Source(s) of Your Anger or Frustration
- Anger at yourself
- Anger at other(s)
- Anger at a bad situation or event
Temporal Nature of Your Anger
- Current or recent anger
- Old anger
Exercise: Make a list of everyone you’re angry at or everything you’re angry about. If necessary, make two lists so you can address both recent and past sources of anger. Use a highlighter to identify the persons or situations that make you most angry. Write down any other feelings that are associated with each of the highlighted people/ situations; examples might include frustration, disappointment, sadness, or fear.
What Makes it Difficult to Deal Constructively with Your Anger?
- Being out of touch with your feelings, so you don’t realize you’re angry until it’s too late (i.e., anger gets released in a destructive way)
- Not knowing what constructive anger management looks like, or not having the skills& experience to deal with anger in a healthy way
- Emotional issues interfering with your ability to manage anger
- avoidance, fear of conflict
- anxiety over losing others’ love, approval if you express anger
- guilt over being angry or expressing anger to others, especially those you care about
- Stressful or traumatic experiences involving anger
- where you were scared, hurt or embarrassed by others’ anger
- where your own anger was somehow out of control
If you’re primarily angry at yourself…
consider talking with a close friend, a counselor or a religious/spiritual advisor to get support and feedback re: how you can deal with the behaviors or tendencies you don’t like. You might need to get help changing the behaviors themselves, or perhaps just learning to be less self-critical and accepting that you’re not perfect.
If you’re primarily angry at a situation, try to figure out which aspects you can control and which you cannot. Often, you will feel better if you know that you are doing everything you can to improve your circumstances. If you have trouble with taking constructive action and/or detaching from things you can’t control, consider seeking counseling or attending a self-help program such as Al-Anon.
If you’re primarily angry at another person…
think about whether it might be possible or wise to let him/her know how you feel. If the person is someone who generally respects your needs & feelings, it can be helpful to just say what you’re angry about – as long as you are not overly blaming or condemning. If you are too angry to remain civil, take time to cool off or use the strategies below to help you safely discharge some of your anger before talking with the other person.
You can request that the other person do something different to address your concerns; however, you cannot control whether he/she agrees or then follows through with the requested changes. Sometimes you will just feel better knowing that your feelings have been heard and acknowledged, even if the other person does not change.
If the person you’re angry at is someone you don’t know as well…
it might not be worth it to have any kind of confrontation. You might decide simply to minimize your contact with him/her or to structure your interactions differently (e.g., keep things superficial with someone who is very negative & critical; always be “too busy to chat” with people who talk too much about themselves).
In professional situations, you need to be very cautious about expressing anger so that you don’t jeopardize your relationships with co-workers and/or supervisors. If you cannot figure out how to constructively manage your anger at work, definitely consider consulting a mental health professional (you might be able to get free, confidential assistance through an Employee Assistance Program, if your company offers one).
If the other person has actually been nasty or inconsiderate…
- write a list of his/her “offenses” then rip it to shreds or ball it up & throw it away
- if you are consistently (or intermittently) mistreated by someone you have to see regularly, stay cordial but visualize him/her as a piece of furniture to “work your way around”
- limit your exposure to the person and try to keep things “strictly business”
- imagine a waterfall or a plexiglass shield between you and the other person, which gives you some emotional protection when you can’t maintain as much physical distance as you’d like.
How to Safely Discharge or Contain Anger
That Cannot Be Directly Expressed
If the person you’re angry at is not available to confront; cannot be safely challenged due to a position of authority; or is just not open to feedback, you have some options:
- discharge your anger through hard exercise (if this is okay with your doctor – and don’t overdo it and hurt yourself in the process!)
- “yell at the person,” without him/her present, in a place you cannot be heard (e.g., your car)
- write him or her a letter describing why you’re so angry, but do not send it!
- draw a picture representing the person – and then rip it up or X it out with a black marker
- imagine putting your angry feelings into a container with a door or lid (e.g. a bank vault, a trash can) to get them temporarily out of your way.
3. Prevention (Primary, Secondary and Tertiary)
A lot of anger problems can be prevented by giving more consistent attention to your own needs and feelings. When people neglect themselves physically or emotionally, they are likely to accumulate frustration/resentment and then find themselves less able to cope with stressful situations. If you don’t know how to be assertive and set limits, you can end up feeling overwhelmed by everyone else’s needs and demands – and therefore become more likely to blow up over small things or get passive-aggressive (e.g., saying “yes” but sulking about it). Remember that others cannot read your mind, and might have no way of knowing that the “one small favor” they are asking is actually the tenth favor you’ve agreed to do this week….
It is also crucial that you attend to any personal issues that might be affecting your moods and coping. Generally, an inability to regulate one’s anger is indicative of some problem (medical, neurological or psychological) that calls for professional attention. For example, depression can be partially caused by internalized anger, and if left untreated, might provoke further anger problems ranging from chronic irritability to explosive outbursts. In addition to the negative impact on your relationships, anger problems themselves create stress that can affect your physical health and well-being.
Other contributing factors to an anger problem can include: severe situational stress; past or current trauma – especially that inflicted by other people (vs. a natural disaster); and untreated substance abuse problems. Short-term counseling can often help you get clarity about the underlying issues and assess the need for more extensive mental health treatment, depending on your specific condition and circumstances.
How do you recognize an anger problem that requires immediate assistance?
- any impulse to harm oneself or others
- extreme verbal abuse, up to and including threats of violence
- physical intimidation or aggression (e.g., blocking one’s way, pushing, hitting)
- out-of-control behavior such as throwing/breaking things, reckless driving
Someone who is observing or experiencing any of the above manifestations should seek immediate assistance by calling 911, or if the situation allows, arranging for safe transportation to a hospital emergency room. Other resources include your local mental health crisis center or abused persons program (look in blue pages of telephone book for county government programs).