This is a continuation of my first post on anger titled “Anger – what it is and why it is important to talk about it”. Below are some of the things we could do to approach our anger, get to know it, and see what we can do about it.
Identifying your needs
When talking about ways to treat anger, it is important to first of all understand that not everyone’s anger pattern is the same, so where you should start should probably be analyzing the situations that have made you angry in the first place. This can point you to your triggers and needs that you perceive are maybe not being met. Similarly, any time you feel even a little bit angry, stop and ask yourself what it is you are not currently getting. Anger might be justified, but it can be useful to pinpoint where it’s coming from nonetheless. This way, we can start thinking about ways to address that need in a more effective and satisfying way.
A well-known and popular instant relief for anger. This works by stopping our automatic angry response and giving us some time to calm down and reconnect with our rational selves, instead of being overrun by emotions. When you notice you’re getting angry you could try stopping for a minute and focusing on your breathing. Then, you could try the 7/11 technique – inhale (to the count of 7 in your mind) and slowly exhale (to the count of 11). During the exhalation, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system that’s responsible for the relaxation response.
Get to know your automatic response
You can do this by recalling a time when you felt angry. Next, try re-experiencing that situation in your mind – how did you feel, what did you look like. And then, try to imagine it again, this time by assuming the third-person stance. This last step should help you view the situation in a calmer and more detached way, eventually leading to thinking of alternative and more useful ways in which you could react to a similar situation. You could then work on preparing for the next time you notice it. The idea is to deal with this automatic response. We want to come to a point where, when we notice anger’s coming, we have a second to think and evaluate the situation before acting on it, we want to ask ourselves: “What’s going on, what’s making me angry, is expressing my anger right now going to help this situation?”
This is one thing that could really help you relate to yourself and other people better, no matter the problem. It refers to the proper and appropriate expression of emotion and desire to change in order to make a relationship work – opening a discussion once you’ve calmed down, or once you’ve determined your triggers, and starting the discussion with “I feel (annoyed, agitated…) when you do (this and that)…because I see it as…” . For example: “I feel annoyed when you never want to hang out with my friends, because I see it as you not wanting to spend time doing something I like, I see it as you not being interested in me…” This way you open a discussion, you bring something to the table, instead of going into full-on rage, attack and aggression. You are addressing your need, and you’re making room for the other person by giving them a chance to have a say in it.
Check for old wounds and unfinished businesses
For this (and for other techniques), you may need the assistance of a professional. What I mean by this is that the thing that we’re actually angry about may or may not have much to do with the people or things we’re relating with in the present. For example, we may be carrying a lot of leftover anger for one of our parents that we feel wasn’t there for us quite enough. This may have led to a feeling that we’re unimportant and that we never get enough attention. This can lead to us interpreting the behavior of our loved ones in the way that proves our theory right – “If they are late for dinner, it means they don’t care”. This, in turn, can trigger an anger response. It may be of use to locate the original source and address it through one of the therapy techniques, and see if that frees the current relationships of said burden.
There are also lifestyle changes you could introduce that could be helpful
Getting enough sleep, watching your eating habits, introducing exercise, meditation and so on. Again, like any emotion, anger in itself is not good or bad, it just needs to be understood, contextualized and approached with awareness, so that we would know what to do about it, and so we could even potentially have less anger in our lives altogether.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Branka Mlinar is a psychologist and Gestalt therapist offering psychotherapy and counselling to adolescent and adult individuals. She’s mostly worked with problems of anxiety, interpersonal and relationship issues, procrastination, work-related stress, trauma, and grief.
Beck, R., & Fernandez, E. (1998). Cognitive-behavioral therapy in the treatment of anger: A meta-analysis. Cognitive therapy and research, 22(1), 63-74.
Kassinove, H., & Tafrate, R. C. (2002). Anger management: The complete treatment guidebook for practitioners. Impact Publishers.
Lichtenberg, P. (2012). Inclusive and exclusive aggression: Some (Gestalt) reflections. Gestalt Review, 16(2), 145-161.