Do you find yourself losing control, tipped over the edge by the smallest of things? Well, it might be all down to your genes? While some of us can accept life’s irritations with a smile and a shrug, others see red and want to tear the head off the next person who dares to speak. Consider how your parents and grandparents handle their anger. Chances are you probably deal with things very much like them. Now while I would love to tell you that you have probably inherited the “angry gene,” the reality is that such a specific gene does not exist. Chances are that your nature, that is, how you deal with things that is likely to have been inherited. In other words it’s learnt behaviour, the way you deal with stress, confrontation and life’s challenges is the thing that is inherited. Perhaps stress management rather than anger management is what you need? Feel free to talk to us if you would like more information on ways to manage stress.- steveclifford.info
So what exactly is anger and why do we get angry? As with all our other emotions, anger is has a very important function. From an evolutionary perspective, anger is natures way of responding to threat. It is nature’s way of letting us know that we have been emotionally wounded and mobilises us to fend off an attacker.
There are certain situations that appear to trigger anger more frequently:
- When our “rules, values and standards” have been crossed, threatened or disrespected in some way or when path has been blocked by another.
- When we feel frightened, inadequate or foolish.
- When we feel our “rights” have been broken or violated by another.
- When we have been “hurt” and do not want to show another how vulnerable we feel.
- When another’s actions triggers past hurts.
From a CBT perspective, its not the event itself that causes us to feel angry, its the meaning of the event that causes us to feel the way we do.
So how do you overcome the urge to respond angrily to another?
Coming back to the scenario when we feel wronged and our response has been to shout , gesture and act intimidating towards another with the intent of attacking verbally (sometimes even physically). Is this really the way to express ourselves, or indeed quell the rising torrent of anger? Take heart, it need not be like this. You have a choice, either the anger controls you, or you can take control of it.The first point to remember is that you are responsible for your anger, you can choose whether to express your anger or not. For example, a bus splashes you as it drives through a huge puddle and you are instantly soaked. You have a choice… you can laugh at your pitiful plight, or wave an angry fist. The key is to buy yourself some time, in other words, you need to”lengthen the fuse.”
Instant fury is triggered by reflex action and responses come from a small part of the brain known as the “amygdala” located in the”limbic centre” of the brain. This is the part of the brain responsible for the “fight or flight” response when we sense danger or threat. In the case of instant anger, the thinking part or “central cortex” has been bypassed. This is known as an “amygdula hijack.” By simply lengthening the fuse and counting from one to ten slowly, it will allow the thinking part of the brain to engage.
People often mistakenly believe that the way they respond to situations is set in tablets of stone, “I’ve just got a short temper,” or, “I’m just like my Dad.” Well, this is simply not true, it is just that is the way you have become accustomed to dealing with situations.
If you have become angry and “lost it” at the shop assistant because they appear to be going deliberately slow (when you are in a hurry). Stop, take a breath, count to ten and then apologise sincerely. Now ask for their point of view. This will serve to create a mindful problem solving arena. Remember. they are probably as frustrated having a continual queue as you are stood waiting in the queue. They may well be going slowly, because they are tired, bored and fed up. Try listening to what others say, with the emphasis on responding, not mindlessly reacting to their words. Use the rational thinking part of your brain rather than the primitive danger/threat response.
So here are some tips you might find useful:
- Start managing your anger, even before it appears.
- Watch out for your hot spots, those people, places, times and situations in which you normally find yourself getting angry.
- Ensure there is no “unfinished business” or issues that could re-kindle unresolved anger.
- Aim to process your anger as soon as you become aware of it. Ask yourself, “What is it saying to me?” or, “Do I recognise this feeling?”
- Be prepared to process your anger by talking about your feelings
- If you must fight, “Fight fairly.”
- Make sure your ready to apologise.
Here is a method that has been used successfully by many people to manage situations and stop their anger surfacing in an unhealthy manner. It may not prevent arguments, but it could stop arguments spiraling out of control. The key is to address your anger as soon as you become aware of it. Follow these four steps BEFORE you explode, rather than picking up the pieces afterwards.
- As soon as you feel your body tensing and your anger beginning to rise, say out loud: “I am beginning to feel angry and need to take time-out.”
- Exit your home or the situation, for a thirty minute period of time. No less, no more. Go for a walk or a jog, but DON’T DRINK and DON’T DRIVE,
- Do something physical that will use up the adrenalin that is beginning to surface.
- When thirty minutes has passed, return. Check in with the other and ask if they want to talk about the problem. Accept their wishes and remember they may not wish to discuss it.
Time-out is a very effective strategy to employ, but it needs to be practised. It is not to be used to get out of work or things you do not wish to do.
For more information on anger management contact the British Association for Anger Management – www.angermanage.co.uk
Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.