Interesting what you said about your mother - because behavior like yours is almost always learned behavior. The good thing about that is that it can also be UN-leaned. First, I'd like you to read this article I wrote recently about anger.
Anger and How to Manage It
Every day, we experience a whole range of emotions, and we can all remember times when we have been annoyed, irritated, angry or downright enraged!
The biological basis for anger can be found in the well known ‘fight or flight’ response, and a common trigger for anger is feeling endangered. This danger does not need to be physical – the threat may well be to our dignity, belief system or self esteem, but the end product is the same.
It used to be thought that venting our anger on an inanimate object was an acceptable way of dealing with it, but while that may be cathartic, and give a temporary sense of satisfaction, it can also lead to broken windows, holes in walls and other unwanted problems! More importantly, it does not help the individual to manage anger effectively in the future.
Anger produces considerable physiological change – our heart rate and blood pressure increase, and there is a sudden release of hormones, particularly
adrenaline and noradrenaline. Triggers for anger can be internal or external – remembering a missed appointment, getting stuck in a traffic jam or a tradesman not turning up.
While anger is our natural response to threat, it in turn triggers very powerful emotions and often, aggressive feelings and behaviour. Anger is to some degree necessary for our survival, but inappropriate or excessive anger can be literally life-threatening, either our own or someone else’s.
Social convention (and indeed the law) usually inhibits us from lashing out at the person or object that enrages us, but sadly, this is not always the case. Some of us are more prone to anger than others. The more obvious ones may scream and shout, but I’m sure we all know others that are chronically grumpy, irritable, withdrawn and sulky.
The goals of anger management are learning to control our reactions to situations and events, to recognize our own particular anger triggers at an early stage and in the end, to minimize the negative emotional responses and physiological arousal that anger engenders.
People who are easily angered often have a low tolerance of frustration of any type. They often feel that they should never be inconvenienced or subjected to experiences that annoy them, and are often incapable of seeing at situation from another viewpoint. There is evidence that some children are born with a low frustration tolerance, so some of us may have a genetic tendency towards anger.
Often children are often taught not to express their anger, and this can become an ingrained habit, with unwanted consequences. When emotions are simply suppressed, we do not learn to deal with them or channel them in a constructive way.
Even something as apparently negative as anger can be put to good use, or at least, managed safely. That’s what we shall be examining in the next part of this short series.
Previously, we looked at the some of the problems that arise if we do not manage anger effectively. Poor health, failed relationships and problems in the workplace are all common consequences of anger which has got out of control, so let’s see what we can do about it.
We need to recognize, though, that anger is a perfectly natural feeling. If you experience anger, you are not weak, nor have you failed in some way.
When you recognize this, you are well on the way to learning to manage your anger, or even to turn it to your advantage.
If you are prone to anger, it is useful to examine those angry feelings, to understand what it is that makes you in particular angry. Keeping a note or a diary of times, situations and places which have affected you badly is a good guide.
There are several ways in which anger can be dealt with effectively – by acknowledging it, expressing it appropriately, and by self-calming measures.
By far the best way of dealing with our anger is to express it. This does not mean shouting and screaming, being rude and aggressive. It really means recognising our feelings, acknowledging them, communicating them and perhaps by being assertive.
The essential elements in doing this effectively are respect and communication.
In angry situations, it is a great help to try to be respectful, not just of the other people involved, but especially of ourselves. After all, whose body are we hurting most when we work ourselves up to screaming pitch?
On the communication front, taking the time to clearly express what we are feeling does two thing for us – it explains our needs, and leaves the other party in no doubt about how we feel and expect to be treated.
For this to work, instil a sense of calm in yourself at an early stage. Breathe deeply and use calming imagery, making sure that your internal self talk is calming and not inflaming the situation. Control the pitch, volume and speed of your words. Low and slow are ideal ways to keep your anger under control.
Always, when you feel anger coming on, do a reality check. Try to keep in mind what you really want out of the situation, and direct your efforts towards that end. Remember, if you blow up, you’ll probably lose out!
In the final of this series, we’ll consider how cognitive restructuring can make all the difference to your experience of life, taking away a lot of the un-necessary stress and yes, anger.
Cognitive restructuring is an excellent way of dealing with anger. It simply means changing your behaviour and feelings by changing your inner thoughts
When you are angry, things can become exaggerated and blown out of proportion. In the heat of the moment, it might seem that ‘Its awful, everything’s ruined, I might as well give up, get a divorce, move back to the UK” and so on.
However, if you take a mental step back and review the situation calmly, you’ll find that it is possible to acknowledge that ‘It’s a setback, but I can deal with it.”
By doing this, you are actively reprogramming your mind to look for solutions rather than dwelling on disaster. This prevents anger from escalating and becoming totally irrational.
It’s very useful to be able to identify and accept when you are getting angry, because doing so can give you a breathing space during which you can begin to put some defences into place.
Angry people tend to demand fairness (as defined by them!), appreciation and agreement, and have a need for things to go their way. The real world, however, does not operate to meet with our desires. When we learn to accept this, we get less angry.
Angry people also tend to indulge in all or nothing thinking, such as “I must do this ‘ or ‘I never get things right’ – this simply fuels anger. Likewise, they are prone to jumping to conclusions – ‘I know what she’s thinking’- without actually looking at the evidence. All of these thought processes are anger generators, and yet, they are completely under our control. Learn to adapt them to serve you rather than to hinder you.
Other common anger generating thought patterns are ‘He must not talk to me like that’, ‘How dare she look away when I’m talking to her’
‘I should tell him where to get off’,’ This shouldn’t happen in a fair world’
‘This is awful –I can’t stand it!
Any one of these scenarios almost inevitably leads to anger, either expressed explosively at once, or left to simmer internally.
However, let’s pause and look at them for a minute – “He must not talk to me like that!” Is there a universal law which says he must not? Is he not free to express himself that way?
Try to remember that there are few, if any, absolutes.
Humour, of course helps to dispel anger. If some one is really getting to you, imagine them as a cartoon character perhaps, or a baby wearing a nappy. You’ll probably find that you start to smile, and that in itself is a great defence against anger. One of our clients used to imagine his boss sitting in a corner wearing a dunce’s cap. It worked for him!
Try to avoid situations – and people – that you know might start you feeling angry. It’s not always possible, but at worst, you can learn to change the way you think – trying to be more flexible, less demanding and more rational. It’s hardly ever the reality of what is happening to is that pushes us into anger, but rather our responses to them.
Also, I’d like to offer some practical tips you can use to great effect:-
Get to know what situations trigger your anger and avoid them.
In any discussion, stay completely focussed upon the end result you want, and do or say nothing that will get in the way of it. At work, make sure that as far as possible you are delegating sufficiently, and whatever your day involves, that you make sure that you make adequate time for each thing. Use lists - that way tasks don't get forgotten, and that sort of stress is removed from your life. When you are dealing with people, make a distinct effort to speak more slowly and less loudly than normal. Keep the pitch and temperature down Avoid generalities like " You are always xxxxxxxxxx" Generalities make people feel abused. Stick to identifiable facts. Be as objective as possible, always. Don’t get into the 'blame game'. Try to be solution oriented, rather than blame oriented.
That may have given you a better understanding of what is going on.
Secondly, I’m going to suggest that you would benefit from some Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Remember I spoke of Cognitive Restructuring earlier?
CBT is based on the fact that what we think in any given situation generates beliefs about, and reactions to that situation, and also causes the behaviour and feelings which flow from those beliefs and reactions.
These ‘automatic thoughts’ are so fast that generally, we are unaware that we have even had them. We call them ANTS (automatic negative thoughts) for short.
If the pattern of thinking we use, or our beliefs about our situation are even slightly distorted,
the resulting emotions and actions that flow from them can be extremely negative and unhelpful. The object of CBT is to identify these ‘automatic thoughts’ then to re-adjust our thoughts and beliefs so that they are entirely realistic and correspond to the realities of our lives, and that therefore, the resulting emotions, feelings and actions we have will be more useful and helpful.
Cognitive therapists do not usually interpret or seek for unconscious motivations but bring cognitions and beliefs into the current focus of attention and through guided discovery encourage clients to gently re-evaluate their thinking.
Therapy is not seen as something “done to” the client. CBT is not about trying to prove a client wrong and the therapist right, or getting into unhelpful debates. Through collaboration, questioning and re-evaluating their views, clients come to see for themselves that there are alternatives and that they can change.
Clients try things out in between therapy sessions, putting what has been learned into practice, learning how therapy translates into real life improvement.
Please visit this website for much more detailed information on CBT:
If you cannot afford to see a therapist, there are good free CBT based self-help resources here:
Also, there is a book called ”Feeling good - the new mood therapy” by Dr. David Burns. It has a hand book which gives you practical exercises to work through and further instructions on how to better use CBT. I really do recommend it.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Workbook for Dummies By Rhena Branch, Rob Willson is also pretty good.
Best wishes, Norman.