Anger Management: Understanding the Anger Episode
Anger is a complicated emotion. Often when it is felt, you aren’t sure why you feel it or where it comes from. Often it can feel a bit out of control and may get the best of you when you are in a more vulnerable state. That’s why anger management techniques are so important.Anger is the emotion that can lead to aggression and hurtful words and actions.It can spark movements, and it can break relationships. It has a lot of power, causing people to act impulsively in the moment without thinking. By the time you calm down, the damage has been done, which can lead to other emotions like guilt and shame.
It has been said that anger is the tip of the iceberg when felt and expressed. It is what others usually see, but there are many things lying underneath the surface of the anger. It could be hurt, fear, anxiety, depression, doubt, or loneliness. It could be pride or insecurity or bitterness. It could be a host of things that so often comes out as anger.
Often that expression of anger is not helpful to us or to others, but if you can identify the emotion underneath the anger and express what you are really feeling, it can be helpful. In order to do this, it is so important to learn anger management techniques so you can understand how to identify and express your true thoughts and feelings to avoid hurting yourself or others. If you are currently hurting yourself or others with your anger, then it is a sign of problematic anger issues.
How to Deal with Anger Issues
Learning proper anger management is crucial to find peace. Putting your faith in God and not in man can help. Psalm 4:4 encourages us to call on God and He will make a way for us to escape our distress. Calling on God will help you to look a bit deeper and see if it really is anger that you feel or something else. Pull out a Feelings Wheel, and then pay attention to what you are really experiencing in a situation that brings out anger.
Before you go deeper, just start with evaluating what is happening on the surface. When learning to manage your anger, one of the most important steps is to be aware of, and understand what is happening in an anger episode.
What are the triggers that set it off? What thoughts are associated with your anger? What is happening in your body? What behaviors do you exhibit when angry? And what are the outcomes of those behaviors? These five questions are found in the book, Anger Management for Everyone, by Raymond C. Tafrate, Ph.D., and Howard Kassinove, Ph.D.
Steps Toward Healthy Anger Management
Being aware is the first step toward healthy anger management. Without awareness, you will not be able to truly handle this intense emotion and you will not be able to go below the surface because the anger will be out of control.
That’s the thing about anger; it can get out control quickly. It can hurt you and it can hurt others. Anger itself is not a bad thing. It is simply an emotion that all people experience. Anger can actually be quite productive at times, fueling social justice, systemic change, and relational change. It can be used as a motivator.
It’s what you choose to do with your anger that can become unhealthy and hurtful. It is possible to have self-control in this area even though sometimes it seems impossible. It is possible, and it starts with awareness.
So how can you be aware of what is going on when you have an anger episode?
Identify your triggers
Most of the time, an anger episode begins with a trigger. Tafrate and Kassinove define triggers as “everyday situations that involve a challenge to your ideas or behavior, a disagreement, a struggle about what to do, or a disappointment.
Many times, some kind of stress, threat, unfairness, loss, or potential loss is involved.” Triggers can be identified by considering what event happened before you felt angry, paying attention to the time, date, place of the event, and the target (person or object) of your anger.
Pay attention to patterns
For example, are you more easily angered when you are hungry or before you have had your coffee or when you are around one specific person? Some common triggers include (Tafrate and Kassinove, 2009):
- Negative, unwanted actions or words of others: Usually this is people that you are somewhat close to (typically not strangers).
- Inanimate objects: Often people will get angry at their phones, computer, a broken appliance or car part, for example.
- Your own behavior: This often leads to anger and guilt and shame follow.
- Extreme circumstances: These include traumatic experiences, being robbed, unexpected loss, natural disasters, or crippling illnesses.
- Past memories
What thoughts, judgments, or evaluations are happening in the chain of events that lead to your anger? Emotions are closely connected to thoughts, and it is good to pay attention to those thoughts and work to (if necessary) let them go or choose to think differently if those thoughts continually lead to feelings of anger.
Some common thought patterns that lead to anger include (Tafrate and Kassinove, 2009):
- Catastrophizing: Thinking that this situation was one of the worst things that could happen. For example, a person who used to be a friend decided that they no longer want to be your friend. You think, “I will never be able to make it past this. I will never be able to trust others again. This is the worst experience of my life.”
- Low frustration tolerance: Thinking that you can not handle or deal with this situation. For example, your small children won’t pick up after themselves, and you are tired of telling them. You think, “I can’t deal with this. This is too much.”
- “Should statements”: Thinking that the other person should have acted differently using shoulds, shouldn’ts, musts, oughts, and have-tos. For example, someone cuts you off in traffic, and you think, “You should learn how to drive!”
- Labeling: Thinking that the other person(s) are all bad (even if there are a lot of good qualities about that person). For example, your coworker is rude to you at lunch, and you think, “She is such a jerk.”
- Discounting the positives: Thinking that you are less important, valuable, or worthwhile; seeing only the bad in you. For example, you accidentally break a lamp, and think, “Ugh, I never can do anything right.”
- Misinterpretations and distortions: Thinking that becomes distorted, unclear, or exaggerated. For example, a family member offers to watch your children. Another family member misinterprets the situation and assumes that person feels obligated to watch your children and gets angry with you.
Personal Experiences in your Body
What is happening in your body when you feel angry? Notice what is happening and how intense it is on a scale from 0-100, and then notice how long it lasts. Some common body sensations include (Tafrete and Kassinove, 2009):
- Muscle tension
- Increased heart rate
- Upset stomach
- Flushing (getting “red”)
- Trembling or shaking
- Rapid Breathing
- Tingling sensations
- Feelings of unreality or being “out-of-body”
- Tight jaw
- Increased Energy
Expressive PatternsThis is how you express your anger. There are a lot of different patterns of expression, and they will vary from person to person or situation to situation.
Here are some of the most common forms of expression (Tafrete and Kassinove, 2009):
- Holding it in: This can be due to lack of assertiveness, passivity, tendency to hold grudges, or a belief that anger is bad. Anger is like a volcano, though. If it is held in too long, it will erupt in an unhealthy way.
- Indirect expressions: These could be passive-aggressive behaviors, resisting a task you have been asked to do, spreading harmful information about another person, not following rules, not carrying your weight on a team project, or not responding to requests made by those around you.
- Outward (VERBAL) expressions: This is the most common form of anger expression. This could be a healthy assertiveness, or it could be things such as yelling, name-calling, cursing, arguing, using sarcasm, making hurtful remarks, threatening, and accusing.
- Outward (PHYSICAL) expressions: These could include aggressive behaviors, like hitting, punching, kicking, breaking things, slamming doors, damaging property, etc.
- Outward (GESTURES) expressions: These are the nonverbals like eye-rolling, clenched fists, glaring, frowning, crossing your arms, turning away from, etc.
- Avoidance: This is when you work very hard to never experience anger because it is too uncomfortable to feel or because you believe that you should not feel it. People avoid it by distracting themselves with various activities or by staying busy to think about their feelings.
- Substance use or other addictive behaviors: The anger at times feels like it is too much for someone so that person turns to numbing behaviors.
- Problem-solving: Used in a healthy and assertive way, some will use their anger to resolve the problematic issue.
There can be long-term outcomes of anger episodes and short-term outcomes. Every episode has an outcome, some may be desirable in the short-term. For example, your kid hates school. He gets into a physical altercation at school with a kid that bothers him, and he gets suspended.
In the short-term, he does not have school (which he hates anyway) and the bothersome kid will know not to bother him anymore. However, the long-term outcomes could be more significant.
It is important when learning how to manage your anger to be able to see the results. What happens after you get angry? Is it what you were looking for or what you wanted? If so, how could you go about it a healthier way?
Some common outcomes of anger episodes include (Tarfrate and Kassinove, 2009):
- Interpersonal conflict
- Poor reputation
- Workplace problems
- Bad decision-making and increased risk-taking
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Arrest and imprisonment
- Physical injury to self or others
- Erratic driving habits
- Poor concentration and lessened productivity
- High blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke
If you are unsure of how to go about the management of your anger in a healthier way, it is best to seek anger management counseling so that your counselor can help. In anger therapy, these elements of anger episodes will be discussed, as well as how to better handle anger and/or understand the feelings underlying your anger.
Don’t wait to start the work because your anger, when mismanaged, can do a lot of damage. When you are aware of what is going on in you when angry, you can begin to control it and possibly even use it for good and to promote change.
Tafrate, Raymond C., Ph.D. and Kassinove, Howard, Ph.D. Anger Management for Everyone: Seven Proven Ways to Control Anger and Live a Happier Life. 2009.
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