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Introduction to Anger Management

Anger Management

The Experience Of Anger

Anger is a fundamental emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. From a very early age, people learn to express anger by copying the angry behavior they see modeled around them, and by expressing angry behavior and seeing what they can get away with. As many cultures have an uneasy relationship with anger expression, many people are brought up to think that it is inappropriate to express anger directly; that it must not be tolerated; that it is always dangerous. Such people learn to distrust anger, to bottle it up and ignore it, to express it only in indirect ways or to use it as a weapon.

The idea that anger is dangerous is not without merit. Angry people are capable of great violence. However, while anger can certainly be abused, it is more than a simple destructive force. Anger is also a critically important part of what might be called the self-preservation and self-defense instincts. People who are incapable of...More

Fast Facts: Learn! Fast!

What is anger?

  • Anger is a basic human emotion that is experienced by all people.
  • Typically triggered by an emotional hurt, anger is usually experienced as an unpleasant feeling that occurs when we think we have been injured, mistreated, opposed in our long-held views, or when we are faced with obstacles that keep us from reaching personal goals.
  • The experience of anger varies widely; how often anger occurs, how intensely it is felt, and how long it lasts are different for each person.
  • At its roots, anger is a signal to you that something in your environment isn't right and it captures your attention and motivates you to take action to correct that wrong thing.
  • Out of control anger alienates friends, co-workers and family members and also has a clear relationship with health problems and early death.

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How is anger experienced in the body?

  • Like other emotions, anger is experienced in our bodies as well as in our minds.
  • There is a complex series of physiological, or body, events that occurs as we become angry.
  • Emotions more or less begin inside two almond-shaped structures in our brains which are called the amygdala, which is the part of the brain responsible for identifying threats to our well-being, and for sending out an alarm when threats are identified that results in us taking steps to protect ourselves.
  • Our brains are wired in such a way as to influence us to act before we can properly consider the consequences of our actions.
  • As you become angry your body's muscles tense up.
  • Your heart rate accelerates, your blood pressure rises, and your rate of breathing increases.
  • Your face may flush as increased blood flow enters your limbs and extremities in preparation for physical action.
  • Your attention narrows and becomes locked onto the target of your anger.
  • The prefrontal cortex of your brain, which is located just behind your forehead, serves in a role to keep things under control, handles judgment, and can switch off your emotions.

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What are the health and social costs of anger?

  • Research has found a direct connection between being constantly angry, competitive, and aggressive, and early heart disease.
  • High blood pressure (Hypertension), and blood pressure reactivity are also related to the expression of anger and hostility.
  • Chronically angry, hostile and irritable people have been described as having "Type A" personalities.
  • Repeated increasing of heart rate and blood pressure and many other factors involved in the Type A arousal response cause cumulative and non-repairable damage to the body's organs and tissues, including the heart, nervous and immune system.
  • In addition to physical health costs, there are significant social and emotional costs to being angry all the time.
  • Hostile, angry people are less likely to have healthy supportive relationships.
  • Chronic anger reduces intimacy within personal relationships and partners and other family members tend to be more guarded and less able to relax in their interactions with hostile people.
  • Angry people frequently have cynical attitudes toward others and are unable to recognize or accept support when it is available.
  • Angry people also tend to drink, smoke, and eat more than others.

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What are the signs of anger?

  • Some physical signs of anger include:
    • clenching your jaws or grinding your teeth
    • headache
    • stomach ache
    • increased and rapid heart rate
    • sweating, especially your palms
    • feeling hot in the neck/face
    • shaking or trembling
    • dizziness
  • Emotionally you may feel:
    • like you want to get away from the situation
    • irritated
    • sad or depressed
    • guilty
    • resentful
    • anxious
    • like striking out verbally or physically
  • Also, you may notice that you are:
    • rubbing your head
    • cupping your fist with your other hand
    • pacing
    • getting sarcastic
    • losing your sense of humor
    • acting in an abusive or abrasive manner
    • craving a drink, a smoke or other substances that relaxes you
    • raising your voice
    • beginning to yell, scream, or cry

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What are some anger management techniques that I can use to control my anger?

  • Immediately stop how you are thinking and acting at the first sign you are getting angry. If imagery helps you, imagine a big red stop sign.
  • Your breathing rate and heart rate both increase when you become emotionally aroused, so you can learn to reverse these increases through the use of controlled deep breathing and muscle relaxation.
  • Reflect and try to identify the emotional trigger that has set you off.
  • In order to better manage anger, it is important to slow down and not simply act on your aggressive first impulses. Instead do some reality testing so as to know whether your anger is truly justified or not.
  • A quick alternative reality testing method is to use the "Count to 10 before you act" rule, otherwise known as giving the target of your anger the benefit of the doubt.
  • It is a good idea for you to develop a list of personal reasons why you want to stay calm and cool in certain situations, and to read over these reasons frequently so that they stay fixed and clear in your mind.
  • When angry people do make requests, they often them in the form of demands, which provoke angry feelings in others, so learning to make effect requests can be a helpful step to take.
  • Choose how you want to respond. Work to come up with an assertive response rather than an aggressive one.
  • Then (and only then) ... Respond to the situation.

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What are some options for help if I can't control my anger on my own?

  • For some people, the easiest way to change the way they handle anger is to work with a psychologist or other licensed mental health professional in an individual or group therapy setting.
  • A typical course of therapy for anger management is more like a class than a traditional therapy session, and participants are helped to become conscious of their emotional, cognitive and physical responses to anger and the different ways they respond to conflict.
  • Anger management classes may be available through your employer, or through a variety of organizations serving your community, and will often assign you homework projects to complete, and will use quizzes to track your progress through the course.
  • You can also learn to deal with your anger issues on your own in a number of different ways, including video and audio recordings and online classes that allow you to complete programs in your spare time and work at your own speed. Some of these programs offer email or phone support, and online message boards or chat groups.

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What is an anger contract and how can I use it to control my anger?

  • It is a very good idea to draw up a written contract detailing the things you agree to practice in the course of your anger management program. This is a way of providing yourself structure and support, both of which are important for your success.
  • Agree that you will take a temporary time-out when confronted with angering situations, whenever this is possible to do.
  • Agree that you will practice relaxation exercises on a regular basis (preferably on a daily basis).
  • Learn to recognize the types of situations that trigger you, and the types of characteristic angry thoughts that tend to occur to you when you are faced with those triggers.
  • Agree that you will spend some time each day practicing assertive communication skills.
  • Any contract you draw up should only cover a short span of time - one to several days at a time are a good sized duration. Then continue to make new commitments as you reach the end of the previous ones.
  • Agree on a signal that family or friends can give you when they see you start sliding into old aggressive patterns.
  • Write rewards for yourself into your anger contract. You should have a reward each time you successfully do the things you said you'd do during the contract period.
  • Don't let a lapse turn into an excuse for quitting your anger program, or forgetting all you have learned. Instead, treat a relapse as a learning experience.

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News Articles

  • Study Probes Causes of Anger in Returning U.S. Soldiers

    PTSD, combat experience and family history can all play roles, study finds. More...

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    • Wise Counsel Interview Transcript: An Interview with Steven Shaps, MA on Anger Management