Some Thoughts About Anger

anger cartoon NYKR

A while ago I received the following email.

Hi Mr. Johnson, I am a reporter for Klipsun Magazine at Western Washington University. I am writing an article on anger management and I would love to have your point of view on the subject. Such as, how to handle anger, why it happens, and gender differences….Thank you so much for your help, (name).

Hi, (name). Here are some thoughts re. your great questions.

1. How does anger management develop?

A person either realizes their anger is not serving them well and undertakes a plan of self improvement on their own initiative, OR family and friends convince them to get help, OR (worst case scenario–violence) the court requires people to get their anger under control. Once the angry person is on board with the goal of reducing their anger I work with clients to engage in three tasks: 1) list all the benefits of controlling anger (rather than it controlling us); this keeps us motivated when the battle gets hard. 2) Track the five stages in the anger sequence [trigger, thought, physiological responses, emotion, and action]. By identifying and separating these five stages we get more power over them. 3) Work on the primary culprit in anger, namely, our thoughts. The counseling term for this is cognitive therapy.

2. How can anger management be maintained?

Keep reviewing the benefits of conquering anger–lower blood pressure, less cost for broken items, fewer doctor bills for broken hands or feet for hitting or kicking stuff, longer lasting friendships, more free time in our brains to use for productive stuff, etc.

3. What is the difference between getting angry and having an anger management problem?

Getting angry is a good and proper response to injustice, cruelty, oppression, etc. Think MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. They channel their anger and hurt into traffic safety laws, etc. If I had the magic ability to make all anger vanish I wouldn’t use it. We need anger to inspire battling the things that need battling. But there’s a thin line between healthy anger and problematic anger. Anger becomes a problem when we’re angry in the wrong way, at the wrong time, with the wrong people, for the wrong reasons (this is my paraphrase of a quote from Aristotle). Anger problems can creep up on us and because of denial or cluelessness we don’t know why we lose friends, get in so many fights, or need so many prescription drugs (or alcohol) to calm down, etc. So when family and friends suggest we may have an anger problem it’s a good idea to consider that what they’re saying might be correct.

4. What would you suggest to your patients to deal with their anger?

In addition to the steps above, we deal with practical matters like stress relief, healing the hurts, fears, and jealousies behind much of our anger, and capturing those distorted cognitions that fuel anger. “That motorist cut me off on purpose” vs. “Maybe they’re on the way to the hospital to have a baby.” “If a person criticizes me my life is ruined” vs. “Hmm, they’re sure having a bad day,” or “I demand that life be fair!” vs. “Oh well.”

5. What is the difference between female anger and male anger?

To be honest in my experience both genders get angry with only a few subtle variations. Stereotypes bug me but anecdotally I believe it takes longer for guys to calm down once elevated and it takes longer for women to let stuff go. Other than that, both men/women explode, hit, fume, stuff, scream, etc. And the strategies for de-escalating are the same. Here’s a recent blog post on this theme which is only partially tongue in cheek.

Wow! Thank you so much! Anger is an interesting subject, I’ve gotten a lot of different feedback on how people deal with their anger, such as some may yell and others might bottle it up. Again, thank you so much for your thoughts. It has really helped my article. (name).