Anger issues and how we deal with anger can often be traced back to what we experienced and learned as children. If you grew up in a family that screams at each other, throws things or hits each other, you might believe that this is an acceptable and normal way of expressing anger.
Ways of Dealing with Anger
There are three main ways of dealing with anger:
- Expression – this involves conveying your anger to the other person. Expression can range from a rational and reasonable conversation to a violent, ranting outburst.
- Suppression – this involves holding your anger in and either not outwardly expressing it at all or trying to convert it into a more constructive and acceptable emotion or behaviour. Suppression can be destructive though and can result in turning your anger inwards on yourself. Nothing, especially anger, can be suppressed forever, it will eventually come out in one form or another.
- Remaining calm – this involves controlling your outward expression of anger (i.e. your behaviour) as well as your internal responses by calming yourself and letting the emotion subside.
The most helpful and healthy form of dealing with anger is through constructive expression, this refers to expressing your concerns, feelings and needs clearly and directly, without hurting yourself or others or trying to manipulate or control them.
Tips for Taming your Temper
1. Examine what’s behind your anger
Often (not always) anger is a cover up for other feelings. When struggling with anger, which may be inappropriate to the situation, stop and ask yourself: “Am I really angry? Or is this something else?” Anger can present itself in place of other feelings such as hurt, shame, insecurity, vulnerability, or embarrassment.
Anger can often be triggered by what we “think” has happened – a person being inconsiderate or finding yourself in a frustrating situation. The anger you are experiencing however has little to do with what has actually happened to you than how you have interpreted the situation. Negative thinking patterns can trigger and fuel anger.
Common negative thinking patterns:
- overgeneralising – examples: “You never listen to me.”, “You always take his side.”, “Everyone thinks I’m always wrong.”
- mind reading / jumping to conclusions – assuming that you know what another person is thinking or feeling i.e. that a person deliberately did something, knowing that it would upset you.
- collecting straws – looking for and focusing on things that upset you, ignoring or minimising any positives. Allowing small irritations to build until you reach your limit (“the final straw”) and you explode.
- shoulds and musts – having a rigid idea of how things should or must be and then getting upset when reality does not match up to this vision.
- blaming – nothing is ever your fault, you blame others for things that happen to you, never taking responsibility for your life.
2. Take note of your anger triggers & warning signs
It may feel as if you have no control over your anger, that it just explodes from within you without any warning; but this is not true, your body gives you signals which you need to become aware of.
Anger is an innate (natural, intuitive) response to a perceived threat, it triggers the “fight or flight” response in us. Thus, the angrier you get, the more your body responds and gets ready to fight or run. By becoming familiar with your own warning signs when your temper starts getting the better of you, you are allowing yourself the time and space in which to take the necessary steps to keep you anger in check.
Physical signs to pay attention to:
- stomach turns into knots / butterflies
- pounding heart
- clenching of your fists and / or jaw
- tension in your shoulders
- feeling clammy (sweaty) or flushed
- breathing faster
- pacing, needing to walk around, agitated fidgeting
- trouble concentrating
Something else to consider is avoiding places, situations and people who may trigger your irritability or anger. Stress inducing people, events and situations are no excuse for poor anger management. Get to know and understand the types of environments and people who trip your anger switch e.g. 5 o’clock bumper-to-bumper traffic; the friend who knows it all, has seen it all and done it all. Brainstorm ideas around how to either avoid these triggers or deal with them differently so that it doesn’t turn into a stressful, irritating situation for you.
3. Learn to calm down
Once you’ve identified your triggers and warning signs, the next step is to deal with your rising anger before it boils over. There are a variety of strategies that can help you keep your cool and anger in place.
Cooling down strategies:
- slowly count to 10 – this sounds ridiculous but it does work. Focus on the counting and allow your rational mind to catch up with your running wild emotions. If you’re still feeling like your about to explode by the time you’ve reached ten, start counting again. Repeat as many times as it takes for you to calm down.
- take a deep breath – deep, slow breathing is a form of relaxation and counteracts increasing tension in the body. When you are angry your breathing rate increases and becomes shallow – part of the “fight or flight” response. By slowing down your breathing and breathing deeply you are telling your body to “stand down” and relax.
- exercise – a brisk walk or jog helps to release pent up energy and tension, it may also remove you from the situation which is causing the stress and anger thus giving you time to clear your head and cool off.
- focus on the physical signs of anger – by turning your attention to how your body is reacting and feeling, the tension may dissipate and the intensity of your anger may pass.
It may also help to stop for a moment and put things into perspective – ask yourself the following questions:
- how important is this in the greater scheme of things?
- is it really worth getting this upset about?
- is my response appropriate to the situation?
- is there anything I can do about it?
- is this a good use of my time and energy?
4. Find healthy ways of expressing yourself
If you feel that the situation is worth getting upset about and that you are able to make a difference because of it, you need to know how to express your feelings in a healthy, positive way.
Know what you are angry about
Often big arguments happen over small things – the problem here is that there is usually a bigger issue, that has been brewing for some time and the “small”, unrelated thing has triggered your anger. If you find yourself in this situation or where you can feel your anger snowballing into something bigger, stop and ask yourself “What am I really angry about?” By identifying the real source of your anger, you will be able to communicate what your frustration is about and hopefully in a more constructive expressive manner.
Take a time-out
If you feel your anger is spiralling out of control, it’s best to remove yourself from the situation until you’ve calmed down enough to continue the discussion calmly and constructively. This may mean leaving the room or house, going for a walk, doing some chores or running an errand.
Use “I” statements
Don’t get caught in a blaming contest – always use “I” statements to describe the problem and remember to be respectful and specific e.g. “I am upset that you left the majority of the assignment for me to answer and type up” instead of “You always let me down, you never pull your weight or do your share of the work.“
Keep it clean
There are going to be times when an argument cannot be avoided, it is then that you need to remember to fight fair. By keeping an argument “clean” and fair you will be more likely to get your point across in a clear and respectful manner.
- focus on the present – don’t bringing up past grievances and transgressions, keep the focus of the argument on the current problem rather than confusing things and assigning blame.
- winning is not everything – maintaining and working on the relationship should be your main priority when arguing, not “winning” or “being right”. Be respectful of the other persons opinion and standpoint.
- pick your battles – conflict and arguing can be soul destroying and draining, you need to decide whether the issue is really important enough for you to invest your time and energy arguing over it.
- know when to let it go – it takes two people to have an argument, if there is no end in sight or an agreement is not possible, agree to disagree, disengage and walk away.
- learn to forgive – conflict resolution is impossible without forgiveness. To reach a resolution means to stop seeking to punish the other party. If you cannot let go and forgive there is no resolution and the argument will continue be it in a day, a month or a years time.
American Psychological Association. (2015). Controlling Anger Before it Controls You. Retrieved from: http://www.apa.org/topics/anger/control.aspx [Accessed on: 19 April 2015].
Mayo Clinic. (2014). Anger Management: 10 Tips to Tame your Temper. Retrieved from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/adult-health/in-depth/anger-management/art-20045434 [Accessed on: 19 April 2015].
Segal, R. & Smith, M. (2014). Anger Management: Tips & Techniques for Getting Anger Under Control. Retrieved from: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/emotional-health/anger-management.htm [Accessed on: 19 April 2015].