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Many people know they have anger control problems and feel guilty, but they don’t know how to fix it. Identify which of the following characteristics best describes you and start trying to make a change.

High levels of tension. These people describe themselves as ‘uptight’ and ‘wound up’. They tend not to be able to defuse feelings of anxiety and stress, and so easily overreact to minor irritants. For these clients, identifying the reason they are “uptight” is the first step. Do they hold themselves to unreasonable standards? Are they trying to avoid rejection and thus placing unreasonable demands on themselves? Do they simply lack good coping skills? If they woke up tomorrow and they were not stressed out/wound up/uptight, what would be different? How can they start trying to make that change?
 
High impulsivity. People who are highly impulsive tend to say or do things without thinking. They may have significant difficulty identifying thoughts and feelings, and may also not recognize the existence of any factors leading up to an angry outburst: “It just happens.” The key for this person is to develop a greater sense of self-awareness, not only of when they are getting angry, but also, what their anger triggers are. Once they do that, they can start evaluating their triggers and coping with them.

Poor empathy. People with poor empathy find difficulty in understanding how others feel. They may be dispassionate, detached and not show concern for others. For these people, ‘understanding the effect of their behavior on others may help them to reflect on their behavior towards others. Empathy is difficult to learn once you have grown up, but it is possible. Through role-playing and intensive reflection, it is possible to learn to walk in another’s shoes.
 
Low tolerance of frustration. These people are also likely to have high levels of tension, they are characterized by their inability to solve problems and their tendency to become easily irritated. Let’s face it, when we are stressed out or overwhelmed, we often have a low frustration tolerance. Most of the time, the key here is not raising the frustration tolerance, but figuring out what is causing you to feel overwhelmed, stressed or anxious…hence producing a low frustration tolerance. If the key is reducing tension, see number 1 above.

Overstimulated Easily. Some people, especially children, introverts and people with ADD, get overwhelmed with too much stimulation. Many children are so excited about the world that they do not filter out stimulus—the fire engine driving by, the television, the dogs and they toy they are playing with are all bombarding their little senses at the same time. As adults, we learn to filter things out. Children have difficulty. My son was a micro preemie and experienced some neurological developmental delays. He is much more irritable and easily frustrated if he has too many options (i.e. a room full of toys everywhere). So much so that he ends up not doing anything except acting out and getting put in time out. Once we realized that the environment was overstimulating, we helped him learn to identify when he was getting overstimulated and “take a break” before he would get in trouble and get put in time-out. We also made sure his room was, well frankly, boring–no toys (except his favorite stuffed animals), no books no stereo. In the playroom, we made sure to keep toys on the shelves, offer only one at a time and teach him to put it away before he got out the next one. It took about three months, but his behavior radically improved.

Adults with ADD often have difficulty filtering out the stimuli as well. It is exhausting for them to have to be in a room trying to focus all day. A friend of mine who had ADD once challenged our class to spend one hour at work or trying to write a paper with the television on, a disco light flashing in the background and people talking right next to us. By the end of the hour, I was irritable, frustrated, exhausted and had gotten virtually none of my work done. I had a new-found awareness and respect for people with ADD. Even with medication, you will have to make modifications to your environment to prevent unnecessary distractions.

Never take time to regroup. Finally, introverts are those people who need “down time” each day. Time by themselves to regroup. When introverts do not get this, they lose track of how they feel and get grouchy. If you are married to an introvert, don’t take it as an insult if they need down-time as soon as they come home. It has nothing to do with you. Extroverts de-compress after a long day by talking. Introverts may talk, but they need time to regroup and be quiet first. My husband and I are both introverts, which makes having multiple children and animals a challenge some days. We both love our family very much, but we both also need alone time each day to not get stressed out.
 
Self-defeating anger. These people present with a seeming inability to modify their behavior, even when they can clearly recognize the negative consequences of it: “My girlfriend threatens to leave me but I just can’t stop losing my temper.” These people are either afraid to look at and address their fears (usually the fear of rejection and the fear of not being in control) and/or there is clearly a benefit to the behavior. My first questions would be, what happens after you lose your temper? Do you get your own way? Do you gain power or control in some way? Is this person just a safe target to get angry at so you take your anger out on him/her?
 
Low self-esteem. Low self-esteem would be an expected characteristic of people who are lonely, isolated, have problems relating to others and are stigmatized. Low self-esteem may make a person vulnerable to threat. People with low self-esteem may also act aggressively because they lack effective communication and assertiveness skills. Children develop low self-esteem, they are not born with it. As parents, we can either enhance it, or destroy it. People with low self-esteem have been hurt, rejected and disappointed. They are often angry at the world—many for good reason. Often, when people start feeling better about themselves, they stop trying to tear others down.
 
Assertiveness problems. Those people who are unable to communicate clearly and appropriately in social interactions are likely to suppress their emotions or express them in an extreme or aggressive manner. Assertiveness is a skill and an art. You must be able to control your emotions while you effectively communicate to someone else your needs. People with poor assertiveness can be nasty, sarcastic, might expect you to read their mind and know what they need or might feel like they are always getting walked on.
 
Difficulty coping with stress. People typically are unable to cope with stress and tend to avoid problems, which leads to their accumulation. These people also tend to worry excessively or to ruminate on their problems. Worry is energy tied up in the future and regret is energy stuck in the past. We need a little anxiety to motivate us to do something. It is when you just sit and worry, or worry over things that you cannot control it becomes a problem. Keep a diary for a week. In it, each night identify how much of the day you spent feeling the following emotions: anger/irritability/frustration, guilt/regret, depression, worry/anxiety/stress, happiness.. Make a pie chart to graphically represent how much time you spend in each. You notice I did not give you an option of feeling “nothing” or “blah” These are generally times we are actually feeling something but are not self-aware.
 
Disproportionate expressions of anger. People tend to greatly overreact to minor incidents which may be objectively seen as insignificant: for example, threatening someone who accidentally bumps into them. This type of person may also “save up” a litany of “done-me-wrongs” and suddenly just explode listing everything you have done worng for the last 6 months.
 
Limited repertoire of responses. There is a tendency to use anger and aggression in the majority of situations, rather than other, more appropriate, strategies such as negotiation, compromise or withdrawal. These people are characterized by having few alternative coping strategies. Cognitive-behavioral therapy often works well to help this person rapidly develop some new skills.
 
A tendency to project blame. Aggressive people have difficulty accepting responsibility for their actions and often justify their behavior by placing responsibility on others: “They were winding me up.” This tendency allows the individual to continue using aggressive behavior because, by blaming others, they can convince themselves that it is not their fault and therefore they do not need to change. Projecting blame onto others also allows the individual to maintain some level of self-esteem. This does not fly with me. As adults, we are responsible for our actions and our emotions. If something makes us angry, anxious etc. it is our responsibility to either change the situation or change how we think or feel about the situation.
 
Negative bias towards others. People often have a tendency to distort the way they think about others. This can lead to suspicion, hostility and poor social relationships: “He is being very nice to me, he must want something.” If you assume the worst from others, that is what you will get.
 
The application of negative stereotypes. This is the tendency to make assumptions about others based on minimal information. People who apply negative stereotypes inevitably assume the worst in others. This leads to a difficulty making friendships and increases the likelihood of interpersonal conflict. A negative stereotype might be that people who have their hair cut short are looking for trouble.
 
Holding of irrational beliefs , such as that one’s personal safety or security is threatened despite there being minimal evidence to support this. People who hold fixed irrational beliefs are likely to distort situations and react inappropriately. Read the article on irrational beliefs to find out more about which thought patterns might be keeping you angry.
 
Exaggeration of the significance of events. People who have a tendency towards exaggeration may blow up a situation out of all proportion. For example, being reprimanded for poor timekeeping might be interpreted by the individual as an indication that they are going to be fired.
 
A high expectation of themselves and others. People who are unrealistic about what they and others should achieve are going to be constantly disappointed and frustrated; Anger-prone people are likely to be unrealistically perfectionistic. People tend to set rigid rules for themselves and others, and are unable to live up to these rules.

Many of the above behaviors are symptoms of poor coping skills, poor communication skills, low self esteem and a tendency to think in irrational, negative or pessimistic ways. Once you figure out where it is coming from, how to change becomes alot clearer. Try to change one thing at a time. You will be amazed at how quickly your anger goes away.

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