Anger is one of our basic emotions. It is completely normal for us all to experience this emotion in daily life. When expressed in healthy ways, anger can help motivate us to solve problems, cope with stress, or communicate with others; when anger leads to aggressive outbursts or rage, however, it could be destructive to relationships, employment status, and our own health and well being. Learning to effectively manage anger is important and has the potential of benefiting us and those with whom we interact.
Anger is an emotion. It is neither a “good” or “bad” construct in itself. We all experience anger at one time or another, and that is a good thing! Anger has helped us humans to survive through tough times and protect us from dangerous situations. When we feel or sense a threat of some sort, anger is a natural pattern of responding, Anger can be a large part of the “fight” portion of the fight or flight reaction. If this type of reaction gets out of hand or becomes habitual even when there are no potential threats around, there are risks of becoming isolated (if others avoid interactions due to angry outbursts), without work, or even physically unhealthy (anger can take a toll on the body).
We might have learned to use anger as a kind of defense mechanism in situations of sadness or fear. It could be associated with past unresolved situations involving mistreatment or distress of which we are not consciously aware.
It is also possible for anger to result from or be a part of a mental health condition. Experiencing pain, depression, anxiety, loneliness, substance misuse/abuse, or grief could lead to feeling so irritated and frustrated that angry outbursts or reactions result. Anger might be used as a distraction from painful or otherwise unpleasant emotions.
Anger is an emotion and so has no “rating” on emotional scales. In daily language, anger is commonly referred to as a negative and harmful habit that should be avoided. In actuality, what may be negative and harmful are the behaviours that result from feeling angry emotions. There is a split second between when the emotion of anger is, for whatever reason, activated and the behaviour that follows; in that split second, we have the choice of how we will respond. We can all learn to become more and more aware of how our thoughts, emotions, and body sensations signal us to such moments. Learning about what triggers anger and what it feels like in the body is one part of learning to manage anger more effectively. Rather than writing anger off as something that is always “bad”, taking the time and putting in the effort to learn about the sensations in place when anger is present and learning different skills and strategies for coping with these feelings has the potential to lead to desired changes.
Anger is an emotion; a natural emotion that has and still does help us out in many situations. When this emotion leads to repeated outbursts of rage, aggressive or violent acts, behaviours that are harmful to the self or to others, abuse of various substances that mask anger initially but worsen the feelings in the long term, negatively influences thought patterns and outward behaviour choices, choosing to see a therapist for assistance with learning to effectively and safely cope with anger.
Different techniques and strategies to manage the unpleasant feelings and sensations that are commonly associated with anger characterize therapy for anger management. This might include learning ways of relieving tension in the body and relating to emotions in different and effective ways. Becoming aware of problematic thinking patterns and learning ways of adjusting or altering them might be important to learn. Handling anger more effectively in relationship situations might also be important.
Therapy for anger management will look different for each person involved, and that is completely okay! Even though anger is an emotion that is present for all of us, it results in different behaviours and actions in each person and so produces different sorts of consequences. Our therapists can help to navigate managing anger in safe, helpful, and effective ways.
Greenberger, D. & Padesky, C.A. (2016). Mind over mood: Change how you feel by changing the way you think. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
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