Everyone feels their anger is justified when they’re actually angry. Equally, we’ve all looked back and realised we may have overreacted. But for some people, anger can become a problem that needs to be addressed.
It’s important to realise several things about anger before you start tackling it. First, anger is a normal process that has allowed humans to evolve and adapt. It isn’t a bad thing in itself, but problems occur if it isn’t managed in the right way.
Anger is also a mixture of both emotional and physical changes. A big surge of energy goes through your body as chemicals, such as adrenaline, are released.
Once the cause of the anger is resolved, you may still have to deal with the physical effects – all that energy has to go somewhere. This can be taken out on another person, such as a partner, or an object – by punching a wall, for example. This last option can lead down the road to self-harm.
The other alternative is to suppress the energy until the next time you’re angry. This may mean you release so much pent-up emotion that you overreact to the situation. Realising this can lead to feelings of shame or frustration when you reflect on your actions, and to further repression of your feelings.
On the other hand, just letting your anger go in an uncontrolled fashion can lead to a move from verbal aggression to physical abuse – don’t forget, the other person is probably feeling angry with you too.
But there is a flip side to anger. Because of the surge of energy it creates, it can be pleasurable. This feeling is reinforced if becoming angry allows the release of feelings of frustration, or if a person’s response to your anger gives you a sense of power.
It’s important to acknowledge and keep an eye on this side of the problem – it can have an almost addictive element.
Recognising why you get angry
It’s important to be aware of the positive feelings you get from anger as well as the negative ones.
Once you’ve recognised the positive and negative feelings associated with your anger, it’s important to find other means of getting the positives ones.
Each person’s positives are different, so there will be different solutions for everyone, but some strategies might include:
Trying a non-contact competitive sport
Learning relaxation or meditation
Shouting and screaming in a private, quiet place
Banging your fists into a pillow
Any of these may help to vent your frustration and burn off any feelings you’re bottling up.
Dealing with flashpoints
However, this still leaves the problem of dealing differently with those situations that make you angry. This takes practice.
The first thing to do is list the situations that make you angry. Note down exactly what it is about them that makes you angry – it may be the immediate situation, or it could be that it represents a build-up of issues you haven’t resolved.
Now ask yourself four questions about your interpretation of these situations:
What evidence is there to show this is accurate?
Is there another equally believable interpretation of what’s going on here?
What action can I take to have some control of the situation?
If my best friend were in this situation, what advice would I give to them?
This won’t dispel the anger for every situation, but when you’re angry it can be difficult to assess a situation accurately. If a situation arises unexpectedly and you feel your temper rising, walk away and complete this exercise if you can.
Resolving the issues
If your anger is not resolved by this, make sure you’ve given enough thought to ‘What exactly am I angry about?’ You need to be sure exactly what you’re angry about before you can resolve it. It will usually involve a person, but not necessarily the one who’s the target of your anger in the situation and this is the person you need to work the situation out with.
To do this, find a time to raise the problem when you feel more in control of your temper. It may be a good idea to agree a time in advance.
It may feel like a tall order to discuss the issue without getting angry, but following a plan may help. Professor Richard Nelson-Jones has developed a good structure to use, called CUDSAIR. This stands for:
First, it’s important that you confront the problem and not the person. State the nature of the problem and how it makes you feel. Be clear that it’s the problem – not the person – who makes you feel like this. This way you’ll develop a joint definition and ownership of what’s going on.
Next, it’s important to understand each other’s view of the situation. It may help to agree that each person should be able to say what they think about the problem without being interrupted by the other. After this, identify areas where you disagree. Don’t discuss the disagreements yet, just agree that you disagree. This is how you define the problem.
The next step is to search for solutions. Here, be as outrageous as you like – but again, don’t make personal attacks. Generate as many possible solutions as you can – at the moment, it doesn’t matter how unrealistic they seem.
Finally, you have to agree on a solution. This is probably the most delicate part of the whole process. It’s important that you both make concessions and acknowledge those that the other person has made. It’s also important not to have unrealistic expectations – it’s likely that the final solution won’t be ideal for either of you, but the resulting compromise will probably be better than the problems the anger generated.
It’s important that you both keep to the agreement. It’s also important not to overreact to any breaches. Point them out, but there’s no need to get angry. You have the agreement to back you up.
However well you both stick to the agreement, it’s worth having a review some time in the future to go through the CUDSAIR model again and see if things can’t be improved further.