- Labeling yourself as angry reinforces the ongoing cycle of anger.
- Improving self-awareness can lead to better control of your anger.
- Learning to communicate effectively can help to reduce levels of anger.
"If I understood why I was angry, I wouldn't be talking to you," said Robert while clenching his teeth.
"I go from 0 to 100 in a flash," he continued, without allowing me to interject. I listened attentively as Robert attempted to dominate the session.
I work with a lot of people who suffer from unhealthy anger. It resonates with me because I struggled with anger until I was a young adult. This anger often manifested in outward aggression such as punching walls and other destructive behavior. I had been referred to as a "ticking time bomb" by a family member. I started to accept anger as part of my temperament, which only exacerbated my plight.
I use the term anger to refer to a spectrum ranging from mild irritability to rage. One of the challenges in treating people with anger is that it is not clearly defined as a disorder. As Moghadasin (2019) asserts, anger is associated with a wide variety of psychiatric disorders. We commonly find features of anger in diagnoses such as oppositional defiant disorder and intermittent explosive disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). However, we can also find features of anger in depression as well as posttraumatic stress disorder.
The treatment of anger can look different depending on the context. However, I do think there are some general ideas worth considering:
Avoiding "Angry" Labels
Labels—such as "ticking time bomb"—put us in a rigid box that is hard to escape. The only way someone can be an "angry" person is if they are angry all of the time. I have never met a person that was angry every waking moment of the day. It may be more helpful to view yourself as a person who sometimes gets angry and that anger does not make up your entire identity.
Journaling promotes greater self-awareness. As mentioned by Robert, he perceives himself as escalating from a balanced state to rage quickly. However, consistent journaling can uncover both stressors and seemingly imperceptible steps that take us to heightened emotions. In my own life, I noticed that my abdomen used to tense, my body would feel light, and I would start to pace. Recognizing these physiological symptoms allowed me to intervene before losing my temper.
I would suggest answering three basic questions in a daily journal entry. What happened (the frustrating event)? How did I feel (the emotion along with specific bodily sensations)? What need was I trying to meet (e.g., to feel heard, to defend myself)? You will gain better insight by noticing patterns in your thinking and behavior.
Cognitive Restructuring/Reframing Thoughts
Cognitive-behavioral interventions are often used for anger management (Lee & DiGiuseppe, 2018). Cognitive restructuring is a way of responding to unhelpful thoughts with more helpful ones. One way to do this is to avoid absolute statements such as "should" or "must." These statements lead to us feeling distressed. If I thought that the weather must be sunny tomorrow, I would become frustrated when I woke up and it was gloomy. A more related example can be taken from someone bumping into you while you are walking. Your immediate thought might be, "This person disrespected me; people must respect me." A better way to think of it is that "I would prefer if people respect me, but I don't have control over what people do."
Another way to do this—using the same example above—is to remind yourself that people behave the way they do for a variety of reasons. The chance that they bumped into you to offend you is just one of the plethora of potential reasons. Upon further investigation, you might find that the perceived transgression has nothing to do with you.
A study of more than 400 adolescents found that problem-solving can act as a potential mediator between anger and aggression (Kuzucu, 2016). This one is simple but underutilized. An important question to use when you are angry is, "What can I do about it?" A situation has occurred that you are not pleased with and now you are in a position to think through alternate solutions.
In a previous article, I spoke about calming strategies such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. It is important to practice utilizing these tools when you are at mild levels of disturbance as opposed to when you have lost control.
A final thought is that learning how to communicate your needs effectively is also a great way of mitigating anger. I wrote a book called Speak: A Simple Guide to Public Speaking that highlights my journey to becoming an effective communicator and strategies that others can follow to do the same. Articulating yourself clearly decreases the need for the actions associated with anger.
I shared this post because I am familiar with the role that anger plays in the lives of many people. How have you managed anger in your own life?
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596
Kuzucu, Y. (2016). Do anger control and social problem-solving mediate relationships between difficulties in emotion regulation and aggression in adolescents? Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice, 16(3).
Lee, A. H., & DiGiuseppe, R. (2018). Anger and aggression treatments: a review of meta-analyses. Current Opinion in Psychology, 19, 65–74.
Moghadasin, M. (2019). Prediction of anger expression of individuals with psychiatric disorders using the developed computational codes based on the various soft computing algorithms. The Spanish Journal of Psychology, 22.