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The term anger management commonly refers to a system of psychological therapeutic techniques and exercises by which one with excessive or uncontrollable anger can control or reduce the triggers, degrees, and effects of an angered emotional state.
Healthy adults need to be able to hint, to use or to pretend "anger": either management or mismanagement (or both), as is appropriate. Competent teachers, law-enforcement & other authority figures are especially skilled in anger management. Teams of such practitioners may decide beforehand or in real-time, to play "Good-Bad Cop" roles.
Typical anger management "techniques" are the use of deep breathing and meditation as a mean to relaxation. As the issue of anger varies from person to person, the treatments are designed to be personal to the individual.
Anger in modern society
In modern society, anger is viewed as an immature or uncivilized response to frustration, threat, violation, or loss. Conversely, keeping calm, coolheaded, or turning the other cheek is considered more socially acceptable. This conditioning can cause inappropriate expressions of anger, such as uncontrolled, violent outbursts or misdirected anger, or, at the other extreme, repressing feelings of anger (or lacking them altogether) when those feelings would be an appropriate response to the situation. Also, anger that is constantly “bottled up” can lead to persistent violent thoughts or nightmares, or even physical symptoms like headaches, ulcers, or hypertension.
It is important to manage anger effectively because mismanaged anger can aggravate mental health problems. Anger can fuel depression, which makes a person feel as if they are enveloped in a dark cloud for a very long time. People who are depressed generally don’t take care of themselves and they may not bother to eat properly, dress smartly or work efficiently. They indulge in self destructive activities, such as too much drinking, smoking, eating, taking risks, and not watching their finances. Depressed people have less energy, reduced appetite, and need more sleep. Their work performance will drop and relationships will deteriorate. Many people believe that depression is in fact anger turned inward. The reason for this assumption is because many depressives react to stress by turning their anger inward as a response to physical or emotional abuse, or neglect from parents or parent figures. After a while the coping mechanisms become habits that they use inappropriately and indiscriminately whenever they perceive loss or frustration. Depressives tend to grow up believing that if they are hurt or abused, there are merely two options available, which are self-blame and denial of blame. One secondary effect of the depressive’s denial of anger is that their interpersonal relationships are often unhappy and they do not get the ‘breaks’ that other people seem to get. They may not get promotions, social invitations or love because the reality is that most people do not want to be around depressed people for any length of time, both at home and at work. Another side effect of anger is that it can fuel obsessions, phobias and addictions. Obsessions and phobias arise from situations when, for some reason or another, we feel we are either losing control of ourselves or the world around us. Anger can also fuel manic tendencies. Many people who are not able to express their anger let it out in furious activity. Sometimes this activity reaches a breaking point and results in depression, which is commonly referred to as bipolar disorder. Anger can also fan the flames of paranoia and prejudice, even in normal, everyday situations. People tend to express their anger either passively or aggressively with the basic ‘flight’ response, which is repression and denial of anger. Aggressive behaviour is associated with the ‘fight’ response and the use of the verbal and physical power of anger to abuse and hurt others.
Passive anger can be expressed in the following ways:-
- Secretive behaviour, such as stockpiling resentments that are expressed behind people’s backs or through sly digs, giving the silent treatment or under the breath mutterings, avoiding eye contact, putting people down, gossip, anonymous complaints, poison pen letters, stealing, conning.
- Manipulation, such as provoking people to aggression and then patronising forgiveness, provoking aggression but staying on the sidelines, emotional blackmail, tearfulness, feigning illness, sabotaging relationships, using sexual provocation, using a third party to convey negative feelings, withholding money or resources.
- Self-blame, such as apologising too often, being overly critical, inviting criticism.
- Self-sacrifice, such as being overly helpful, pointedly making do with second best, quietly making long suffering signs but refusing help, or lapping up gratefulness and making friendly digs where it is not forthcoming.
- Ineffectual, such as setting yourself and others up for failure, choosing unreliable people to depend on, being accident prone, underachieving, sexual impotence, expressing frustration at insignificant things but ignoring serious ones.
- Dispassionate, such as giving the cold shoulder or phony smiles, looking cool, sitting on the fence while others sort things out, dampening feelings with substance abuse (to include overeating), oversleeping, not responding to other’s anger, frigidity, indulging in sexual practices that depress spontaneity and make objects of participants, giving inordinate amounts of time to machines, objects or intellectual pursuits, talking of frustrations but showing no feeling.
- Obsessional behaviour, such as needing to be clean and tidy, making a habit of constantly checking, over-dieting or overeating, demanding that all jobs are done perfectly.
- Evasiveness, such as turning your back in a crisis, avoiding conflict, not arguing back, becoming phobic.
Aggressive anger can be displayed as:-
- Threatening, such as frightening people by saying how you could harm them, their property or their prospects, finger pointing, fist shaking, wearing clothes associated with violent behaviour, driving on someone’s tail, setting on a car horn, slamming doors.
- Hurtful, such as physical violence, verbal abuse, unfair jokes, breaking a confidence, playing loud music, using foul language, ignoring people’s feelings, wilfully discriminating, blaming or punishing people for deeds they are known not to have committed, labelling others.
- Destructive, such as harming objects, deliberately wasting resources, wantonly polluting the environment, knowingly destroying a relationship between two people, driving recklessly, drinking too much.
- Bullying, such as threatening people, persecuting, pushing or shoving, using power to oppress, shouting, using a powerful car to force someone off the road, purposely glaring at people with full beam headlights, playing on people’s weaknesses.
- Unjustly blaming, such as accusing other people for your own mistakes, blaming people for your own feelings, making general accusations.
- Manic, such as speaking too fast, walking too fast, working too much and expecting others to fit in, driving too fast, reckless spending.
- Grandiose, such as showing off, expressing mistrust, not delegating, being a poor loser, wanting centre stage all the time, not listening, talking over people’s heads, expecting kiss and make-up sessions to solve problems.
- Selfish, such as ignoring other’s needs, not responding to requests for help, queue jumping, ‘cutting in’ when driving.
- Revengeful, such as being over-punitive, refusing to forgive and forget, bringing up hurtful memories from the past.
- Unpredictable, such as blowing hot and cold, explosive rages over minor frustrations, attacking indiscriminately, dispensing punishment out of the blue, inflicting harm on other just for the sake of it, using drink and drugs that are known to destabilise mood, using illogical arguments.
Handling anger assertively
Psychologists recommend a balanced approach to anger, which both controls the emotion and allows the emotion to express itself in a healthy way. Examples of which are:
- Direct, such as not beating around the bush, making behaviour visible and conspicuous, using body language to indicate feelings clearly and honestly, anger directly at persons concerned.
- Honourable, such as making it apparent that there is some clear moral basis for the anger, being prepared to argue your case, never using manipulation or emotional blackmail, never abusing another person’s basic human rights, never unfairly depowering the weak or defenceless, taking responsibility for actions.
- Focuses, such as sticking to the issue of concern, not bringing up irrelevant material.
- Persistent, such as repeating the expression of feeling in the argument over and over again, standing your ground.
- Courageous, such as taking calculated risks, enduring short term discomfort for long term gain, risking displeasure of some people some of the time, taking the lead, not showing fear of other’s anger, standing outside the crowd and owing up to differences, using self-protective skills.
- Passionate, such as using full power of the body to show intensity of feeling, being excited and motivated, acting dynamically and energetically, initiating change, showing fervent caring, being fiercely protective, enthusing others.
- Creative, such as thinking quickly, using more wit, spontaneously coming up with new ideas and new views on subjects.
- Forgiving, such as demonstrating a willingness to hear other people’s anger and grievances, showing an ability to wipe the slate clean once anger has been expressed.
Components of anger management programs
While there are many approaches to anger management they generally have the following components which help the person:
- Admit and accept responsibility for their angry behavior.
- Recognize old patterns of undesirable behavior.
- Identify the link between angry thoughts and behavior.
- Quickly recognize anger and other emotions leading to aggressive behavior.
- Identify these other associated provocative emotions which lead to aggression (eg jealousy, helplessness).
- Develop the ability to identify negative self talk and to produce positive self talk.
- Improve self awareness.
- Become proficiient in using thought stopping techniques.
- Identify and change unhealthy coping styles and self-defeating strategies.
- Identify ineffective patterns of interpersonal communication.
- Learn to understand and respect psychological boundaries.
- Learn to develop appropriate assertiveness
- Learn to develop conflict resolution skills.
Using compassion to defuse anger
Dr. Steven Stosny, a psychologist from Maryland, has developed another approach to anger management. His basic premise is that anger stems from an experience that triggers an individual's core hurts. Instead of taking a cognitive therapy approach to fix the problem, Stosny advocates compassion as a means of defusing anger. Compassion protects an individual from core hurts through perspective-taking, avoids stimulating anger in others, and provides a layer of protection from betrayed trust. Core hurts include the following feelings:
- Accused (guilty, untrustworthy, or distrusted)
The core of the Stosny approach is an exercise named HEALS, an acronym for the following steps:
- Healing -- Imagine the word "HEALING" flashing in front of you. This stops the emotional arousal and provides mental imagery to stimulate the body's healing responses.
- Explain to yourself the core hurt that is causing the problem.
- Apply self-compassion. Ask if the external event or someone else's behavior mean that you're unimportant, not valuable, or unlovable.
- Love yourself.
- Solve the problem. Once you are more calm and relaxed, you will have a better ability to solve the problem than when you are psychologically aroused.
Stosny's theories and program are featured in a number of workshops and books, and he has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show and in other popular media. However, some psychologists who have studied anger have criticized the lack of stringent review and controlled studies of his approach.
- Aggression Replacement Training
- Anger control
- Behavior therapy
- Behavior modification
- Explosive disorder
- Self control
References & Bibliography
- Anger Management for Kids (PDF) Ideas for teaching your child about how to deal with anger from Seattle Children's Hospital
- A Buddhist View on Anger
- Means of Releasing Anger
- Emotionalviolence.com: Resources and information on anger management
- Psychology Today, "The Lion Tamer", Jul/Aug 2005
- Compassion Power (Steven Stosny's site)
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