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Back to the Basics: Anger Management

Updated: Feb 1

-Teresa Jacobson, DBH, LPCC-S, NCC

October 5, 2022



Have you found yourself saying things more aggressively than you'd like to? Do you regret "flying off the handle?" It can sure take a lot of energy to keep anger "in check", but it is absolutely necessary.


Healthy anger expression is not just important for your overall health, but also vital for your partner, your children, your career, and your relationships, including the one you have with yourself. This article will explore the roots of anger and help you take steps toward healthy effective living.


Anger is a healthy human emotion.


Anger is an important emotion that is meant to inform us. Anger stems from our interpretation of a situation that is unjust, upsetting, or threatening. "All experiences of anger have the following elements in common" (Berekley, 2022). "We experience what's happening as unfair. We feel helpless in the moment." We can often feel threatened, exposed/shamed, victimized, violated, inadequate or unable to meet important needs.


When something brushes up against a core value within, anger rises. The rise of anger isn't necessarily unhealthy unless it is expressed in an unhealthy way, suppressed, or the rise itself is repetitive. Sometimes we also misinterpret or personalize the experience that causes anger which can contribute to a disproportionate response and reaction. "Anger becomes a problem when it is felt too intensely, is felt too frequently, or is expressed inappropriately" (Reilly & Shopshire, 2014).


It is best to control the expression or lack of expression of anger, so that your temper or internalized suppression does not instead hijack, or take control of you.


"Anger is the emotional response that we have to an external or internal event perceived as a threat, a violation or an injustice" (Berekley, 2022). "It has been widely theorized that anger is an adaptive response and is a version of the fight or flight response, which in turn is believed to have evolutionary usefulness in protecting us from danger." Anger is a natural human emotion and is informing us something important, but sometimes we don't necessarily interpret it accurately.


The anger experience, or our expression of anger is a learned behavior and varies from one individual to another. Some may cry when angry, others may withdrawal, and some yell. There are many different anger manifestations. Regardless, anger is always accompanied by both physiological/neurological and psychological changes.


"Biological changes includes increase heart beat, increased respiration rate, raised blood pressure, increase the energy level due to increased blood flow in the muscles, hormonal activities (adrenaline and nor-adrenaline), increased muscles tension or contraction (skeletal muscles) and increased body temperature" (Pashupati & Dev, 2011). "So it affects all the vital systems of human being. Similarly, there are various psychological changes that occur during anger reaction. Some of these changes are loss of concentration, decreased ability of tolerance, patience, increased restlessness or pacing movement, heightened tension feeling and impairment in the decision-making ability." If an anger reaction lasts a long time, it can impact physical and psychological functioning and overall health.


Berkeley (2022) describes four basic ways in which people handle anger: aggressive (externalized anger), passive/aggressive (outwardly agreeable, but showing anger through indirect actions); passive (internalized and suppressed), and assertive (appropriately managed). Anger management utilizes intentional skills to take control back so the anger cycle breaks and healthy anger expression continues.

Anger Managed


The goal of anger management is to reduce both the physiological and emotional arousal that anger can cause. Cognitive behavioral therapy and skills-based approaches are widely viewed as healthy tools to manage anger. Some strategies involved in controlling anger include:

  • Become aware of anger and the events or circumstances that trigger or upset you and using an "anger meter" to help you become more aware of the increase in anger

  • Listen to anger cues, thoughts, emotions, physiological, and behavioral

  • Take immediate strategies to prevent negative consequences: a) deep diaphragmatic breathing through the nose and blowing out through pursed lips, taking a time-out, counting down from 10, thought stopping, stepping away to walk

  • Create an anger control plan, using strategies to take control of anger, debriefing or talking with a friend or someone else you trust, building a toolbox of skills to use if anger rises

  • Learn strategies to prevent unhealthy anger expression, such as developing an exercise program, countering irrational beliefs

  • Consider additional education or counseling to help with anger management and controlling the aggression cycle

  • Embrace and practice healthy effective assertive communication and conflict resolution


Assertiveness as a Healthy Alternative


"From an anger management perspective, the best way to deal with a person who has violated your rights is to act assertively" (Reilly & Shopshire, 2014). "Acting assertively involves standing up for your rights in a way that is respectful of other people. The basic message of assertiveness is that my feelings, thoughts, and beliefs are important, and that your feelings, thoughts, and beliefs are equally important. By acting assertively, you can express your feelings, thoughts, and beliefs to the person who violated your rights without suffering the negative consequences associated with aggression or the devaluation of your feelings, which is associated with passivity or nonassertion."


Another important factor in anger management includes the practice of conflict resolution. The Conflict Resolution Model utilizes 5 important steps to consider (Reilly & Shopshire, 2014):


  1. Identify the problem that is causing the conflict

  2. Identify the feelings that are associated with the conflict

  3. Identify the impact of the problem that is causing the conflict

  4. Decide whether to resolve the conflict

  5. Work towards resolution of the conflict: a) how would you like the problem to be resolved? b) is a compromise needed?


Expressing your feelings and thoughts in an honest way without hostility or aggression not only allows yourself to feel a sense of pride and respect for self, but also allows the message a chance to be heard. Assertiveness, or honest and open communication, also respects the rights and feelings of others and models healthy effective communication instead of passing along unhealthy patterns of aggression that lead to so many unhealthy consequences. Feel free to peruse this Assertive Communication worksheet with helpful tips on healthy communication from the Department of Veterans Affairs.


Remember, anger serves a purpose. Let's use it to help, not to hurt.



 


Teresa Jacobson is a Doctor of Behavioral Health and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Supervisor who is counseling Ohio and Kentucky adults of all ages and life experiences via secure Telehealth/Video visits. A strength-based, person-centered multi-cultural counselor, with an existential philosophy, Teresa can be reached by emailing teresa@steppingtowardserenity.org, calling (513) 206-3026, or visiting https://www.steppingtowardserenity.org


 



References


Berekley Education (2022). Retrieved from


Pashupati, M., and Dev, S.V. (2011). Anger and it's management. Journal of Nobel Medical College, 1 9-14.


Reilly, P. M., and Shopshire, M.S. (2014). Anger management for substance abuse and mental health

clients: A cognitive behavioral therapy Manual. Journal of Drug Addiction, Education, and



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