3 skills that can help people learn to better control their anger.
- Anger is a strong negative emotion that prepares us to fight or confront our enemies.
- Although it’s normal to feel angry at times, over-expressing anger or suppressing it can be detrimental to relationships and health.
- Some tips for managing anger include journaling to better understand what causes anger, reframing angry thoughts and practicing being assertive.
What Is Anger?
Anger is a strong negative emotion that arises as a result of what we perceive to be a threat or unfair treatment that blocks our goals. This had led some psychologists to propose that anger is simply our response when our “approach motivation“—or pursuit of good things—is blocked (Carver & Harmon-Jones, 2009). Anger is usually directed at others, includes increased physiological activation, and involves changes in our thought processes.
Although anger is considered to be a negative emotion, historical records suggest that it is normal to get at least mildly angry a few times per day to a few times per week (Berkowitz & Harmon-Jones, 2004). That leaves us with a lot of anger floating around. So how do we manage it?
The Importance of Managing Anger
Many negative emotions—emotions like sadness, shame, or fear—make us want to run and hide. But not anger. Anger makes us want to approach—to fight or confront our enemies. That makes anger a unique negative emotion. It’s important that we manage it so that we don’t over-express our anger, but we also have to be careful not to suppress our anger, as that can be bad for us too. Anger appears to be most beneficial when managed and expressed in a controlled, positive manner.
Anger emotions to manage might include:
Each of these emotions is thought to be closely related to anger and we may tend towards expressing some of these emotions more than others.
Managing Anger Out
When we think of a cartoon character with a bright red face and steam shooting out of his ears, we are thinking of “anger out.” This type of anger is expressed outwardly. Anger out can lead to challenges in personal relationships and at work. Who wants to be around someone who is yelling and irritable all the time? Anger management may be needed when anger is too frequent, too intense, too prolonged, or managed ineffectively.
Managing Anger In
When we think about managing anger, we don’t usually think about the people who suppress anger. Even if they are fuming from being poked, prodded, and tormented, they don’t respond with anger. Anger suppression, or “anger in,” can also have negative consequences. “Anger in” is related to increased hypertension while anger out is not (Hosseini et al., 2011).
What Triggers Anger?
Research suggests that an attitude of hostility, resentment, and suspiciousness may be related to increased anger (Fives, Kong, Fuller, & DiGiuseppe, 2011). Two other cognitions that lead to anger include awfulizing—or imagining a situation to be as bad as it can possibly be—and low frustration tolerance (Martin & Dahlen, 2004).
Another study among women found that anger was most often triggered by violations of personal values, feelings of powerlessness, and disrespectful treatment. The researchers suggested that women often feel anger when they want something to change, but are unable to make it so or even get people to listen to them. But in this study, women were able to regain a sense of power when using anger to restore justice, respect, and relationship reciprocity (Thomas, Smucker, & Droppleman, 1998).
Anger Management Training
Anger management is generally taught in the classroom. The goal is to share information, provide new perspectives, and help people practice anger management strategies. This approach provides the backdrop to help people empathize, provide feedback, and role-play conflicts.
To manage anger, we likely each benefit from different strategies. For example, those who express their anger too much may need to develop cognitive skills for reframing their experiences and regulating their emotions . On the flip side, those who suppress their anger may need to learn how to communicate their anger more directly.
Techniques for Managing Anger
1. Keep an anger journal: Journaling may help you better understand where your anger comes from and the thought processes that spiral it out of control. So, in your journal, try to explore what it is exactly that is triggering your anger. What thoughts are you having? What emotions are you having? What could you do to resolve your anger?
2. Manage angry thoughts: Try reframing your anger in ways that help you change the things that are bothering you.
3. Speak up for yourself: Practice being assertive, negotiating for yourself, and setting boundaries to reduce feelings of powerlessness.
Anger can be an intense emotion, but it can also be managed. Hopefully, these insights and tips will help you move in the right direction.
Adapted from an article published by The Berkeley Well-Being Institute.
Berkowitz, L., & Harmon-Jones, E. (2004). Toward an understanding of the determinants of anger. Emotion, 4(2), 107.
Carver, C. S., & Harmon-Jones, E. (2009). Anger is an approach-related affect: evidence and implications. Psychological bulletin, 135(2), 183.
Fives, C. J., Kong, G., Fuller, J. R., & DiGiuseppe, R. (2011). Anger, aggression, and irrational beliefs in adolescents. Cognitive therapy and research, 35(3), 199-208.
Martin, R. C., & Dahlen, E. R. (2004). Irrational beliefs and the experience and expression of anger. Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 22(1), 3-20.
Hosseini, S. H., Mokhberi, V., Mohammadpour, R. A., Mehrabianfard, M., & Lashak, N. B. (2011). Anger expression and suppression among patients with essential hypertension. International journal of psychiatry in clinical practice, 15(3), 214-218.
Thomas, S., Smucker, C., & Droppleman, P. (1998). It hurts most around the heart: A phenomenological exploration of women’s anger. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 28(2), 311-322
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