution/interpersonal skills/abuse blogs.