Anger Management

by Roisin Murray and Wallace Murray

Managing your own anger

Consider how much more you often suffer from your anger and grief, than from those very things for which you are angry and grieved.

Marcus Antonius

There are two aspects to managing your own anger: learning how to manage it in the moment, the flashpoint, and learning long-term strategies for avoiding angry moments as a general rule. Anger reduction helps you control your emotions in moments of provocation. Anger avoidance helps deal with underlying feelings of anger about a continuing situation. The anger self-test may give food for thought about your current ways of dealing with anger.

Anger reduction

The greatest remedy for anger is delay.

Seneca

You need to create space to manage your anger – to relax the tension, get a wider perspective and think out how best to achieve what you want. So the first step is to STOP...

Take a moment to compose yourself so you can say or do something useful instead of decking somebody. That moment’s delay can make all the difference between flying off the handle or dealing with the issue assertively and effectively.

In that moment

Don’t react. Make space for thought.

  • Take a deep breath to get more oxygen into your brain and enable you to think more clearly.
  • Lower your shoulders to reduce your physical tension (you’d be surprised how that can lower the emotional tension in an instant).
  • Imagine a reasonable reason for the other’s behaviour – the provoker may have crossed you unwittingly. They may not have said what they meant. Maybe they’re exhausted, ill, stressed or recently bereaved. Even imagining something like that can be hugely calming, by fostering sympathy rather than antagonism towards them. A story told by Stephen Covey in Seven habits of highly effective people illustrates this well.
Example

On a quiet tube train, people are dozing or reading. A man gets on with some children. The kids run wild, throwing stuff around, bumping into people and so on. You ask the man to control his offspring. He replies ‘we’ve just come from the hospital. Their mother has just died. I guess they don’t know how to handle it. Neither do I.’

Would you still feel angry with him?

  • Think – anger gets in the way of thinking clearly, bypassing the rational brain, so make use of the space and oxygen you’ve just acquired to good effect. Reconnect with your thinking brain and ask yourself what outcome you really want from the interaction, and what to do right now that will increase the chance of achieving that outcome. Think out what key point you want to make.

Ask yourself some questions

Use the time and space you have created to ask yourself what

  • Buttons of yours are being pushed?
  • Unspoken rules of yours are being broken?
  • Objective facts are there here?
  • Assumptions are you making (that might be wrong)
  • Expectations of yours are not being met (and might be unrealistic)?
  • Conclusions are you jumping to (that might be wrong)?
  • Else might be the case?
  • Consequences might befall you if you let rip?
  • Would this matter if you’d six months to live?
  • Outcome do you really want from this?

Get perspective

Mentally take a step back, so that it’s as if you’re watching events with interest but dispassionately through an upstairs window. Put things into perspective by asking yourself ‘What’s this really about? How big a deal is that on a scale of one to ten? Where will it be on that scale in a year?’

Keep to the point

  • Be clear – if what you say is confused it will confuse others.
  • Be calm – emotions are infectious. If you start shouting, most people will retaliate in kind or humour you in some way. Raising your voice may give you a feeling of a ‘win’, but it usually just postpones rational discussion.
  • Pace yourself – if you normally raise your voice and talk faster when you’re angry, slow down and articulate clearly. If you tend to go quiet and icy cold, speed up. The effort of doing so diverts your internal attention away from your angry feelings and has a calming effect on your emotions.
  • Be assertive – make your point without antagonism or apology. Use ‘I’ statements to make it about you, not them ‘when you do x, I feel y’. ‘I feel angry because you did z’. There is more about Confidence, Assertiveness and Nonviolent Communication in the relevant topics.
  • Really listen to responses – to clarify facts and maybe learn something useful. Perhaps your view is based on inaccurate information or misunderstanding. Keep clear in your mind what is fact and what is opinion. The other has every right to a different opinion from yours – it’s only what each of you think. Practise Nonviolent Communication (see that topic). Observe the advice in the topic on Conflict Resolution. If you can’t see any way of sorting it out between you, think about seeking Mediation (on which there is another excellent topic).
  • Get over yourself – some people talk of ‘forgiveness’. This simply means preserving your own health and wellbeing by letting go of negative emotions that are linked to all sorts of ailments. It also helps you focus on your work, your career and the rest of your life instead of having half your mind on the cause of the anger or bitterness.
  • Walk away, if all else fails. Better to be thought rude than to get in a fight.

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

You might like to have a look at the tips about managing your own inner state in the topic on NLP. Tension can be reduced if you just lighten up (why not look at the topic on Humour?). When you do open your mouth, stick to the point you want to make and genuinely listen to responses (try visiting the topic on Listening Skills). For the longer term, you might want to take up or increase physical activity, take up calming activities, get to know yourself better, learn better personal effectiveness strategies, and look after yourself better. You might like to act on the tips in the topic on Self-Coaching.

Anger avoidance

If you would cure anger, do not feed it. Say to yourself: ‘I used to be angry every day; then every other day; now only every third or fourth day.’ When you reach thirty days offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the gods.

Epictetus (55 – 135 AD)

You may find it helpful to adopt some anger avoidance strategies or activities. You can do some of those things any time you feel anger rising, and you’ll get better at it each time you practise.

Avoidance strategies

Outbursts tend to become less frequent and severe if you do some of the following.

  • Vent stored adrenalin through physical activity, such a hard exercise or sport. Go for a run, play some squash, punch pillows – whatever takes you. At one time, I used to chop a lot of firewood. Anything’s better than killing someone! (I’m quite civil to my ex these days.)
  • Take up a calming activity such as yoga, meditation or playing music; do anything that focuses your mind on something other than the provocation.
  • Know yourself better – know what angers you (so you can avoid triggers if possible, and maybe see what about them presses your buttons). Ask yourself how you ‘do’ anger, what calms you down, whether there are any patterns and, if so, how you could amend any aspect of your life to alter those (unhelpful) patterns. You might like to keep an anger diary.
  • Learn better personal effectiveness strategies, because people tend to get angry when they can’t see a solution to something. Better Problem Solving and Stress Management can reduce the risk of becoming irritated or downright angry. Poor communications frequently underlie angry exchanges. How often have you heard someone say afterwards, ‘That’s not what I meant?’ Assertiveness and Nonviolent Communication reduce the risk of aggression and anger.
  • Look after yourself – keep physically active; be careful what you ingest (food, drink, drugs, tobacco); develop/nurture a social network, and get a life.

If you remain concerned about the level and frequency of your angry feelings, or about your control over them, you might wish to attend an anger management course, or seek professional help from a suitably qualified coach or therapist.