I’ve had people come to this site on search terms like “how do I manage my anger” and “I need help for my anger” so I have been trying to write an article to help them.
It is proving extremely difficult because anger management is both simple and complex.
The simple part is that nobody and nothing can MAKE you angry!
Anger is an internal response to internal processes that, of course, may be set in motion by external things.
There is nothing wrong with the internal response – anger has a legitimate place in human experience.
There may, or may not, be something you can do about the external things – leave an abusive situation for instance or avoid a nasty person.
The focus of anger management, however, is on the middle guy. The internal processes that move a person from calm to angry are what anger management tries to intervene with.
In people with anger problems the middle guy tends to be hypervigilant and quick to take offence. It decides a threat is present when most people would not see a threat. It interprets situations in ways people without an anger problem would not interpret them and this triggers anger other people would not experience.
That is one of the goals of anger management – to help the middle guy take off the black-coloured glasses and see the world as it really is. The world is not a rosy place but it isn’t as black as people with anger problems tend to see it either!
As a young woman I didn’t think I had a problem with anger because the only problem it caused for me was the occasional property damage. Then I had my children and it became obvious, even to me, that I did have a problem.
I was constantly getting angry with my kids for being naughty. I grew up in a world where mistakes did not exist. Childish mistakes were viewed as deliberate attempts to provoke and were punished severely. I viewed my own children’s behaviour the same way and was responding to it the way my mother had responded to me.
Learning about childhood development, what is normal behaviour, the various learning stages children go through and so on helped me see things more clearly and my anger changed direction.
Instead of being angry with my children for making mistakes I got angry at my mother for not tolerating my mistakes as a child.
I learned to let go of that anger too, however, because my mother went through the same thing with her father. How was she to know better when nobody ever taught her?
I took off the black-coloured glasses that made me see my children as stubborn, naughty, bad and determined to MAKE me angry. I also took off the black-coloured glasses that made me see my mother as a bad person and came to understand she was a good person doing the best she could with bad life skills training.
A second goal of anger management is to help the person find other ways to respond to things that provoke anger in them. This is life skills training.
The person with an anger management problem usually has a limited number of ways they can deal with their anger and most of those ways involve lashing out. They respond with arguments, threats, violence, yelling and so on.
There are a range of other ways to respond – problem solving, negotiation, assertiveness, self-control but people with anger management problems have usually never learned those life skills.
Treatment involves teaching them but first they have to learn the skills are as powerful, if not more powerful, than lashing out in anger. Anger pushes people away. Using life skills like problem solving or negotiation protects and enhances relationships.
I learned my children’s “naughty” behaviour was just part of growing up. They were not negative events, quite the contrary, they were opportunities for me to improve our relationship.
When I punished them too severely I was creating fear in them and that pushed them away from me. Once I began using the occasions to sit down with them and teach them they began loving me more.
Children don’t KNOW why it is wrong to hit other children or to take things that don’t belong to them. They also have extremely limited capacity to remember. They don’t deliberately forget being told why it is wrong – their brains literally CANNOT retain the information for long. They must be taught over and over again until their brains mature to a point where what you teach them can be retained.
I began using problem solving to address the issue. The problem was my child hitting other children. The solution was to sit down with my child and calmly explain why hitting other people was wrong and teach consequences in the form of a loss of privileges.
My children have grown up without anger problems and they use the life skills I demonstrated to them to address problems that arise in their own lives. They don’t assume I intended to offend them if I say something offensive. They respond to provocative situations and people with patience and good humour because that is what they saw their father and I do while they were growing up.
They are my best friends now they are adults! They are the two people I trust most in the world. They are the two people I like the most, get on with the best, and can rely on no matter what happens. If I had continued to yell at them and punish them for their mistakes they would be as estranged from me as I was from my own mother.
It took a long time for me to learn all the things I needed to learn to overcome my anger problem and my anger problem was fairly mild compared to the anger I have seen in some people.
My mother raised me to believe anything other people did to me was my fault so most of my anger was directed at myself. It has taken me fifty years to learn to overcome that aspect of my anger problem and I still get angry with myself now and then.
People who have been raised to blame others for their anger have a much harder time owning their anger and, until you own it, you can’t control it. The only time I didn’t own my anger was when it was directed at my kids. I believed they MADE me angry but those beliefs were no match for the education I received from my husband and at uni about children and their behaviour.
I learned what they were doing was normal – it was my responses that were a problem not their behaviour but it was easy to learn those things for me. It’s easy to accept responsibility if you have been trained to take the blame for everything anyway and even easier if you are dealing with people you love with all your heart and don’t want to be angry at.
Every person has their own triggers and treating an anger problem involves addressing those triggers. For me it was important to learn what is normal in the growth and development of children. I needed to understand there is a difference in the actual structure of the brain between adults and children. Until I realised it was physically impossible for my small children to remember what I had told them over and over again I could not accept they were not forgetting out of naughtiness.
Most people with anger problems have more than one trigger and each one needs to be addressed. There are as many triggers for anger as there are people and addressing triggers is just one part of anger management training!
After people find out what their triggers are they also need to learn alternative ways to respond to them and these need to be tailored to the individual as well.
I had to learn patience and the art of repeating myself to cope with my children’s faulty memories. Other people might need to learn how to ask for what they want or how to negotiate solutions.
This is why I am finding it so hard to write the anger management article. There is just too much ground to cover and one website article can’t do it.
This is causing me to have to face my own anger problem because I am convinced I “should” be able to do it and I am angry at myself for letting people down when they come here looking for help.
“Should” is a whole aspect of anger management training by itself because it is a well known trigger for anger in most people!
Just thinking about everything an article about anger management “Should” contain is giving me a headache.