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Anger Problems

Anger is a complex emotion often at the root of a wide range of problems. He

On this page:

Out-of-Control Anger      Difficulties in Expressing Anger      

How did I get to be so Angry ?     Anger management      

Strategies to keep Anger at Bay   Jon’s Anger story

To read about anger, click on the words above.

Out-of-Control Anger

We all know what anger is, and we've all felt it: whether as a fleeting annoyance or as a full-fledged rage.

Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy, human emotion. But when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems: problems at work, in your personal relationships and in the overall quality of your life. And it can make you feel as though you're at the mercy of an unpredictable and powerful emotion.

Do You Need Counselling?

If you feel that your anger is really out of control, if it is having an impact on your relationships and on important parts of your life, you might consider counselling to learn how to handle it better. A counsellor can work with you in developing a range of techniques for changing your thinking and your behaviours. With counselling, a highly angry person can move closer to a middle range of anger in about 10 to 12 weeks.

What is Anger?

Anger is an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage.  Like other emotions, it is accompanied by physiological and biological changes; when you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, as does the level of your energy hormones, adrenalin and noradrenalin.

Anger can be caused by both external and internal events. You could be angry at a specific person (Such as a colleague or supervisor) or event (a traffic jam, a cancelled flight), or your anger could be caused by worrying or brooding about your personal problems. Memories of traumatic or enraging events can also trigger angry feelings.

Counselling and Therapy

How! How! How! Did I get to be so angry?

Angry People Come from Angry Families

The single most common cause of severe anger is an angry home. Children learn how angry they should be from their parents. They learn when to get angry. And how. And how much. It's called modelling. Severely angry families do things differently than normal ones. They have three destructive habits:

Let's look at these habits one at a time.

In Angry Families a Lot of Anger is Normal and Expected.

Anger has one great value. Anger is a sign that something is wrong. But in some families anger is like a broken warning signal at a railroad crossing. It keeps flashing and buzzing when there are no trains coming. People in these families get mad all the time. There may be good reasons to get angry. If not, though, they make them up. Everybody in these families is expected to be angry. Someone is almost always angry with someone else. There is at least a feud a day. Or perhaps practically everyone is mad at everyone else. It's like a free-for-all-wrestling match, a soap opera, and a strange baseball game. Never a dull moment in these families.

Think of the children in those families. What will all that fighting do to them? What will they learn? To be angry all the time when they grow up? (Some adults from angry families swear they'll never be like that, they'll never get angry. Even so, they often blow up over nothing because they were trained that way.)

In Angry Families Nobody Listens Until You Get Angry

Sixteen-year-old Katy argues with her mother. They trade insults. They threaten each other. Katy bangs the table. Her mother screams at her to shut up. No big deal, though. They do this a lot, since anger is normal. But then mother picks up the sugar bowl and hurls it right at Katy’s head, missing her by inches. "Hey, why'd you do that?" Katy shouts. "Because," mother shouts back, "that's the only way to make you listen to me”.

That's how to get someone's attention, by getting more and more angry.

Not only you but also everybody in the family has to get angrier to be heard. You've trained each other to listen only to anger.

Adults’ have asked me why others think they're so angry. Here's why. They're too loud. They think the only way to talk is to shout. They're way too pushy. The sad part is, they are only doing what they learned at home.

Were you raised in this kind of family? Is that where you began to be a rage-aholic?

Angry Families Try to Solve Problems with Anger

Maybe you grew up in a family that tried to handle its troubles with anger.

Anger is badly misused in these families. People try to solve their problems by getting mad. That won't work. It's like trying to turn a screw with a hammer. Anger is a signal, not a solution. Remember that. You can't solve your problems with anger. The anger tells you there's a problem. That's all. The problem may be inside you (you woke tip with a sinus headache). It may be outside you (the children smashed a window, playing ball). But just getting angry won't solve either problem. The anger tells you to do something smart. It's not a license to lose control. Anger itself doesn't solve problems. It creates them..

Did you grow up in an angry family? How often were your parents angry? How did they handle their anger? Did you learn from them to be angry too soon, too hard, too long?

Have you started a new angry family? Are you passing along the habit of rage to another generation?

Let's put a stop to it now. You don't need to do to your kids what was done to you.

More Ways To Become Too Angry

There are many other ways to become habitually angry.

Physical or Sexual Abuse.  Angry people are often the victims of long-term physical abuse. They survived, but they were badly damaged. They can't put the abuse behind them. Instead, they seem to remember every blow. Each humiliation. All those moments of sheer terror. They get angry every time they remember. They become enraged. They dream about revenge. "Oh, if I could get my hands on that creep now, I’d...”

Sometimes they got a little revenge, but even then it wasn't enough. Unfortunately, victims of physical abuse often grow up to be abusers.

Perhaps you are a survivor of sexual abuse. You held down your rage for years. Then it blasted through. Now you hate. You don't know what to do with that hate. It's destroying your life. You're pushing people away as if they had some disgusting disease. You push away everyone who reminds you of the abuse-men with moustaches, older men, women with loud voices, men and women. You too want revenge, but your anger is mixed with fear. You don't know whether to fight or run away. Sometimes you do both.

You could chose to deal with your past if your anger is due partly to physical or sexual abuse. And don't try to do it alone. There are people out there who can assist you. Abuse isn't a secret anymore. You don't have to be ashamed. Getting help with the abuse will also help with the anger.

Shame. Shame means feeling bad about ourselves our whole selves, not just what we do, but who we are. When I feel ashamed it's as if there's something very bad about me that won't go away. Shamed persons tell themselves five messages:

Shame connects in three main ways to anger. First, some people feel shame whenever they get angry. These people usually avoid their anger, even when they have plenty of reason to get mad, because it feels so awful. They become anger avoider's.

Second, deeply shamed people (those who feel way too much shame) often lead bitter, frustrated lives. They are constantly angry with themselves. Nothing they do is ever good enough. They are full of self-hatred.

Third, shamed persons are likely to strike out at others a lot. Because I am full of shame, practically anything you say or do touches it. For example, you try to tell me nicely that I made a spelling error. But I take it personally. How dare you criticise me? You must think I'm stupid, don't you? Well, I'll show you who's the real dummy. You're the idiot, not me. And on and on I go. I thought you were deliberately shaming me, so I shamed you right back.

Shame and anger make a nasty combination. Its called rage.

You may need professional counselling help if you rage a lot because of shame. You'll need to learn to like and respect yourself. It's a long road, but worth travelling.

Alcohol. Hey, leave my drinking out of this. Yes, I get angry a lot when I drink. But it's none of your business. I've got an anger problem, not an alcohol problem.

That's called denial. First off, if you are an alcoholic, you won't get anywhere with your anger until you get help with that problem. You'll spend too much time figuring out reasons to be angry. Then you can use your anger to excuse your drinking. “I wouldn't have a drinking problem if those idiots would leave me alone. Morons. I get mad just thinking about them. Bartender, another beer, quick”.

 Several studies on anger and alcoholism show that the two problems are practically twins. Over half the people being treated for alcoholism also have big-time anger problems. And even recovering alcoholics have trouble with anger.

What if you're not an alcoholic? You may still get angrier when you drink. You may use being drunk as an excuse for your anger ('Yes, I was an idiot, but it was the booze. I'm not that kind of a person").

That's not true. You are responsible for what you put in your mouth, nose or arm, and for everything you say or do with that stuff inside you. No exceptions. Alcohol and drugs don't give us time-out from reality.

Some say, “I drink to mellow out, that's how I relax. I'm afraid I could explode if I stop drinking.

Yes, some people do use alcohol or drugs (especially marijuana) to avoid their anger. It works for a while, sometimes. And then they do explode. I call this pattern "stuff and blow." Stuff the anger down. More. More. Use drugs to help. Don't ever deal with the real issues. Avoid, avoid, avoid! Then the explosion!

Four Proven Techniques for Managing Anger.

The first step towards managing anger in your personal relationships appropriately is the identification of the mistaken attitudes and convictions that predispose you to being excessively angry in the first place! Once these mistakes have been corrected, you will be less likely to fly off the handle than you were in the past.

The second step is the identification of those factors from your childhood that prevents you from expressing your anger as appropriately as you otherwise might. These factors include fear, denial, ignorance and so on. Often it is a hidden sadness and shame that is at the root of rageful anger. These impediments to the effective and appropriate management of your anger towards others can be removed so that your suppressed anger will NOT compound itself inside of you as it has been doing for years.

The third step is learning the appropriate modes of expressing your "legitimate" anger at others so that you can begin to cope more effectively with anger provoking situations as they arise in your personal relationships. When you are anxious or depressed in your relationships, you are often experiencing the consequences of your suppressed anger. The problem is that you have suppressed your anger so deeply that you succeeded in concealing it from yourself  All you are left with is the residual evidence of it, your anxiety or your depression. When you are depressed, very often you are also angry at your self without realizing it. Learning to appropriately manage your anger at yourself is the antidote to much of alcoholism and drug abuse. Expressing your angry feelings in an assertive, not aggressive manner is the healthiest way to express anger. To do this, you have to learn how to make clear what your needs are, and how to get them met, without hurting others. Being assertive doesn't mean being pushy or demanding; it means being respectful of yourself and others.

Three Behaviour Choices In The Expression of Anger

1. Aggressive: Anger is expressed either physically, emotionally or psychologically. The result is that someone else is hurt.

Behaviour choices: Hitting, kicking, harassment, using put-downs, threats, murder

Message to myself: My anger is not OK so I am going to take it out on someone else. I will blame them for my anger because I am uncomfortable with my own feelings.

2. Passive Aggressive: Unexpressed anger can create other problems. It can lead to pathological expressions of anger, such as passive-aggressive behaviour (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on) or a personality that seems perpetually cynical and hostile. People who are constantly putting others down, criticizing everything and making cynical comments haven't learned how to constructively express their anger. Not surprisingly, they aren't likely to have many successful relationships. Anger is repressed by internalising and denying.

Behaviour choices: Cold shoulder, revenge, nasty rumours, depression. (Depression is defined as anger turned inwards.) Bottled up, it can eventually blow up.

Message to myself: My anger is not OK so I will deny it. I am afraid of my feelings.

3. Assertive:

A. Anger is expressed directly in non-threatening ways that do not hurt: a.) yourself, b.) another person or c.) someone's property.

B. Anger is suppressed (Not repressed). Acknowledge the feeling and decide to deal with the situation at a more appropriate time in the near future .

Click here to see the web page on this site that gives advice on assertiveness skills

There is no such thing as bad anger or good anger. There are only choices as to how you deal with anger. You can either reject and harm others or accept and respect others.

But the management of your anger does not end in learning these new and more appropriate ways to express it. There remains one last step.

The fourth step in the Anger Management process is to bind up the wounds that may have been left by the potentially devastating emotional impact of anger. "Anger wounds" left in you against those who have wronged you. If you do not complete this mopping up step, you will cling to the resentment of having been done wrong and will carry the festering residue of your anger and rage in your heart forever. One of the most effective means of giving yourself immediate relief from anger in your personal relationships is to forgive others. Many people cannot forgive those who have trespassed against us. Something below the level of our conscious awareness prevents us from relieving our residual anger by forgiving the other person and we then carry a grudge in our hearts for thirty years! This unresolved anger poisons our relationship with our friends and loved ones. It even spoils our relationship with ourselves! We make our own lives mean and miserable instead of happy and full. Very often the feeling is, "Why should I forgive them? What they did was WRONG!" But, is forgiveness for those who only do you right? Most people have a hard time forgiving others simply because they have a wrong understanding of what forgiveness is! When you forgive someone, it does not mean that you condone or are legitimising their behaviour toward you. To forgive them means that you refuse to carry painful and debilitating grudges around with you for the rest of your life! You are "refusing" to cling to the resentment of them having done you wrong. You are giving yourself some immediate relief from your OWN anger!

To forgive, then, is an act that you can do on our OWN behalf.  It has nothing to do with "lifting" the other person's sin! You are not doing it for their sake. You are doing it for yourself. This is a choice you are making on your OWN terms in order to relieve your OWN pent-up emotions.

What Strategies Can You Use to Keep Anger at Bay?

Relaxation . Simple relaxation tools such as deep breathing and relaxing imagery can help calm down angry feelings. There are books and courses that can teach you relaxation techniques, some of these techniques are outlined on this web site (click on the link above). Once you learn them you can call upon them in any situation. If you are involved in a relationship where both partners are hot-tempered, it might be a good idea for both of you to learn these techniques.

Cognitive Restructuring. Simply put, this means changing the way you think. Angry people tend to curse, swear or speak in highly colourful terms that reflect their inner thoughts. When you're angry, your thinking can get very exaggerated and overly dramatic. Try replacing these thoughts with more rational ones. For instance, instead of telling yourself, 'oh, it's awful, it's terrible, everything's ruined,' tell yourself, 'it's frustrating, and it's understandable that I'm upset about it, but it's not the end of the world and getting angry is not going to fix it anyhow.'

Be careful of words like 'never' or 'always' when talking about yourself or someone else. 'This machine never works,' or 'you're always forgetting things' are not just inaccurate, they also serve to make you feel that your anger is justified and that there's no way to solve the problem. They also alienate and humiliate people who might otherwise be willing to work with you on a solution.

For example, you have a friend who is constantly late when you make plans to meet. Don't go on the attack; think instead about the goal you want to accomplish (that is, getting you and your friend there at about the same time). So avoid saying things like, 'You 're always late! You're the most irresponsible, inconsiderate person I have ever met!' The only goal that accomplishes is hurting and angering your friend.

State what the problem is, and try to find a solution that works for both of you; or take matters into your won hands by, for instance, setting your meeting time a half-hour earlier so that your friend will, in fact, get there on time, even if you have to trick him or her into doing it! Either way, the problem is solved and the friendship isn't damaged.

Remind yourself that getting angry is not going to fix anything, that it won't make you feel better (and may actually make you feel worse).

Logic defeats anger, because anger, even when it's justified, can quickly become irrational. So use cold hard logic on yourself. Remind yourself that the world is 'not out to get you,' you're just experiencing some of the rough spots of daily life. Do this each time you feel anger getting the best of you, and it'll help you get a more balanced perspective.

Angry people tend to demand things: fairness, appreciation, agreement, willingness to do things their way. Everyone wants these things, and we are all hurt and disappointed when we don't get them, but angry people demand them, and when their demands aren't met their disappointment becomes anger. As part of their cognitive restructuring, angry people need to become aware of their demanding nature and translate their expectations into desires. In other words, saying 'I would like' something is healthier than saying 'I demand' or 'I must have' something. When you're unable to get what you want, you will experience the normal reactions --frustration, disappointment, hurt -- but not anger. Some angry people use this anger as a way to avoid feeling hurt, but that doesn't mean the hurt goes away.

Problem-Solving. Sometimes, our anger and frustration are caused by very real and inescapable problems in our lives. Not all anger is misplaced, and often it's a healthy, natural response to these difficulties. There is also a cultural belief that every problem has a solution, and it adds to our frustration to find out that this isn't always the case. The best attitude to bring such a situation, then, is not to focus on finding the solution but rather on how you handle and face the problem.

Make a plan, and check your progress along the way. (People who have trouble with planning might find a good guide to organizing or time management helpful.) Resolve to give it your best, but also not to punish yourself if an answer doesn't come right away. If you can approach it with your best intentions and efforts, and make a serious attempt to face it head-on, you will be less likely to lose patience and fall into all-or-nothing thinking, even if the problem does not get solved right away.

Better Communication. Angry people tend to jump to, and act on conclusions, and some of those conclusions can be pretty wild. The first thing to do, if you are in a heated discussion, is to slow down and think through your responses. Don't say the first thing that comes into your head, but slow down and think carefully about what you want to say. At the same time, listen carefully to what the other person is saying and take your time before answering.

Listen, too, to what is underlying the anger. For instance, you like a certain amount of freedom and personal space, and your ' significant other' wants more connection and closeness. If he or she starts complaining about your activities, don't retaliate by painting you partner as a jailer, a warden or an albatross around your neck.

It's natural to get defensive when you're criticised, but don't fight back. Instead, listen to what's underlying the words: the message that this person might feel neglected and unloved. It may take a lot of patient questioning on your part, and it may require some breathing space, but don't let your anger, or a partner's let a discussion spin out of control. Keeping your cool can keep the situation from becoming a disastrous one.

 Changing Your Environment . Sometimes it's our immediate surroundings that give us cause for irritation and fury. Problems and responsibilities can weigh on you and make you feel angry at the trap you seem to have fallen into, and all the people and things that form that trap.

Give yourself a break. Make sure you have some “personal time” scheduled for times of the day that you know are particularly stressful.

Some other tips:

Things to Remember about Anger.

You can't eliminate anger -- and it wouldn't be a good idea if you could. In spite of all your efforts, things will always happen that will cause you anger. Life will always be filled with frustration, pain, loss and the unpredictable actions of others. You can't change that; but you can change the way you let such events affect you. Controlling your angry responses can keep them from making you even more unhappy in the long run.

Remember, nobody "makes" you angry. In any situation you have the power to choose and the ability to get in touch with your own feelings and to deal with them without hurting anyone. There is no such thing as bad anger or good anger. There are only choices as to how you deal with anger. You can either reject and harm others or accept and respect others and yourself

Difficulties in Expressing Anger

There is another side to the picture presented above. People who have difficulties in expressing anger. These people were often brought up to be "good" and "nice" and "decent" and "considerate" and to hide the parts of themselves that were angry and sad. They contain their anger, rage, sadness, and grief nearly all the time. They hold in stuff they would do better letting go of.

The chief thing that keeps “nice” people from feeling and experiencing anger is fear. Given what happened to most of them in childhood, their fears are understandable. Most of them grew up in homes where, when someone got angry, someone got hurt.

Children who were brought up in these situations, learnt that anger brought on pain, and their bodies instinctively found a way of protecting them against pain. Their body learns to avoid anger.

"If Dad's angry, run away," "If Mum's angry, nod and say you're sorry. Try to do something nice for her. Then run away.

And if as children they themselves were angry?

Stop it! Hide it. Deny it. Swallow it and count to ten. Count to a hundred. Pray. Be ashamed. Run away.

Counselling will suggest a revision of the anger-pain equation learned as children. You will learn that in all cases involving safe and mature adults, the equation is false and harmful. The new equation you may like to “take on”, is that anger, when felt and expressed appropriately, equals energy, intimacy, and serenity.

Whatever your problem with anger, counselling may be just the help you need right now. I will be pleased to meet with you and talk over your own situation.

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Jon’s Story

“It’s only recently in my life that I’ve been able to think clearly, think for myself and not rely on thoughts and actions instilled in me from a very early age by my parents.  This sounds like I’m blaming them for my actions but this isn’t true.  When I was a child I was shown very little love which was vital for my development as a functional human being, I don’t just mean physical affection like "hugging" and "kissing", but all the little things you associate with love and caring, like being noticed, giving encouragement, being listened to and having your opinion accepted and not being put down mentally and physically.  These are just a few of the constructive feelings and emotions that I needed but simply did not receive; I endured plenty of destructive emotions from a very angry Father and a mentally unstable Mother.

My father never had any time for me as a child or indeed as a teenager; his life was always busy with other things more important than me.  As a child I would attention seek because I never received loving attention, so I would have to choose second best, which meant doing something so bad I finally got my Fathers attention!  The things I would usually do would be destructive, i.e. whip the heads of my Dads prize flowers or some other equally de-constructive act.  I would then receive a beating as punishment; this was administered so I wouldn’t do this again.

But the key point my Father failed to realise was, until he showed me genuine love, I could not and would not stop trying to get his love and attention in the only way I knew how.  The problem with this situation was, unless someone changes nothing changes, and being as I was a small child (my age is unclear when the attention seeking started), I couldn’t stop I didn’t no how to. It’s like asking a baby to stop crying when it’s hungry it simply won’t happen.  It sounds like I’m laying blame in my Fathers area I know, but it’s clear to me now that this is a circle and he must have had a similar upbringing to myself where he too was shown no love.  In what way his parents were dysfunctional is unclear or indeed which parent was to blame, if that is you can lay blame to such a crime.  To many people looking in from the outside at me as a child they would have thought what a rude child, what a naughty boy, what a disobedient kid, that’s what I remember my parents friends saying about me.  But all this did was reinforce to me that it was my fault, I was always felt like I was a bad child and everything I was punished for I deserved.  

But now I don’t see it that way, I see myself as an intelligent, inquisitive little boy who was never shown the love he deserved as a human being.  I know I mentioned earlier that my Father was a very angry man, and a lot of people who knew him would strongly disagree with me on this, because publicly he was a quiet, unassuming man who was intelligent, with a dry sense of humour.  But behind closed doors it was a different story!  My Father was a damaging influence on me, but this was not my biggest danger.  I believe my Mother was behind my Father in almost every act he ever did, it was almost like she used him like a hammer on me!  

My earliest memories of my Mother are of a manipulative briber who would promise the world but deliver nothing, not even fundamental basics like love itself.  My Mother would try and control me with empty promises of toys, treats, you know all the things little boys would love to receive, and of course when I didn’t comply, these treats never materialised, surprise, surprise and even if I did comply with her wishes I rarely saw any reward.  I think my Mother saw me as an object, that should do anything she said, whenever she said, she never saw me as a son who cried out for her love and affection.  But as a son that didn’t know anything else but answer back, or be rude, how could a young boy know how to behave when all his parents did was stifle his developing spirit.  My mother could handle small doses of me, until she grew tired of my questions, tired of me asking to go out to play, tired of me wanting to be a little boy.  Then it would be “you’re an awful child” or “I hate you” or “I curse the day you were born”, which for a young child to hear is terrible!  I know now that this type of comment or verbal “put down” only served to increase my low sense of worth, which later in my life almost destroyed me, many times.  I cannot really put a finger on where my Mothers problems are really rooted, but I do know that her first husband committed suicide several years after she was re-married.  I personally don’t think this has anything to do with her lack of tolerance of me, although the thought did cross my mind that I might not be as precious to her as the two girls from her first marriage (I have two half Sisters and one full Brother.)  

I think my Mothers problems stem a little bit deeper than this, but I make it clear I’m no expert on the subject and I only have personal experiences to draw from.  Maybe my Mother was treated like I was, maybe different who knows, only she really knows what happened to her and in my opinion she’s too far gone for help now.  I was fortunate enough to realise I had a problem, not just a small problem of getting mildly irritated, but of an explosive all consuming rage that takes over and smashes everything in its way.  If I hadn’t have had professional help when I did, I think its very unlikely that I would be here, either dead or being held at her majesty’s pleasure, are two of the most possible routes my anger would have forced me down.  I still cringe to think what I’ve done or even worse, what I could have done without the help of a really good therapist like David Lloyd-Hoare”.

1996 Mindscape Limited

Designed By David Lloyd-Hoare Bsc(Hons) MBACP(Accred) INLPTA

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