Patience is running thin this 2020 year we live in, resulting in anger being at an all-time-high. From low levels of frustration to high levels of anger aggression, many are trying to navigate healthy expression of these difficult emotions, while others are letting the anger and aggressive chips fall where they may.
For those raised in a family where emotions were held in and anger was not recognized, please know that anger is a natural human emotion that all of us experience in some form or another throughout life. For others who “go from zero to 60” in a flash, you are also not alone. However, neither of these examples describe the awareness vital for healthy anger expression.
“Anger is a universal emotion, found across all cultures and nationalities,” (Sahu, Gupta & Chatterjee, 2014). “However, excessive uncontrolled anger and that triggered by trivial issues is often considered harmful.”
Sitting in silence with anger is not healthy, nor is a volatile display of anger. Both can lead to negative consequences from physical health problems, relationship problems, child or spousal abuse, and in some circumstances, loss of family, job, livelihood, identity, and worse. “Anger becomes a problem when it is felt too intensely, felt too frequently, or is expressed inappropriately,” (Riley & Shopshire, 2019).
Aggression is distinct from anger and assertiveness. “The goal of aggression is to dominate, intimidate, harm, or injure another person—to win at any cost,” (Riley & Shopshire, 2019). “Conversely the goal of assertiveness is to express feelings of anger in a way that is respectful of other people.” Assertiveness training is an excellent tool often used in counseling.
Anger is felt both as an emotion, and an energy. Anger can also be a symptom of another underlying emotion, like grief, depression, anxiety, and more. “The impact of ineffective management of anger and aggression can be devastating, with a high cost to both society and to the individual, with physical, emotional and interpersonal consequences experienced,” (Blacker, Watson & Beech, 2008).
Unfortunately, not all individuals have grown up learning healthy or constructive anger behavior. But it is never too late to improve upon anger management skills to feel and be a healthier individual.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been found to be an effective treatment for anger problems (Riley & Shopshire, 2019). Four interventions accompany Anger Management treatment: (a) relaxation training to aid the emotional and physiological aspects of anger; (b) cognitive interventions to foster awareness of triggers, hostility, maladaptive beliefs and “inflammatory thinking”; (c) communication skills intervention to encourage assertiveness and conflict resolution skills; and (d) combined interventions that aid in healthy effective anger responses.
Practical tips to help manage anger from an 2019 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA's) evidence-based curriculum for anger management include:
Consider using an anger meter, scale of 1-10, 10 being the highest amount of anger to be felt, and ask yourself what level your anger is on the meter, when you feel angry
Identify the cues or triggers that cause you to feel angry (these often stem from a situation that compromises one of your core values)
Learn the cues where you are impacted with anger (physical, emotional, behavioral,
Take stock in the awareness of your triggers, how you experience, and the level you are experiencing
Create an anger control plan that includes a relaxation technique once you identify the cues and level of anger, a pause or “timeout” if needed, reaching out for support
Master diaphragmatic breathing techniques and progressive muscle relaxation
Utilize the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy A-B-C-D model (Activating event, Beliefs about the event, emotional Consequences, and Disputing maladaptive or unhealthy/unrealistic beliefs)
Take control back by thought stopping techniques (“I need to stop thinking these thoughts”, “This is not a healthy pattern of thoughts,” “Don’t go there”
Become effective at healthy assertive communication (standing up for yourself in a way that is respectful to yourself and others)
Utilize the conflict resolution model: “identify the problem causing the conflict”, “identify the feelings associated with the conflict”, “identify the specific impact of the problem that is causing the conflict,” “decide whether to resolve the conflict or let go,” and “address and resolve the conflict”
In a year where life has felt less stable and predictable, we can all use some good anger management skills to take back some control, and positively impact ourselves and others. Let’s model respectful communication. We will have greater self-respect, feel and show greater respect for others, and display this healthy skill set for others to learn from.
Teresa Jacobson is a Doctor of Behavioral Health and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Supervisor who is counseling Ohio adults of all ages and life experiences via secure Telahealth visits. She utilizes SAMHSA’s evidence-based approach to anger management when working with clients who would like to enhance skills for healthy assertiveness. Teresa can be reached through emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org, calling (513) 234-9184, or visiting www.jacobsoncounseling.org
Blacker, J., Watson, A., and Beech, A.R. (2008). A combined drama-based and CBT approach to
working with self-reported anger aggression. Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, 18:129-137.
Reilly, P.M., & Shopshire, M.S. (2019). Anger Management for Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health
Clients: A Cognitive–Behavioral Therapy Manual. SAMHSA Publication No. PEP19-02-01-001. Rockville,
MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Sahu, A., Gupta, P., and Chatterjee, B. (2014). Depression is more than just sadness: A case of excessive
anger and its management in depression. Indian J Psychol Med, 36(1):77-79. DOI:10.4103/0253-7176