Relief from anger or anger management
Anger is often associated with feeling out of control and destructive impulses or even violence. However, anger is also a necessary emotion which has allowed us to survive as a species. It protects us from danger, drives us forward and enables us to apply appropriate boundaries or stand up for ourselves. Nevertheless for those who experience impulsive outbursts of anger it can be very frightening and gaining control of it is a necessary condition of a more stable, healthier life.
Because anger is often an instinctive reflex against a perceived threat, it must be understood as part of the fight and flight system. This means that certain stimuli such as conflict in relationships, abusive behaviour or even stress at work can act as triggers in the limbic system (emotional brain) and activate the autonomic nervous system to prime human beings for a fight and flight response. This means it is more likely to be expressed in a way that is intense, automatic and out of control.
Anger is therefore an emotion borne out of not having our needs met. We are programmed with the ability to express anger from birth – so we can stand up for ourselves, fight for survival and drive us towards meeting our goals. It can be a creative force for change or help us seek redress for an injustice. Although anger is a healthy, normal emotion it can get us entangled in confrontation. Societies and families hold different views on how anger should be expressed. It is often poorly managed and can be explosive when it is left to simmer inside by anyone who holds onto their anger too long. If anger cannot be expressed it leads to frustration, resentment and anxiety, causing relationships to suffer. For some people who find it hard to articulate themselves using words, or those who seek to avoid confrontation, anger can become addictive and destructive. There is a fine line between acknowledging anger in a healthy way, early on and losing control.
Triggers of anger:
There are many reasons why people feel unable to control their anger; often it is a family or cultural pattern that has never been questioned, or a response to abuse and trauma in childhood. In some families children are prohibited from expressing anger; in others being angry is unacceptable or a sign of weakness and failure. Tiredness, stress, pain and hormonal imbalances can all contribute to the problem. We all have ‘hooks’ or triggers for anger which can be identified and monitored to increase our awareness and help us to express ourselves early on without ‘blowing up’. Understanding what these triggers are and re-examining our thoughts around them, can be among the first steps to managing anger and changing our behaviours.
- The automatic response to a real and present danger which threatens to harm.
- Criticism or shaming behaviours of others e.g. humiliation or patronising voice tone of others.
- A response to the body language of others e.g. piercing stare, eyes rolling, shaking head.
- Avoiding confrontation or expressing anger until it’s too late.
- Unpredictable and volatile moods by significant others.
- Shouting and screaming by a loved one.
- An intense fear of being abandoned.
- Build-up of stress at work.
Symptoms of anger:
If left unchecked the symptoms of anger can build and cause more complex problems down the line. This means we come to rely on familiar coping mechanisms that may no longer be appropriate, or disproportionate to the situation. Therefore we need to become aware of the symptoms of anger if we are to recognise when anger and our dysfunctional coping mechanisms are becoming problematic.
- Depression or anxiety may indicate anger which is internalised and left unexpressed.
- Excessive feelings of fear about a perceived threat, which does not match the reality.
- Mood swings and explosive outbursts that cannot be controlled once triggered.
- Disproportionate feelings of vulnerability or being abandoned by a love one.
- Drug or alcohol dependence to numb feelings or cover up anger problems.
- Extremely controlling behaviour in order to avoid any sense of uncertainty.
- Domestic violence and abuse against one’s partners or children.
- Uncontrollable rages when driving or at work.
How we learn to manage our anger:
The goal of anger counselling and anger management is to reduce the intensity and state of arousal that anger creates. Counselling can help you to manage your anger and explore the underlying issues. Knowing how to recognise and express your anger in an appropriate way can help you reach your goals, solve problems and have your needs met. How could counselling help with anger?
- Examining the ‘hooks’ for our anger and understanding them – e.g. conflict in relationships where we a most likely to feel a sense of injustice, a fear of being abandoned, a sense of shame from being criticised.
- Monitoring the intensity and escalation of anger – so we can learn to step back from our anger, see the bigger picture and regulate our emotions before they become unmanageable or overwhelming.
- Learning to express anger a valid and legitimate emotion – the more we hold onto anger, avoid confrontation and leave it unexpressed the more it builds up inside and becomes explosive. We need to express anger when it is manageable to stand up for ourselves for legitimate reason e.g. the ability to say no to others when something feels inappropriate.
- Looking at our own unhealthy beliefs attached to our anger – justifying our anger with a sense of legitimate outrage or injustice, claiming to be victimised, a sense that the victim deserved what was coming.
- Reassessing some of the unhelpful beliefs about anger in our family – e.g. dispelling the idea that anger is only destructive, validating the persons need to express anger in a healthy way
- Understanding how anger affects our close relationships – understanding how we redirect stress or anger with others at work onto our loved ones, feeling let down when we are not cared for or protected by loved ones.
- Taking responsibility for our own arousal to anger – an awareness that if we monitor our triggers and express anger early on, we really do have choices, and that an angry outburst is not automatic or inevitable.