Updated: Sep 17, 2019
People get angry. It‘s part of life. You will become angry at various times in your life. However, it is unhealthy to remain angry. Anger can make you impulsive, prompting you to say and do things that you don‘t mean to do. Anger can be a trigger for other problem feelings.
In this blog, we will identify the processes giving rise to the anger response, explore strategies for reducing problem behaviour associated with anger and generate a “What Works” list to try.
People often get angry when
Overreacting to a real situation.
Reacting to a situation that may never happen
Being angry about one thing but expressing anger about another
Feeling impulsive, threatened or scared
Anger is a result of thinking that we have been unfairly treated or disrespected, or that others have broken or fallen short of our rules, standards or expectations, and we won't stand for it!
Thinking this way leads us to feel angry, which stimulates the body's adrenaline response which is our body's way of helping us to cope with either fighting, or running away ('fight or flight' response). We respond to those thoughts and feelings, by acting, or feeling an urge to act, in threatening or aggressive ways.
Some people talk about "Red Mist". The thing is, anger doesn't work like that. Like the Hulk, our anger goes through stages and, if we don't look after ourselves, it builds until it finds expression in aggression and/or violence.
Why does it feel as if my anger just comes on all at once?
Growing up, we learned unhealthy ways to deal with anger, does anyone remember John Wayne‘s strong silent hero who bottles it all up throughout the film and then lets loose in the final confrontation? Some of us tend to repress our anger and pretend that everything is okay. Some of us may impulsively explode and express our anger through physical or emotional abuse of others. Others let it build up and let it eat away at them.
The first step in not letting our emotions control us, is becoming aware of what we're feeling.
When there is real, or we believe there is a real, threat or danger, or that we have to defend or stand up for what we believe is right, our bodies' automatic survival mechanism kicks in very quickly. This helps energise us to fight or run away ('fight or flight response'). We will notice lots of physical sensations, which might include:
heart racing or pounding - enabling good blood supply around our bodies
breathing quickly - allowing more oxygen around the body
tense muscles - a state of readiness to fight or flee
stomach churning or butterflies
Behaviours might include:
staring & angry facial expression
aggressive body posture
going towards what makes us angry
attacking or arguing
hitting out (or urge to hit out)
shouting, snapping at others
running or storming away
staying silent, inwardly seething
Get to know your warning signs, like the indicator panel telling you that things are beginning to drift, and take the right action to being yourself back on course.
Remember the Hulk? We don't go from naught to nutty in an instant, even if it feels that way. Our anger goes through stages, and what works at one stage, won't work at another.
On the left are things that turn the temperature up, making us more aroused and push us to act rather than think.
On the right are things that cool things down and help us come back on course to being the person we want to be.
The physiology of arousal would suggest behavioural strategies such as “Time Out” (leaving the situation and staying away for a couple of hours) and “Burning Off” (Cardio-vascular exercise that stimulates the release of endorphins) can reduce distress and build self-efficacy, particularly when followed up with a review. Laughing, sobbing and screaming can also work!
Other techniques include taking slow deep breaths (oxygenating the blood and slowing the heart rate). Serotonin levels are negatively correlated with aggression and stress management techniques are effective (the best revenge is to live well!).
Identify your anger signs. Do you muscles get tense? Do you clench your fist or teeth? Do you become irritable, nervous, or short tempered? Knowing your anger signs allows you to step off the anger escalator before it’s too late.
Evaluate the situation. Why are you angry? Are you overreacting to a real situation? Are you reacting to a situation that may never happen? Are you angry about one thing but expressing anger about another? Are you feeling impulsive, threatened or scared?
Talk it out. Rapidly identify someone with whom you can talk to who is not part of the problem.. Who do you know whom you can call immediately? Can you call a friend?
Cool off. It is better to talk out your anger rather than act on it. Whether or not you can rapidly find someone with whom you can talk, take a break from the situation and cool off. Before you act on your anger, do some exercise, do something physical, or take a shower.
Wait before responding. If the problem is such that you have to respond, then don’t respond until your physical and emotional signs of anger have gone away. Don’t make a decision while feeling the signs of anger. Can you wait an hour? Can you wait a day? It will give you time to organise your thoughts and review your options. Talk with the person with whom you are angry only after you cool off.
Stop, take a breath, don't react automatically.
Walk away - you can come back and talk later (Allow 2 hours!)
Observe what’s going on:
What am I reacting to?
What is really pushing my buttons here?
Pull Back and Get Perspective
Am I getting things out of proportion?
How important is this really?
How important will it be in 6 months time?
What harm has actually been done?
Am I expecting something from this person or situation that is unrealistic?
What's the worst (and best) that could happen? What's most likely to happen?
Am I jumping to conclusions about what this person meant? Am I mis-reading between the lines? Is it possible that they didn't mean that?
What do I want or need from this person or situation? What do they want or need from me? Is there a compromise?
Practice What Works
What are the consequences of responding angrily?
What would be the most helpful and effective action to take?
Mentally rehearse dealing with the situation in a calm but assertive way, respecting the rights and opinions of everyone involved
Nonviolent Communication (NVC) offers practical and powerful techniques based in a consciousness of interdependence and the concept of "power with" instead of "power over" others.
NVC skills include:
Differentiating observation from evaluation, being able to carefully observe what is happening free of evaluation, and to specify behaviors and conditions that are affecting us;
Differentiating feeling from thinking, being able to identify and express internal feeling states in a way that does not imply judgment, criticism, or blame/punishment;
Connecting with universal human needs/values (e.g. sustenance, trust, understanding) in us that are being met or not met in relation to what is happening and how we are feeling; and,
Requesting what we would like in a way that clearly and specifically states what we do want (rather than what we don’t want), and that is truly a request and not a demand (i.e. attempting to motivate, however subtly, out of fear, guilt, shame, obligation, etc. rather than out of willingness and compassionate giving).
Nonviolent Communication skills emphasize personal responsibility for our actions and the choices we make when we respond to others, as well as how to contribute to relationships based in cooperation and collaboration.
The NVC Process
To arrive at a mutual desire to give from the heart, we focus the light of consciousness on four areas—referred to as the four components of the NVC model.
We observe what is actually happening in a situation: what are we observing others saying or doing that is either enriching or not enriching our life? The trick is to be able to articulate this observation without introducing any judgment or evaluation—to simply say what people are doing that we either like or don’t like.
We state how we feel when we observe this action: are we hurt, scared, joyful, amused, irritated, etc.?
Needs & Preferences
We say what needs and preferences are connected to the feelings we have identified. An awareness of these three components is present when we use NVC to clearly and honestly express how we are.
For example, a mother might express these three pieces to her teenage son by saying, “Felix, when I see two balls of soiled socks under the coffee table and another three next to the TV. I put a lot of time into creating a comfortable environment where we can relax when we come home and I feel tired and frustrated when I think that I’ve finished my chores and find that there is still more to do. In order to relax (Need), I would like more order in the rooms which we share in common (Preference).”
This fourth component expresses something specific that we would like from the other person that would enrich our lives or make life more manageable for us.
The mother would follow immediately with a very specific request: “Would you be willing to put your socks in your room or in the washing machine?”
Thus, part of NVC is to express these four pieces of information very clearly, whether verbally or by other means. The other aspect of this communication consists of receiving the same four pieces of information from others. We connect with them by first sensing what they are observing, feeling, and needing, and then discover what would enrich their lives by receiving the fourth piece, their request. As we keep our attention focused on the areas mentioned, and help others do likewise, we establish a flow of communication, back and forth: what I am observing, feeling, and needing; what I am requesting to enrich my life; what you are observing, feeling, and needing; what you are requesting to enrich your life....
The concrete actions we are observing that are affecting our wellbeing How we are feeling in relation to what we are observing The needs, values, desires, etc. that are creating our feelings The concrete actions we request in order to enrich our lives
Two parts of NVC:
· Expressing honesty through the four components
· Receiving empathically through the four components
Feelings when our needs ARE met
Feelings when our needs ARE NOT met
Think of a time when someone said something to you that was hard for you to hear without becoming angry. People who choose a less than traumatic, yet "stimulating" situation seem to have greater success early on.
Think of the exact quote. No storyline or background is needed for this exercise.
What were your feelings?
What were your needs?
What were their feelings?
What were their needs?
If this other person was communicating effectively, what do you think the other person’s Observations, Feelings, Needs and Request might have been?
If you were at the top of your game, what would your NVC Response have been?
Do you think things might have gone better?