Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; but you are the one gets burned – Buddha
Anger is a pervasive social response that may be both useful and normal or disruptive and abnormal. When anger is low to moderate in intensity, and the problem at hand is relatively easy, anger may be useful. For example when a sales person is disrespectful to you or your child has done something you specifically told them not to. Healthy, moderate and controlled anger can be useful.
In contrast, when anger is strong, and the task is complex, it often leads to problems. When a parent is trying to figure out how to motivate a child to do their math homework or how a couple will decide to manage finances, anger can be problematic if it is too strong. These are very complex issues that have many considerations and perspectives. There is often not 1 clear way to go about solving or resolving the issue. Anger can be problematic when it is too strong, frightening or used to force a solution. These cases the anger may become greater than the person using it and the effects of anger create problems instead of solving things.
People who consistently use anger to resolve problem often find they get more problems than they solve. One of the first points of knowledge for clients who use anger to learn is that they are more likely to cope effectively with the stressors of daily life if their angry arousal is low to moderate rather than extreme.
Anger is defined as a felt emotional state. We differentiate anger from hostility and aggression. Normal healthy anger is a felt state and most often does not lead to aggression. Rather it is a felt experience that typically follows unwanted, aversive interactions with close friends, colleagues and family members.
People’s anger who then leads into hostility and aggression are more at risk of having problems. When a person is so angry that they seek to lash out, get even or seek revenge through aggressive means, this is no longer anger. This is aggression. Aggression causes problems for the person because most social settings do not permit this type of behavior. It is also not good for relationships.
When looking at anger, there are several dimensions over which it is evaluated to see if it is a problem. We look at intensity, which can be defined by words such as angered, aggravated, antagonized, indignant or mad. These states usually describe more internalized feelings of anger. Other words at the other end of the spectrum, such as crazed, enraged, rabid, unhinged or wild reflect intensity as well as behavioral disorganization. At this end people start to experience problems from their anger intensity.
Duration is another aspect of anger that must be considered. Some anger episodes are fleeting. The anger emerges and the person may explode with great intensity but then as suddenly it is over. This behavior may meet the diagnosis for “intermittent explosive disorder.”
Whereas other clients will seethe for days, weeks, months or even years. They have a festering, ruminative anger that is truly enduring and problematic. These people will have long laundry lists of complaints and find it difficult to let go. When people are this angry, it is often difficult for them to sustain healthy relationships.
Frequency is another way to evaluate anger. Some people high on anger use it frequently in response to many different triggers or problems and in many different environments. It is almost as though it is a character trait, rather than a way to respond to situations. People who use anger so frequently stop using other tools and as a result relationships suffer. Anger used infrequently or to appropriate situations is healthy and normal. But when the frequency becomes to often and used as a response to almost everything, this is a problem for the person and those around them.
Body changes mark people who have an anger problem. Physiological changes such as sweating, jittery, trembling and heart racing are coming for very angry people. They may experience muscle tension, tight jaws and headaches. In addition they may observe their own clenched fists and other anger-related motor behaviors such as raised voice, or slamming a book on the desk or slamming a door.
Lastly people with anger issues have well recognized cognitive or perceptual distortions and deficiencies. These distorted ways of thinking lead clients to become “Prisoners of Hate.” (Beck, 1999).
Common thinking errors are:
· Catastrophizing (also called fortune telling): You predict the future negatively without considering other more likely outcomes. Example: “I’ll be so upset, I won’t be able to function at all.”
· Disqualifying or discounting the positive: You unreasonable tell yourself that positive experiences, deeds, or qualities do not count. Example: “I did that project well, but that doesn’t mean I’m competent; I just got lucky.”
· Emotional reasoning: You think something must because you “feel” (actually believe) it so strongly, ignoring or discounting evidence to the contrary. Example: “I know I do a lot of things okay at work, but I still feel like I’m a failure.”
· Labeling: You put a fixed, global label on yourself or others without considering that the evidence might more reasonable lead to a less disastrous conclusion. Example: “I’m a loser. He’s no good.”
· Magnification/minimization: When you evaluate yourself, another person, or a situation, you unreasonable magnify the negative and/or minimize the positive. Example: “Getting a mediocre evaluation proves how inadequate I am. Getting high marks doesn’t mean I’m smart.”
Often people with anger issues feel a constant sense of injustice of what has happened to them or around of them. They are very high demandingness of other and very low tolerance for things that do not work out as they think they should. They are very negative in their rating of others and self.
Many times clients who have used anger are social and relationally “rewarded.” In other words when they use anger it works to get them what they want. So often a good part of therapy is to involved adult family members as part of the therapy so they can learn how to change their behavior as well.
Solutions to Anger Issues
Many times people who use angry try and “control” or “stop” their anger. These are not effective strategies. As humans, all we can do is behave. So if your solution is to stopping behaving, this won’t work. Instead the person with anger must learn new things to choose, new ways to think and new problem solving skills.
Resolving an anger problem won’t be effectively fixed by “white knuckling it” through difficult situation. Clients will need a comprehensive clinical intervention that targets all aspects that drive the anger.
Anger Management issues are often a complex series of behavioral, physiological, learned responses and thinking. Counselling helps people who over use anger to develop more effective thinking, problem solving and stress management skills.
Therapy for anger addresses the following issues:
· Helping clients to address their triggers for anger
· Challenge and replace unhelpful thinking and self talk
· Expand a client’s frustration tolerance and learn more effective ways to deal with situation that do not go as the client would like
· Improve problem solving and relationships skills that require problem solving
· Replace rigid thinking with flexible thinking
· Evaluate the life they have created and see where they can remove or replace unnecessary stressors
People who choose anger can learn to replace it with more effective behaviors. If you are finding that your use of anger is ruining your relationships at work and/or home, contact us to learn how we might help you.