Controlling anger can be difficult for people at times. Yet unchecked anger can have emotional, social, and even physical consequences. Someone with anger issues may have frequent emotional outbursts or fall into depression. Social bonds can be damaged by physical aggression or violence. Anger-related health issues may include diabetes, heart disease, insomnia, and high blood pressure.
Therapy may be of help to people who wish to get their anger under control. An individual can also take steps independently to address their emotions and behavior. Although one’s anger may be strong, it can be tamed.
Therapy for anger often delves into the underlying causes of one’s rage. A psychotherapist may explore incidents in a person’s past. If an individual has unprocessed trauma, their hurt can create echoes in the present.
A person’s anger may be masking another emotion like sadness or fear. Lashing out in rage rarely solves the underlying issue. Once a person understands what is truly upsetting them, they can face the problem head on.
Emotional regulation is a key component of effective anger therapy. They may practice relaxation techniques to calm themselves down in the moment. Emotional balance can help someone maintain control in the face of uncertain situations.
Skill development is another important component of anger therapy. A therapist may teach a person how to state their needs with assertiveness rather than aggression. A person could also learn time management, boundary-setting, and negotiation skills. These techniques prevent a crisis before it happens, reducing one’s overall stress.
Cognitive restructuring is also a common part of anger management and cognitive behavioral therapies. Cognitive restructuring is the process of replacing distorted thinking patterns with more balanced ones. For example, a person may say, “My cat knocked my cereal to the floor and ruined breakfast!” Their therapist may counter this statement by adding perspective. While cereal can be frustrating to clean up, it is doable. Crying over spilled milk did not solve the problem. The person’s reaction to the mess ruined breakfast, not the cat.
Cognitive restructuring isn’t about repressing one’s anger so much as putting it in perspective. With practice, an individual can learn to recognize distorted thoughts in the moment. The person can then counteract these thoughts with more productive ones. Once a person has their anger under control, they can have more mental space to solve the problem at hand.
A therapist might use multiple techniques to help individuals manage anger. Research shows that a combination of the above tactics tends to provide the most success in treatment.
No one spends their entire life in a therapist’s office. Sometimes a crisis happens and a therapist isn’t on hand to help. In these cases, a person may want to monitor themselves for signs of building rage. Mental signs may include trouble concentrating and exaggerated thoughts. Physical signs include rapid breathing, headaches, muscle tension, and more.
Physical tension may spur on a fight or flight response. When cortisol levels rise, a person’s mental distress can grow. If left unchecked, anger can spiral itself into rage. Relaxation techniques can stop anger from building on itself.
One of the most common relaxation techniques is deep breathing. A person may imagine themselves breathing from the gut or filling themselves with air. Both the inhalations and exhalations are slower than everyday breathing.
Research shows deep breathing activates the body’s parasympathetic nervous system. This is the mechanism that calms a person down. Deep breathing can have immediate effects on one’s blood pressure. It can also reduce the production of stress hormones.
Another method of relaxation is to stretch one’s muscles. For example, of a person has tense shoulders, they may do some light arm stretches. Self-massage can release tension in spots a person can’t stretch, such as their scalp.
Mental exercises can also aid relaxation. These may include counting to ten, repeating a mantra, or imagining a calm place. These exercises aim to interrupt a person’s spiraling thoughts, forcing the person to focus elsewhere for a moment. A pause can give a person time to weigh the consequences of their next actions. Neutral or relaxing stimuli may also dampen one’s stress response.
Counting or deep breathing are often used as quick fixes for anger. To make lasting changes, a person may need to develop new habits. A therapist may ask a person to practice the following strategies in between sessions:
- Meditation. During meditation, a person can gain insight on the roots of their anger.
- Exercise. Physical activity can raise endorphins and reduce stress.
- Hobbies. Doing activities one enjoys on a daily basis can improve a person’s mood.
- Time management. A person who manages their time well can often prevent themselves from being overwhelmed with responsibilities. If a crunch time is unavoidable, an organized person can prepare for upcoming stress.
- Journaling. Some individuals find catharsis by writing their emotions down. A private journal can be a way to vent thoughts without hurting other people.
These tactics can reduce stress and help a person manage their anger. However, people who experience severe, chronic rage may require more specialized treatment.
Even people who do not have anger issues can get into arguments sometimes. If a person cares deeply about something, they can struggle not to let their emotions take over. But unchecked anger can cause a fight to last longer and end with more hurt feelings.
Anger often contributes to black-and-white thinking. In an argument, a person may throw accusations and insults at a perceived enemy. This may cause the other party to become defensive and fight back. Compromise and cooperation rarely thrive in these circumstances. The parties may focus so much on winning that they overlook a solution which could benefit them both.
These tips can help prevent anger from taking over the argument:
- Before you confront the other person, know what you want from them. Are you looking for an apology or an explanation? What measures do you want them to take to prevent future incidents? Knowing your goal ahead of time can help you channel your anger to productive ends.
- Use ‘I’ statements to describe your feelings. Instead of saying, “You were so mean last night!”, consider telling the person, “I felt hurt when you joked about my looks.” Using ‘I’ pronouns can make the other person feel less defensive than ‘you’ pronouns.
- Stick to the problem at hand. It may be tempting to bring up other issues and let all your grievances out at once. However, this load may overwhelm the other person. It is often more effective to solve one argument at a time.
- Take a break if the fight gets too heated. If you find yourself losing your temper, you may want to ask for a few minutes to calm down. When you threaten or scream at another person, they will likely focus more on your aggression than the actual point you are making.
If you find your anger hard to control during fights, you may wish to find a therapist. A mental health professional can help you express emotions in a healthy manner. If you typically fight with a spouse or relative, you may wish to get joint counseling. A therapist can help the two of you work out your grievances, acting as a “referee” when one person’s anger gets out of hand. With time, patience, and flexibility, you can overcome your anger.
- Anger and domestic violence: Claude, 43, is referred to therapy for anger issues by a court. The order came after Claude was arrested for beating up his girlfriend and her teenage son. Claude feels severe guilt and regret for his actions, which signifies to the therapist that he may be successful in treatment. Therapy reveals that Claude has a tremendous, irrational fear that his girlfriend will leave him. Claude realizes his anger and violence may create a self-fulfilling prophecy. With the help of his therapist, he discovers that his fears actually stem from childhood. His mother, for reasons Claude denies knowing, left his father to care for Claude and his four siblings. Claude realizes he still feels great anger toward both his parents for this event. Later, in a couples counseling session, Claude reveals his past to his girlfriend, establishing a level of intimacy and trust he has never achieved with anyone else. Claude still finds himself angry more often than he would like. Yet he becomes able to express his emotions more readily and avoid violence or aggression.
- Depression manifesting as anger: Luisa, 23, seeks treatment for depression. She has poor insight into her actions, blaming others for everything wrong in her life. Her therapist reframes Luisa’s disclosures. The therapist focuses not on Luisa’s complaints, but on what Luisa needs and lacks: intimacy and self-forgiveness for mistakes. The therapist also identifies some biological tendencies toward mood swings. Luisa expresses her sadness and fear, admitting she longs for a sense of purpose in her life. In therapy, Luisa gains insight into the ways she causes herself to be isolated from others by always criticizing or arguing with them. She begins to work on communicating more assertively and less aggressively. After several sessions, Luisa begins apologizing to friends for her past actions. She also rediscovers her childhood love of painting and music. Her anger, while still sometimes a challenge for her, is under control.
- Controlling anger—Before it controls you. (n.d.). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/topics/anger/control.aspx
- Cuda, G. (2010, December 6). Just breathe: Body has a built-in stress reliever. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2010/12/06/131734718/just-breathe-body-has-a-built-in-stress-reliever
- Holloway, J. (2003). Advances in anger management. Monitor on Psychology, 34(3), 54
- Segal, J., & Smith, M. (2015, February 1). Anger management: Tips and techniques for getting anger under control. Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/emotional-health/anger-management.htm