Understanding the emotion – anger
Anger can feel like it came out of nowhere, like you went from 0-60 and even you don’t know what happened. In reality, this didn’t come out of nowhere you just weren’t aware of the signs your body was giving you. Effective anger management means paying attention to your anger when it is arising in order to gain control over it. You want to be able to manage your anger in order to not reach the “out of control” feeling. This is where we make big mistakes like saying very hurtful things we don’t mean, breaking things, or even violence. (Even if there is some truth to what we say at this time, it will never be received well when we deliver it through anger. Saying it in anger will likely damage the relationship we have with who we said it to.)
Not everyone’s baseline is the same – and that’s okay. If you feel like you’re usually at a 3 or 4 that’s fine, you just need to make sure you’re paying attention to the signs that your number is increasing. We will also have different baselines in different settings. How you feel at home is likely to be different than work which might be different from the drive home. Who we are with can also have an impact on where we are on the scale. Some people, or situations, might also jump a few numbers, while others have a steady incline. What we need to do to calm ourselves will increase as the numbers increase. It will be easier to bring yourself back to baseline when you are at, say, a 5, rather than letting things pile up until you are an 8 or 9, or on the verge of exploding! When you feel yourself getting towards the top of your thermometer, remove yourself from the situation that is leading you to this reaction.
To the left is an anger thermometer with a descriptive word at each number. Before you begin to think of your own anger thermometer, do something to relax yourself. Light a candle, take a bath… whatever you usually do to cool down a bit. Take 5 square breaths: breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 4, out for 5, hold for 4 and repeat. Start by reflecting on situations that bring you to different levels of anger and give a name to each number. There are some listed
, but write whatever feels right for you. Spend a bit of time at each one and pay attention to what’s going on in your body. Where do you feel yourself becoming affected? It’s best to start at the bottom of your anger thermometer and work your way up.
Next to your thermometer, make a column and write down the situation that might lead to this reaction. If the number is your baseline, that’s fine, note that. Rather than writing something next to each one, group them off into thirds or fourths (so #1-3, #4-6, #7-10).
On different days, you’ll have more or less intense reactions to the same situation. As you work your way up the thermometer thinking of these situations, pay attention to what is happening in your body. Did your chest get tight? Your stomach? Did your head get hot? Your palms sweaty? Next to the situations, write where in your body you are feeling these different levels of anger.
Coping Strategies for Anger
Next to your body sensations column make another column and reflect on things you have done in these situations. Have they been helpful? If they haven’t, cross it out (but so you can still read it to remind yourself not to do this). If they have worked to calm you down without effecting someone else, great! Either way, write some other effective coping strategies to try in the future. Maybe belting out a song helps calm you down when you’re a 3, but you need something more at a 6.
Here are some effective anger management coping guides:
- “Out of control” – Remove yourself from the situation, do some deep breathing, and distract yourself. This could be in the form of reciting the months backwards.
- 8-10 – Distract yourself, do intense exercise, vent to a friend.
- 4-7 – Do progressive muscle relaxation, normal level of exercise, write an unsent anger letter.
- 1-3 – Self care, yoga, deep breathing, journal, practice mindfulness.
Remember this is your anger management, it’s important to make this personal to you. If you journal or write an unsent anger letter, give yourself a time limit and do something pleasurable afterwards. After doing this anger management activity, your anger level will likely be higher than usual. Use some of the calming strategies you’ve identified.
Relationship Advice: How to Stop Anger From Ruining Your Relationship
Learn how to spot your anger triggers
Anger will eat away at any relationship – your partner pushes your buttons, and the next thing you know you’re in a major argument in the middle of dinner. Anger in relationships not only causes emotional damage, but it can lead to physical confrontations that put someone at physical risk. Couples counseling can help you identify the raw points in your relationship and heal yourselves so that anger becomes less of a factor in your interaction.
1. Understand the core issues triggered before anger even appears
Once you know the core issues from which your anger is sparked, you start to eliminate anger in your relationship. You can’t get rid of anger if you don’t know where it’s coming from. For instance, you might get angry when you’re accused of being untrustworthy because you think your partner continues to blame you for past behavior. By identifying the things that make you angry and knowing why it happens, you can start to better communicate why you are upset, which will reduce frustration on your part, and your partner will also know which buttons to avoid.
2. Identify as a couple how to prevent attack fights
Once you know why you get angry, you and your partner can work together to prevent big fights where you end up attacking each other – verbally or physically. Work together to figure out which words or topics are off limits, and decide to respect each others’ needs to take a time out. By identifying together how to prevent big blow ups and setting ground rules, you can nip potential attack fights in the bud. By working together, and not against each other, you build your strength as a couple and you can stop unhealthy cycles from continuing.
3. Improve your communication
Many times anger in relationships makes it hard to communicate effectively. You start to blame each other, get defensive, and then things just spiral down very quickly. Instead of using blaming language, telling your partner “You did this…”, tell your partner what you need and how you are feeling. By saying “I felt this way when this happened…” it can stop your partner from shutting down right away. Offer a suggestion for what you could both do differently in the future. Effective communication is vital to any relationship, especially in one where anger tends to flare.
4. Seek outside help
A therapist can provide an un-biased opinion on your relationship, and also help educate you on your emotional responses. If you are unable to work through your anger as a couple, seeking assistance from a counselor doesn’t make you weak – it just means you could use an impartial person to help each partner understand their role in the anger issues and how to play a role in the necessary changes. Anger in relationships can be a complicated issue, and a trained counselor is only there to help you sort it out.
If anger results in violence in your relationship, you should definitely seek help. The National Domestic Violence hotline is available 24 hours a day, every single day. Just call 1-800-799-SAFE(7233) or go to www.thehotline.org.
Article by Sarah O’Leary, AMFT#123449 (supervised by Jennine Estes, LMFT#47653)