Regaining Control Over Anger
Anger is a fundamental human emotion and is experienced and identifiable by key physical changes in the body.
The role of anger is to focus the mind on a perceived threat, and facilitate the release of energy for the impending physical challenge. Physiologically speaking, when a person gets angry the body responds by releasing adrenaline to enhance physical capacity and strength. The body also releases cortisol – which floods the brain to narrow the focus of thinking on the perceived threat. At the same time we lose function of many of the other parts of our brain – the parts that otherwise help us with higher order tasks like reason and empathy. We literally cannot think straight when angry because we are operating from our oldest ‘reptilian’ brain.
If you are quick to anger, learning to notice these physical and mental changes as they begin can help you gain some control. The benefit of noticing anger signals early is that it gives your brain a chance to intervene before your anger rises and you lose control. Once a person gets into a rage it can easily take 40 minutes or more for the body to return to a calm state.
Anger is often seen as a useful emotion because it helps us stand up for ourselves. The problem is, that human being don’t really do a very good job at thinking when they are angry, and so standing up for yourself when you are very angry is probably a bad idea. When we are in a state of anger, we start to see the world through red-tinted glasses – we have very little self-control, our emotional focus is narrowed as is our ability to see a situation from another person’s points of view. Rather, we are quite simply prepared to fight.
This is why, as anger management practitioners, we often tell very angry people to notice their anger rise and act early. Second we tell people who struggle to control angry behaviour to remove themselves from the situation so they can cool down and practice their anger management skills before returning to the site of the problem.
Techniques for Controlling your Anger
Once you’ve removed yourself from a situation that is making you angry, try to release your energy in a safe way. Box on your bag for a while, go for a run or scream into a pillow – give your body a chance to use up the adrenalin it has released.
You can also practice slow breathing – making sure you get a smooth, long exhale from your tummy (diaphragm) on each breath. Practice saying some cooling words in your mind like “Relax”, “You are safe, everything is ok” or similar on each out-breath. Notice also how your body feels as it starts to calm down. Remember – we are trying to make your body and mind feel safe again and need to send it signals that everything is ok.
Find Out What’s Hiding behind your Anger?
Once you’ve learned how to calm down your physical reactions to angry situations, we need to help you learn the signals that your anger is really trying to send you. Finding out what is lying behind your anger can take some detective work.
In personal relationships, anger is quite often felt when other, more vulnerable, emotions (like sadness, fear or hurt) are triggered. See if you can identify emotions like sadness, fear or hurt underneath your anger. Go back to the situation that first angered you and see what it is you really needed from the other person at that time.
For example, you may experience your partner’s lateness as her or him not caring about you and so you get mad. Underneath this you may be sad or afraid that they don’t value you or prioritise you. Telling them you need some reassurance in that regard, or that you really missed them (i.e. admitting your vulnerable feelings) is likely to be a far more effective than telling them (angrily on the attack) that you think they’re selfish and don’t care about you!
Once you uncover something underlying your anger that’s important to you and your relationship, try to use your anger management skills to calm your anger and allow the more vulnerable emotion that you have identified to lead the interpersonal connection.
Especially in intimate relationships, anger is not the most useful emotion to connect with. It signals danger but doesn’t very well identify our real needs. Try to identify and use the real emotion – sadness, hurt or fear – in your relationships.
Occasionally of course anger is justified and the only emotion at play in the situation. This is especially the case when something truly unfair or dangerous is happening. Once you’ve cooled down, work out what you really needed from the situation. Could the other person have helped if they had known how you felt? Once you’re back in control, a short simple statement about your anger and what you need is more likely to get you the result you want than showing it in full force.
Professional Anger Management Training
Our counsellors can teach you to recognise when your anger is rising and use effective tools for calming your emotions. They can help you understand what’s really going on for you when you get angry, and teach you better ways to communicate your needs to your family, friends and work colleagues. Contact us today with your enquiry.