Managing Anger

Anger is a difficult but important emotion. Feeling anger lets us know that our needs or desires are being frustrated in some way, and can provide the "fuel" to make us do something about it. Feeling angry is not "wrong". It is important information that we need to take notice of. However, anger can also be very destructive if it is not harnessed correctly. Anger that is not expressed at all can fester away inside you and cause emotional and physical problems. But anger that is expressed without control can damage your relationships and create havoc in your life.

Justified and unjustified anger

The first step in managing anger is recognising and accepting your right to be angry. All anger is okay in itself. But this does not mean that all anger is justified. Justified anger is anger that is fair and reasonable in the circumstances. You would be justified in feeling angry, for example, is someone pushed in front of you in a queue.

However, not all anger is justified. For example, let's say you forget your boyfriend/girlfriend's birthday and they get upset and tell you off. You then start to feel angry. Is your boyfriend/girlfriend's anger justified? Is yours? Most people would probably agree that you would be justified to feel angry if your partner forgot your birthday. They would probably also agree that the person who forgot should apologise rather than getting angry back. Sometimes we feel unjustified anger. It is not wrong to feel this anger, but we need to be careful about what we do with it. In the above situation, for example, you might recognise that you are feeling angry at being criticised, but choose to apologise anyway and just accept the angry feeling without expressing it to your partner.

Even when anger is justified, however, this does not mean that the way you express that anger is necessarily justified. If your partner decided to punish you for the forgotten birthday by destroying something that belongs to you, for example, this would not be justified.

The key points are:

  • All anger is okay. You don't need to feel bad about feeling angry, whatever the reason.
  • Anger is sometimes justified and sometimes not justified.
  • Regardless of whether your anger is justified or not, you are responsible for how you express it. Even if you are angry with good cause, this does not necessarily justify your actions.

Controlling anger

A rush of anger can be accompanied by a feeling of sudden recklessness and power as adrenalin floods your body, preparing it for "flight or fight". Anger creates an unpleasant build up of pressure. The rush of adrenalin promises to relieve the pressure in an angry outburst. However, while losing control may relieve the pressure, it is also likely to cause damage to your relationships, yourself, or other people or things. Here are a few simple anger management techniques that can help you to keep your cool under pressure:

Recognising warning signs

What are the signs that alert you that you are close to losing your temper. Typical signs might be:

  • Blood rushing to your head
  • Heart pounding
  • Sweating
  • Clenching fists
  • Rapid breathing

When you recognise these warning signs, it is important to take immediate steps to reduce the "anger pressure". Anger is much easier to control when you haven't built up too much of a head of steam.

Time out

A simple and easy technique is to take a break from the situation that is causing the anger, if possible. For example if you are having an argument with your boyfriend/girlfriend and you notice you are getting close to losing your temper, you can say to them "Look, I think I need to take a break for a moment. Can we come back to this later?" It's a good idea to say how long the break will be, e.g., five, ten minutes. Then, when you have calmed down a bit, return to continue the discussion.

Breathing techniques

Slow, deep breathing can help calm your body down. Try taking five or ten long, calming breaths when you are feeling close to "losing it".

Use calming self-talk

What you think when under pressure can either throw water or petrol on the fire of your anger. Try calming thoughts such as:

  • Cool it!
  • Calm down... you can handle this.
  • Don't fly off the handle. Think it through.
  • Don't let it get to you. It's not worth it.

Avoid thoughts which fire you up, such as negative thoughts about the other person.

Count to ten

It's simple, but it can help! Counting distracts you for a moment from the cause of your anger and gives you time to calm down enough to stop an outburst.

Things that don't work

It was once believed that taking out one's anger in some harmless way such as hitting a pillow or a punching bag was an effective way to let off steam, but it is now thought that redirecting physical aggression in this way can actually make anger problems worse. Violent sports and activities which promote violence such as violent video games, can also contribute to anger problems.

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