Anger is a defense mechanism that protects us from threat or fear of rejection, isolation, loss of control, failure, the unknown and/or death.
Think back to the last 2 times you were angry. What fears was your anger related to?
Create a table. In the first column, list your resentments. In the second column write how much anger the resentment caused (1=not much 10=a whole lot). In the third column, write whether the anger level was accurate or a reaction to something from your past or pent-up frustrations. In the fourth column, write the fear(s) this resentment is related to. In the fifth column, write how this could be dealt with.
- The average person experiences 15 anger situations per day
- Anger reveals information about people’s values and personal constructs of importance
- Expression of anger for men and women is often dictated/indicated by their particular culture
- Exercise, venting and time-out are often good strategies to dissipate the adrenaline, but are not effective for coping with anger.
- Coping with anger requires people to recognize what caused the anger and modify that stressor or perceptions about that stressor.
- Good communication, fair fighting and self-awareness are all important components for anger management.
- People express anger in different ways. Some people hold it inside and develop physical problems, some people explode and some people are passive-aggressive.
- It is important for people to know their personal anger styles, triggers and most effective anger management skills.
Theories of Anger
The development of theories of anger and aggression follows the development of psychology in general. This part outlines these theories and their clinical application to the treatment of anger and aggressive behavior.
Evolutionary theorists suggested that aggressive behavior is innate, the fighting instinct possessed by all animals to protect and ensure the survival of the species. This theory is somewhat pessimistic in its approach to the management of aggression, as it suggests that aggression is inevitable. Suggested ways to control such behavior include preventing its accumulation by engaging in lower-level non-injurious behavior or displacement of inappropriate urges into other acceptable activities like sports and experiencing feelings incompatible with aggression, such as love and friendship.
Motivation/drive theories state that aggression arises from environmental factors. It has been suggested that aggression is caused by stopping someone from doing something they want which leads to frustration and frustration leads to some form of aggression. Further, the more agitated an individual becomes, the more likely they are to behave aggressively, because arousal triggers a strong emotional response. If an individual thinks that a danger is real, levels of arousal will be maintained or escalate; however if an individual rationalizes the danger, arousal will be reduced. Motivational/drive theories offer potential for the control of aggressive behavior in three main ways.
The triggers/cues to aggression can be modified by the development of coping strategies such as de-escalation,avoidance or escape.
The way the individual perceives the threat can be altered through ‘cognitive restructuring’, or learning to think differently about situations.
SOCIAL LEARNING THEORIES
Alfred Bandura proposed that behavior is learned and maintained through observation of other people’s behavior and its consequences for them. He believed that individuals do not behave aggressively because of instinctive urges or drives, but for three main reasons:
They have learned through past experience that aggressive behavior works
They expect reward for certain behaviors
Aggression is encouraged in their social circle.
Bandura said that what someone thinks and feels about a situation will affect their response. Although there are many situations and conditions in which people behave aggressively, aggression is more likely if the person experiences negative feelings. Social learning theory suggests that dealing with anger through aggression is a behavior that is learned, and can therefore be relearned. When people learn to change the way they perceive situations and address anger-related feelings and situations early, they will be less likely to behave aggressively.
This model highlights the links between beliefs, emotions, cognitions, arousal and behavior. In 1977, Meichenbaum introduced the concept of stress inoculation: the idea that increased exposure to manageable levels of stress, together with the use of specific coping strategies, could increase an individual’s ability to cope with situations. There are three stages to stress inoculation training:
Cognitive preparation: identifying, rationalizing and organizing the way the person thinks, prior to and during an anger-arousing situation
Skill acquisition: learning different ways of coping’ with situations through assertiveness and social skills training, positive self-talk and cognitive restructuring
Application training: putting new skills into practice first through imagination and role-play then in real life situations
There are three types of anger control skills
- Those that are preventative when anger is inappropriate or avoidable
Those that are regulatory so that an individual learns to control their level of arousal and cognitions. The use of relaxation, exercise and deep breathing to reduce or appropriately work through physiological arousal,
Those that are executional, so an individual can use previously learned skills to cope with situations such as assertiveness training
Anger is a natural emotion and should not be suppressed, rather, people should aim to reduce the negative effects of excessive and/or uncontrolled anger and maximize adaptive function (what purpose is the anger trying to fulfill?)
Anger control training also draws on the theory of relapse prevention.Relapse prevention is a self-control approach in which the person identifies triggers, works to eliminate as many as possible, reduce the impact of others and plan was to deal with inevitable triggers. Additionally, they learn to identify relapse warning signs to increase recognition of important thoughts, feeling and behaviors and ‘high risk situations’ which, in the past, have signaled the beginning of an aggressive or anger episode.. The model is based on cognitive-behavioral theory and highlights the importance of maintaining a balanced lifestyle, developing insight and awareness of ourselves, our triggers and our behavior, and uses skills training, cognitive coping strategies and behavioral rehearsal to prevent problem behaviors from escalating out of control.
Always try to stop and ask yourself the following questions:
“Will this matter to me 6 months from now?”
“Is this worth all the energy I am spending being angry?”
“Does being angry about this do any good? How could I use this energy more productively?”
“What fears is this bringing up for me? Failure? Isolation? Rejection? Loss of control? The unknown?”