If you’ve ever exploded with anger and regretted it shortly afterwards, or felt yourself simmering with resentment for days, you know how harmful these feelings can be. Anger can wreak havoc on relationships and have a destructive effect on one’s life. Recent medical research has also shown it to be linked to an increased likelihood of heart disease, stroke, cancer and the weakening of the immune system.
There are many effective techniques and approaches that can assist us in managing anger. Below is a four step strategy which I call the four C’s.
1. Calm down
Staying in control and calming down is a vital first stage when in an anger-provoking situations modern psychotherapy places much emphasis on techniques that help to reduce and release the pent up frustration associated with anger. Relaxing and breathing techniques are emphasised, as they have a physiological effect that calms the psyche and reduces stress levels. Writing down your feelings in the form of a letter which will never be sent, or a physical form of release such as exercise or walking, are also effective methods.
In the heat of the moment we often become irrational, blowing things out of proportion. Once we feel calmer, it is important to look rationally and objectively at the anger provoking situation. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) teaches that it is not the actual event that disturbs us, but our interpretation and internal response to it that causes us our emotional reaction. By cognitive thought restructuring – changing the way we think of the situation – we can change our emotional reaction. It is important to ask yourself if there are other, less hostile ways of seeing and interpreting the situation and to try to see things from the other person’s perspective. This includes trying to understand their attitudes, motivation and background.
Other therapeutic approaches emphasise becoming more aware of one’s own motivations. You may become angry with one person but really be angry with someone else or even yourself. This is known as transference. For example, someone who is angry with his boss but is afraid express it, may flare up at his wife or children instead. Anger may also be provoked when a comment touches upon or reminds one of a basic insecurity and feeling of vulnerability. When feeling threatened, it may be easier to become angry with another person than to acknowledge and face the real issue.
3. Change yourself
We have more control over ourselves and our own responses than we have over other people’s actions. We need to see if there is anything we can do ourselves to improve the situation or to prevent it from reoccurring. These may be simple lifestyle changes, such as getting more sleep, eating better or being more organised. On a deeper level, it may mean taking responsibility to deal with our insecurities and areas of sensitivity.
When a person feels angry two responses are common: fight, (explode outwardly) or flight (retreat inwardly.) Learning to communicate one’s feelings in an open non confrontational way is an important skill
There is a valuable approach used in marital therapy and conflict resolution called ‘active listening’. Two people in conflict are encouraged to make statements that begin with “I”, focusing on what they feel rather than making accusing statements that begin with “You”. For example, “I felt bad when you came late” instead of “you never turn up on time”. The other person paraphrases the contents of the statement, which enables the speaker to feel understood and validated. In this way an empathetic environment is created where both sides can be understood and work to resolve their differences. This leads to consolation and ultimately forgiveness which releases the poisonous feelings associated with anger.