Dr. Leow Chee Seng
Council Member of Human Behaviour Academy
While there are many ways to address anger issues, learning to recognise and acknowledge the underlying reasons can go a long towards curtailing your angry responses.
Everyone gets angry at one time or another. Anger is a common emotion experienced by all humans as a natural response to a threat or a challenge – provoking the impulse to protect, defend or attack. Still, anger can also become problematic and can be a major symptom of underlying personal issues – which eventually needs to be addressed. And it needs to be tackled fast if anger is experienced with such a frequency or intensity and there’s poor impulse control.
Let’s start by really understanding just what anger is – an emotional state influenced by our cognitions, behaviour and physiology.
Cognitions refer to anger the emotion, the response relates to personalising it – like “He purposely upset me” – and catastrophising with ultimatums like “I will never promote you”. In short, anger arises when a person perceives that core values have been violated.
The starting point to addressing this personal issue is to learn adaptive responses – or behavioural responses towards anger. Possible solutions like problem-solving, assertiveness, tactical withdrawal and maladaptive responses – such as social withdrawal, self-harm, verbal and physical aggression – is commonly identified by counsellors during anger management therapy.
The major causes of anger control problems for any individual are likely to be an interaction of both internal and external factors. Hence, it’s important to look into its aetiology – the discussion of causes, origins, evolution and implications of this phenomena.
Internal factors underlying anger triggers can usually be traced back childhood experiences. These include a family history of violence or aggression, bullying, experience of physical and emotional abuse or neglect and even sexual abuse.
There are also external factors to be considered – and these include aggression, frustration and peer-influenced factors. Equally important to note are environmental factors like noise; overcrowding and poor living conditions – which are usually categorised as external influential dynamics.
Some people are fortunate enough to learn healthy anger management skills during their childhood. As adults, they have access to these skills, which come naturally.
Those who didn’t learn to develop methods to use angry feelings effectively have to devise new behaviours, repeatedly try them – and with successes, continue to practise them. Relaxation is the basic tenet of anger management.
Anger relates to emotion. It is important to become comfortable with feelings in general and then with anger specifically. When you feel angry, you need to assert yourself as the physiological response is triggered in the autonomic nervous system by adrenaline. Adrenaline increases the heart rate, sweating and flushing.
You need to replace misinformation about anger, identify the uses of anger and replace unclear labels – so you can clearly identify the difference between anger and other emotions.
If you have difficulty experiencing the fear and anxiety that anger defends, or if you tend to blame outside sources for either your anger or your fear, you may try to replace the personal misinformation about anger. For example, should you be angry with someone for making you work late when the response is really because you’re afraid of going home in the dark?
We have to learn to take responsibility towards the source of anger and finally, we should learn how to face up to our own fears.
Besides, we have to further re -educate ourselves by seriously dissecting the taboos which imply “badness” – and figure out for ourselves if the uneasy feelings triggered are based on false beliefs.
Be aware that every feeling or emotion we experience is good. Each has a specific purpose that enhances your ability to cope with life, as well as to ensure the survival of the human race.
In general, there are six feelings that relate to emotion. Sadness is associated to feeling unhappy or being mournful. Loneliness can be described as feeling rejected or unwanted. Guilt is always labelled as something to be ashamed about and linked to needing to be remorseful.
Inadequacy refers to embarrassment and humiliation. Fear is always related to being nervous, scared and terrified. Lastly, gladness that is able to reinforce our good actions can be categorized as content, relieved, satisfied, happy and joyous.
By identifying the underlying emotions and feelings, we will then be able to control our anger responses. Often harsh, punitive, angry feelings are continually heightened by inaccurate judgments which tend to dehumanise the person at whom they are aimed.
Common self-judgmental statements like “I am no good” and “I am stupid” will make a person feel angry towards himself. This is the same emotional response as you have been angry with someone.
Understand why you had even come up with the ‘names’ you called that person. These ‘names’ could be actual verbalisation of thoughts where the judgment is extremely dehumanising. When you have identified such a tendency in your behaviour, you have to stop it immediately.
In anger management sessions, I always remind clients no treatment intervention for anger will work unless he/she is able to recognise it as a problem in the first place – and indeed, it is their problem.
In my opinion, motivational work is often a prerequisite to successful engagement in anger control treatments. Clients who deny they have any problem with anger control, who have no motivation to change or have very significant impulse control problems need to be guided carefully – or their anger will simply make them dismiss any realisation of their problem.
Once this critical realisation is achieved, they might benefit from pre-treatment preparation such as building a therapeutic relationship, enhancing self-esteem, competency and control recognition, personal anger awareness and basic anger and aggression monitoring.
Note that this a process which will take time to be effective and will require significant self-discipline to be inculcated successfully. So, if you have destructive thoughts about yourself or someone else, seek professional advice now!