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Anger is a normal emotion that serves an important function. However, when its underlying causes are not fully understood, and it’s not well managed, you might find anger negatively impacts your relationships and functioning. 

What is anger?

You may have a good idea of what anger is based on the way you experience and describe it.

For example, many people describe anger based on associated thoughts such as, the belief that they have been wronged or believing they have been let down or based on emotional responses such as feeling humiliated, shamed, criticised etc.

Alternatively, they may describe physical reactions such as a pulsing feeling in the head or body, bodily tension, restlessness, ‘seeing red’ or ‘blood boiling’.

In addition, people may describe anger behaviourally such as shouting, screaming, pacing, punching things. 

Anger is a normal emotion experienced by everyone from time to time. It can be observed as being on a continuum from mild irritation to intense rage. Anger is not our thoughts or our behaviours, it is an emotion that can be felt inside our bodies. When we have angry thoughts or behaviours these can be described as unhelpful thinking styles or aggression and violence respectively.

Anger is functional! When anger is not out of control, it has a function like all our other emotions do. The primary function of anger is to tell us when we need to take actions to change a situation, interaction, relationship etc. Without anger we would not be assertive or set our personal boundaries. In addition, anger helps to prompt us to look at our primary emotions associated with an event and act accordingly. Anger is often a secondary emotion, meaning that another emotion such as guilt, shame, embarrassment, sadness may be underlying the anger.

Is your anger problematic?

Sometimes individuals recognise their anger may be problematic and make changes or seek help accordingly. Others may find it difficult to know whether their anger is problematic. Below is a brief checklist to identify problem anger.

FINDS

Frequency – how often do you feel angry?

Intensity – on a scale of 1-10 (mild irritation to intense rage) how would you rate your anger? Is this proportionate to the trigger?

Number – how many associated negative behaviours do you engage in? (yelling, hitting, screaming, isolating, passive-aggression etc.)

Duration – how long does your anger usually last? Do you ruminate on angry triggers? Do you find it difficult to calm down?

Sense – what is your understanding of your anger? Do you find it confusing? Do you feel that your anger is different to others? Do you think your anger is dysfunctional, unhelpful or unhealthy?

Strategies to manage anger

Mindfulness – mindfulness is about staying focussed on one thing at a time, within this it is important that we do what we can at the time and do what works. To achieve this, we need to stay in the present not looking to past angry times or times in the future when you may be angry again. It is important to acknowledge our angry thoughts and resistance to problem solve but be able to let them go.

Meditation, yoga, relaxation and progressive muscle relaxation – taking some time each day to relax and meditate can make us feel calmer overall. Some relaxation ideas include: downloading an app or use YouTube to engage in a guided meditation, yoga session, or progressive muscle relaxation, use abdominal breathing, take a hot bath or shower, go for a massage, (anything that makes you feel calm is a positive step to reduce anger).

Challenging thoughts – start by identifying the trigger to your anger, then ask yourself what am I really thinking about this situation? Once you have figured out your angry thoughts you can challenge them by asking these questions: is there factual evidence to support my angry thought? Are there any other ways of viewing the situation? How might someone else view the situation? Does it really help me to think this way? What might be a more balanced thought?

Effective communication skills – when we have difficulties with anger it is important to learn and use effective communication skills, anger leads to more anger and aggression leads to more aggression. Being assertive can support us in dealing with the environment and our angry triggers whilst maintaining our relationships and keeping our self-respect.

When to seek professional help?

You can use the FINDS assessment in this blog to identify if you think you have problematic anger. If you answer yes or highly to some or most of those questions it may be time to seek help. You may or may not have tried to control your anger yourself and that’s okay, you can see help at any time that feels right to you. If you have tried the skills listed above and they have not worked for you then it is likely that it is time to seek professional help.

How can a psychologist help with anger?

There are many ways that a psychologist can help you with anger and you and your psychologist will discuss the best treatment and support for you during your consultation and assessment. Your psychologist will work with you to provide practical strategies for managing and coping with anger, while simultaneously helping you to understand its underlying causes. 

Some of the psychological treatments for anger are:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy

Relaxation training

Skills training e.g. assertiveness

Aggression replacement training

Reasoning and Rehabilitation

One or more of these treatments or a combination of treatments may be suggested for you.

Dr. Rebecca Ferguson, Psychologist.