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A Minute Therapist Guide to Managing Anger

"When anger rises, think of the consequences." –Confucius

Pixabay CCO Public Domain
Source: Pixabay CCO Public Domain

We make ourselves angry when we feel mistreated and tell ourselves that we just can’t stand it when someone treats us this way. By reframing angering events as problems requiring solutions, you can control your reactions so you're not provoked to anger whenever unsettling events occur. Here’s the run-down on three steps to controlling anger:

1. First, acknowledge your anger. Taking control of your anger depends on owning up to it. Recognize and acknowledge your anger when you experience it. Don’t attempt to deny it or cover it up to others or to yourself. Denying anger prevents you from rethinking your response to anger-inducing situations

2. Second, take responsibility for your anger. The very language of anger places us in the role of a passive observer to our own emotions. We speak of being "overcome" by anger, of being "brought to anger" by others, or being "driven" to hostile acts by anger.

Correct these faulty beliefs by practicing rational self-talk that recognizes that you manufacture your own emotions based on how you evaluate life events. When you're feeling angry, say to yourself, "He (or she) may have done this awful thing to me. But what makes me angry is what I'm saying to myself. I'm making myself feel angry by what I'm thinking and saying to myself."

Recognizing that you are the source of your own anger empowers you to control your angry responses by changing what you say to yourself in angering situations.

3. Third, change angering self-talk into calming self-talk. Just as you can talk yourself into anger, you can talk yourself of out of anger. First calm yourself down by taking deep breaths, focusing on a mental image of a calming place or time, or just count slowly to 10. Then examine your inner dialogue or self-talk, the things you say to yourself that jump-start your anger. Use countering statements to talk back to yourself whenever you're feeling angry:

  • Did he (or she) really mean to do this to me personally? Or is this just their ineffectual way of handling their own problems?
  • Am I taking this situation too personally?
  • Are there other ways of viewing their behavior other than as a personal affront?

When you take provocations personally, your first reaction is to fight back or defend yourself, often angrily in words or through hostile actions. You may later realize that the perceived affront was not directed at your personally. Or tell yourself to get even, not mad.

Reappraise anger-inducing events. One way to diffuse an anger-provoking situation is to take a more understanding attitude toward the person who provokes you, as in saying to yourself, "He must really be having problems at home to act this way.”

Counter angering self-talk. Suppose you hear yourself saying to yourself, "That jerk! Who does he think he is? I'll teach him a lesson he'll not soon forget!” This is angering self-talk. Unless you come to grips with the dialogue in your head, you will always be a step or two behind your emotional responses. To counter angering self-talk, practice talking to yourself in ways that reflect understanding or that assume a detached attitude, as in these examples:

  • "I feel sorry for people who have to lash out at others in order to feel good about themselves."
  • "She must really have a problem to act this way."
  • "He's acting like a real jerk. But that's his problem, not mine.”
  • “Whatever mean spirited thing she may do or say, I don't have to act at her level."

Someone who stoops to the level of insults or intentionally hurts other people likely suffers from a deep sense of inadequacy and frustration. Anger incites anger. It's all too easy to let someone else's anger incite your own. But when you approach the other person with empathy (accurate understanding of the other person’s feelings), you quell the tendency to respond to inappropriate anger with anger of your own.

If you continue to struggle with controlling your anger, seek a consultation with a psychologist or other health care professional. Controlling anger is a learned skill, but you don’t have to do it on your own.

(c) 2016 Jeffrey S. Nevid