By Mary-Catherine McClain Riner, Ph.D., Ed.S., M.S., www.rinercounseling.com
Anger is a valid emotion signaling that something is wrong — such as feeling like you were being treated unfairly or experiencing goal interference. While anger is not a bad or wrong feeling, too much anger leads to negative consequences at work, within your family, and in personal relationships. It can also impair your physical health. It is important to use anger constructively and to express it in healthier, more adaptive ways. Equally important is achieving a sense of resolution and/or acceptance.
Ineffective Anger Management — The Don’ts
- Stuffing and Bottling Emotions Inside: Individuals commonly attempt to hide anger, avoid expressing feelings, and sweep conflict under the rug. The problem with this strategy is that conflict only temporarily goes away, people walk away angry, and over time anger turns into resentment.
- Becoming Defensive: Reacting to anger too quickly can lead to defensiveness and hostile responses. Similarly, it can impede the development of relationships, result in a loss of opportunities, and prevent you from being able to learn and develop more appropriate forms of communication. It leads to feeling more anxious, sad, fearful, and/or regretful.
- Using Physical or Verbal Aggression: Research shows that lashing out leads to more negative outcomes. Compliance may be achieved in the short-term due to fear, but lasting change is extremely unlikely. This behavior may also teach violence to observers and does not target the root of the problem.
Effective Anger Management — The Do’s
- Slow Down: Check in with yourself in the morning, afternoon, and evening to assess your level of anger. For example, create an anger meter with “0” being no anger and “10” representing explosive and out-of-control anger. Self-monitoring can reduce the tendency to operate on autopilot and make you more aware of your true feelings before they get out of hand. If your meter becomes a “4” or “5,” consider how you might resolve this feeling or what you need to do to express and ultimately release it. Draw out an umbrella and visualize the feelings that your anger covers (e.g., rejection, hurt). Imagine holding the umbrella and asking yourself how you can handle the emotion or feeling appropriately without getting rained on.
- Express and Release It: If and when anger reaches a “6” or “7,” it is important to have a toolbox ready to extinguish your fire. Take control and responsibility of your emotions and don’t blame or attack someone else. Use “I” statements to convey your feelings, choose a time to talk with the person who is upsetting you, and maintain a calm voice while talking. Use deep breathing, count to 10, engage in exercise, write in a journal, visualize your anger leaving your body and floating down a stream, and use positive self-talk (e.g., This too shall pass; I can handle this without losing my temper). Consider using a timer in which you give yourself 20 minutes to be fully angry, and then practice letting the anger roll off your body. Another option is writing a letter but refrain from delivering it until you have had a few hours to calm down and review it. Laugh off frustration, stretch away tension, talk anger out, and shed tears of irritation. The goal is not to suppress but rather express anger appropriately.
- Practice Conflict Resolution: If problems continue to reappear, consider deliberate communication and give yourself permission to be heard. Schedule a time to talk to the individual(s) involved, acknowledge the conflict, model using “I” statements, ask for questions/feedback, confirm and reassess each person’s understanding, consider a compromise, and follow-up after the conversation. Reflect back on what this process was like, what you learned, what was difficult, and what you would change in the future.
As the saying goes, “When angry, count to 10 before you speak. If very angry, count to 100.” Anger can lead to serious consequences and have significant repercussions. When anger leaves you feeling out of control or is interfering with your ability to work or complete daily life functions, consider contacting a professional.
Mary-Catherine Riner, Ph.D., Ed.S, M.S., is a licensed psychologist serving South Carolina and Georgia. She earned her doctorate in counseling psychology and school psychology at Florida State University in 2014, following her pre-doctoral internship at Johns Hopkins University, where she specialized in eating disorders and suicide risk assessment. Presently, she specializes in treating eating disorders, OCD, self-harm, and marital discord.