Anger is a normal human response that if expressed appropriately can lead to effective coping strategies and constructive change. When anger is unmanaged it can get out of control and create problems in your personal relationships and other important areas of your life. Anger is a powerful emotion that trigger’s the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. Your body changes biologically and releases stress hormones to help you survive the stressful event. This adrenaline rush may temporarily feel empowering and stress relieving but it puts your body under pressure and uses up a lot of your energy. The constant flow of stress hormones can eventually cause harm to many different systems of the body. Both explosive and suppressed anger can put you at greater risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, depression and anxiety. Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can assist you to manage your anger by helping you to understand your anger and learn more effective ways to express it.
What is anger and why do we need it?
The function of all emotions is to communicate to ourselves and others and to motivate our behaviour. Anger is a natural, automatic response to unfairness either to ourselves, someone or something we care about. It helps alert us to wrong doings and provides us the energy to make it right. Anger is an emotion that can range from mild irritability to intense range. It is a feeling often accompanied by biological changes such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, energy and testosterone (in men). These changes may also cause you to shake, become hot and sweaty and feel out of control.
Anger can be seen as a negative emotion. However, anger also has many positive functions such as:
- It motivates us to make changes in our life
- It helps us to resolve interpersonal conflict
- It promotes self-esteem e.g. when we stand up for ourselves we may feel better about ourselves
- It promotes a sense of personal control during high stress situations
- It can provide insight into ourselves
- If justifiable and aimed at finding a solution, anger can benefit and strengthen relationships
Signs that anger may becoming a problem for you
Anger itself is not wrong and occasionally losing your cool from time to time does not mean you have a problem. Anger is a normal response to mistreatment and injustice. It becomes a problem when it creates trouble for you with other people. Some signs that anger may be a problem for you include:
- Anger involves uncontrolled outbursts, acts of violence or rage
- You feel angry a lot of the time
- You think that anger is the only way of being heard or getting what you want
- Anger involves verbal, emotional or psychological abuse
- Your anger seems bigger than the event that set it off or last a long time after the triggering event has passed
- Anger is causing problems in your personal and professional relationships
- Friends and family have expressed that they are concerned about your anger
- You are becoming anxious or depressed about your anger
- Anger is leading you to self-harm
How can CBT help you to better manage your anger?
Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a relatively short term psychotherapy that focuses on how your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes affect your feelings and behaviour. It is a collaborative therapy that helps you to identify unhelpful thoughts and behaviours and learn healthier and more effective coping skills for dealing with different problems. CBT aims to help you overcome current symptoms as well as teach you new skills that can be applied to future problems. CBT is a proven effective treatment for many emotional, behavioural and psychiatric problems including reducing and controlling anger. A study by Beck and Fernandez (1998) evaluated the efficacy of CBT in the treatment of anger problems. They conducted a meta-analysis of 50 studies which included 1640 subjects and found that individuals treated using CBT were better off than 76% of individuals who did not receive treatment.
CBT for anger management involves your therapist using a range of questions and activities to help you recognise and understand the triggers to your angry outbursts. Your therapist will help you to test and alter the beliefs, rules and assumptions that are maintaining the hostility sequence. Once you understand the triggers and their root causes, your therapist can teach you a range of skills and strategies such as assertive communication skills, cognitive changes, problem solving and relaxation skills to change some of your unhelpful responses to anger provoking situations.
Anger is an inevitable part of life and is often expressed as a response to pain, hurt or injustice. Anger has many positive functions and does not have to lead to intense, uncontrollable outbursts. It is a learned response and with time and effort it can be unlearned.
If your anger is having a negative impact on your relationships, your work or your overall quality of life seeing a psychologist can help you to identify triggers, challenge your thoughts and learn more effective ways of managing your anger and improve your general well-being.
Authors: Joey Tai and Melanie Green
Australian Psychological Society. (2016). Managing your Anger. Retrieved via http://www.psychology.org.au/
Beck, R., & Fernandez, E. (1998). Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy in the Treatment of Anger: A Meta-Analysis. Cognitive Therapy and Research ‚ 22(1)‚ 63-74. Doi: 0147-5916/98/0200-0063
Engel, B. (2010). The Nice Girl Syndrome: Stop Being Manipulated and Abused and Start Standing Up for Yourself. John Wiley & Sons: New Jersey.
Simon, R. W., & Lively, K. (2010). Sex, Anger and Depression. Social Forces, 88(4), 1543-1568. Doi: 10.1353/sof.2010.0031