How to manage your anger better (practical tips from a therapist)
In this post, Bekke Abe will help you manage your anger better by helping you:
- Identify the type of anger, you or your loved one may be experiencing;
- Practice physical ways to reduce the symptoms of your anger;
- Learn more effective ways to engage in conflict;
- And by helping you acquire the right support and skills to manage your anger better long-term.
Bekke Abe is a Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist based in Sierra Madre, Downtown LA and Burbank. Bekke is currently working under the supervision of Dr Curtis Miller. You can learn more about what Bekke does and how she does it in her profile.
Feeling anger is normal
“We all know what anger is, and we’ve all felt it: whether as a fleeting annoyance or as full-fledged rage. Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy, human emotion. But when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems – problems at work, in your personal relationships, and in the overall quality of your life.”
– the American Psychological Association in “Controlling anger before it controls you”.
Everyone has triggers that make them angry. However, these are some of the most common triggers: feeling threatened, attacked, provoked, frustrated, powerless, invalidated, mistreated, disrespected or violated in terms of your personal space.
It’s also common to feel angry when you sense inequity, injustice or when you’re going through relationship struggles.
Experiencing anger is normal. When you feel like your anger is affecting your life, your relationships or your ability to reason or rationalize when you need to, it may be outside the normal emotional scope.
What type of anger do you experience?
Before we jump into ways you can manage your anger better, let’s first take a look at 8 different types of anger.
1. Chronic or habitual anger
This describes when you hold onto anger for a prolonged period of time (longer than several months).
Holding onto anger can weaken the immune system. It can cause health problems like cardiovascular disease and hypertension.
This form of anger can alienate an individual from family, friends, and others – and it’s also may get individuals into trouble with the law.
2. Volatile anger or Intermittent explosive disorder
This type of anger is when you experience sudden episodes of aggressive, violent behaviour.
It can be angry verbal outbursts that are grossly out of proportion to the situation. This kind of anger may put you in at risk for self-harm; violence towards others; destruction to property or a significant increase of significant strain on your relationships.
3. Passive-aggressive anger
Passive-aggressive anger is associated with hidden anger. It is “a deliberate, but covert way of expressing feelings of anger (Long, Long & Whitson, 2009) and it most often motivated by a person’s fear of expressing anger directly (Whitson, S., L.S.W., Oct. 18, 2016, “Understanding passive-aggressive behavior“),” explains Signe Whitson.
You’re more likely to oppress your anger if you were taught as a child that expressing anger was punishable or unacceptable.
You’re also unlikely to express anger if you witnessed anger as a destructive force in your family.
4. Overwhelming anger
You can experience Overwhelming Anger when there are multiple challenges or high demands that occur in rapid succession of each other.
It usually happens when you feel your usual coping skills aren’t helping you.
Here are some situations that may make you feel so overwhelmed, you experience anger:
- When you experience work demands;
- Financial difficulties;
- Big life transitions (i.e., having a baby, buying a home, caring for your ageing parents); or
- Going through relationship problems.
6. Self-inflicted or self-directed anger
Self-inflicted anger direct your anger onto yourself because you have the perceived belief that you have done something wrong.
Here are some self-inflicted or self-directed behaviors that stem from anger: self-cutting, binge eating, starving, or avoidant/restrictive eating.
7. Judgmental anger
Judgemental Anger is when you find yourself critically nitpicking, putting others down, finding fault, or condemning others.
When you’re consistently judging others, you may struggle from low self-esteem, using your judgement as a defense mechanism.
You’re trying to find a way to protect yourself from being hurt by others.
When your anger exceeds normal levels, how should you understand and manage your anger rather than suppress it or become reactive?
Here are some tips and tools to help you manage your anger:
4 Physical exercises that will help you manage your anger better in the moment:
1. Practice deep breathing:
Deep breathing is a great way to reduce immediate tension, relieve stress, and decrease the immediate symptoms of anger. Here’s a step-by-step video on how to do deep breathing: City of Hope: 15-minute deep breathing exercise.
2. Practice muscle relaxation techniques:
Muscle relaxation techniques will help you become aware of your body because you learn to tune into your physical sensations. Get started by concentrating on the specific areas you experience tension in and try to relax those areas. Here’s a video will help you: How to do progressive muscle relaxation.
3. Practice visualizing yourself being calm:
Using visualization can practically help you reduce the symptoms associated with anger. You can start by imagining yourself in someplace you love. This could be imagining you’re sitting on the beach, laying in a grassy meadow, watching the sunset on top of a mountain or being somewhere you feel happy.
If you imagine yourself in a grassy meadow, for example, really envision what it’s like there.
Hear the sound of birds; hear the wind blowing softy through the trees; smell the grass and the wildflowers and feel of the warmth of the sun on your skin.
4. Practice knowing your body and when it feels anger:
Being aware of your body when you become angry will help you step away from the situation or utilize deep breathing, muscle relaxation, or visualization techniques.
Try and pinpoint when you become angry. If you’re not sure, start with some of the physical signs. You may:
- feel your heart increase;
- clench your jaws or grind of teeth;
- feel like you’re shaking or trembling;
- start feeling hot in the face/neck;
- cup your fist with your hand;
- start rubbing your head; or
- raise your voice, yell, scream, or cry.
4 Ways you can manage your anger better when you’re in a tense situation WITH someone else
1. Practice thinking right before you speak.
Taking a few minutes to think before you speak will help you reduce the chances of saying something that you might later regret.
Here’s how you can do it. Before you react, take a moment to stop and reflect on the event or situation.
Check your feelings and see if it’s based on the actual events. Perhaps they’re based on a much deeper frustration than the actual event unfolding?
When you take a moment to pause, you can analyze what you feel and then contemplate on how you want to address how you felt.
This way, you can also take away the emotional bombardment. It’s more likely that this will help you communicate what you feel more clearly to the other person without pushing them into unyielding defensive mode.
2. Practice “I-statements”.
“I-statements” help both you and whoever you’re speaking to smooth out misunderstandings without jumping to the wrong conclusion and assumptions of what the other person is feeling.
I-Statements work by enabling you to communicate YOUR feelings or beliefs rather than focusing on the thoughts and characteristics of the other person (the listener).
If you only zoom in on the other person, they may gear into a defensive mode.
If you’re not sure what that is, this video is helpful > I-Statements.
3. Practice active and reflective listening.
If you’re not sure how to practice active and reflective listening, this video might be helpful > “What is reflective listening?”.
Active and reflective listening will help you make the other person feel that they have been heard, seen, understood and that they’re supported.
4. Practice taking a “timeout”.
Taking a break amidst a fight will help you decrease your anger and de-escalate arguments.
During a timeout, practice one of the relaxation tools: deep breathing, muscle relaxation, or visualizing being calm.
Make sure that you re-engage with the other person or partner to state your concerns utilizing “I” statements. You can follow that up by using active and reflecting listening.
When do you need extra help to manage your anger better?
Sometimes utilizing tools and resources to control anger can be challenging.
KEEP IN MIND
Using these tools I mentioned above may not be enough. If you feel that the anger you experience is overwhelming, uncontrollable, or unmanageable, there is more support.
If anger is harming your daily living, a mental health counselor, a therapist, or even an anger management support group is a really helpful tool.
How can a therapist help you manage your anger better?
A therapist / mental health professional can:
- Create a space you feel free actually to explore the root of your feelings of anger.
- Give you the freedom to express the magnitude and complexity of what you feel, whether that’s anger, frustration, hurt, annoyance or irritability. You can express whatever you feel.
- Help you talk about the things that you wouldn’t usually feel comfortable
- Give you a space to talk about your past experiences, your trauma, your anxiety, your depression, and any other challenges that might be triggering your anger.
- Arm you with the skills and tools you need to navigate tough situations better.
Here are a few ways you can identify the need for support in yourself or in loved ones:
- Becoming angry under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
- Struggling with compromising;
- Inward aggression that leads to isolation or self-harm;
- Outward aggression (i.e., yelling, swearing, destruction of property); or
- Experiencing difficulty expressing emotions in a calm and healthy way
If you are concerned that you or someone you care about are experiencing anger management difficulties you can connect with me or call our Sync offices.