Managing your anger better
Mark Twain once said, "anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured."
Anger is an emotion that can emerge when you perceive your needs are not being met, or that you are being treating unfairly. With anger there is often the perception of being under threat or attack, which can then result in defensive or retaliatory behaviours. Anger can also manifest as a consequence of negative early experiences in life.
Most people experience anger on some occasions. Low-level anger may be better described as feeling irritated or frustrated. However, on the higher end of the scale, anger can emerge as full-blown rage! Difficulty controlling anger can often compromise your enjoyment of life and particular situations. Anger can also impact negatively on relationships, both personal and in the context of work.
So what can you do to help manage your anger better?
1. Identifying your anger triggers
Try to identify the triggers that are activating your anger. These will be unique to you. For example, someone may react furiously when they perceive another car driver has ‘cut in front’ of them whilst driving. Another person may have their anger triggered by certain people, or particular disturbances (e.g. noisy neighbours). The list of possible triggers are extensive. It will be important to recognise the social context / environment you are in where your anger is triggered. By learning to recognise your personal anger triggers this will help you anticipate and prepare for upcoming situations where there is the chance your anger might bubble over.
2. Identifying the thoughts associated with anger
The way a person thinks about and interprets a situation can bring anger as an emotional response. For example, the person who was ‘cut up’ by another driver may think, ‘that driver is reckless and has no respect for other drivers.’ These interpretative thoughts are called ‘bridging thoughts’, as they create the bridge to the emotional reaction.
3. Challenge your thinking about the situation
It helps to challenge thoughts linked with anger-related situations and strive to realise alternative ways of thinking about the situation. For example, alternative thoughts might be, ‘that driver seems to be in quite a hurry. Maybe they are late for work or something.’ By adopting a more open-minded attitude to thinking about situations, and generating more balanced interpretations this can function to better manage your emotions, and experience less anger.
4. Try and bring about behavioural changes
Some people benefit from imposing a ‘time out’ from engaging in their normal behavioural reactions (e.g. becoming aggressive) to a situation that has made them angry. For example, you can force yourself to leave the room / situation you were in when you became angry. After 20 minutes it is likely your anger will have subsided somewhat. It may also be helpful to avoid certain places (e.g. a rowdy pub) where you know conflict with others is more likely to occur.
Assertiveness training can also help generate skills to respond to what are normally anger-provoking situations in more effective and adaptive ways. Ultimately, assertiveness training aims to nurture skills for getting your needs met more effectively when dealing with others, whilst respecting the rights of both parties.