Why do we get angry over the smallest things and blow up out of proportion with what is happening?
Why do we get angry at the people we love and care about?
Anger can appear to be irrational but if you learn to look below the surface you will find the real causes of anger. When you find the real causes you can successfully overcome your anger.
Anger is a normal emotion that arises when we feel wronged, something gets in the way of our goals or we perceive a threat to our identity. When we manage anger well, it prompts us to make positive changes in our lives and situations. Yet, poorly managed anger is counterproductive and unhealthy. When anger is too intense, out of control, misdirected and overly aggressive, it can lead to poor decisions and unhappy relationships. When consumed with anger, we tend to cope less well with stress, have lower self-esteem, be more likely to misuse drugs or alcohol, and judge other people unfairly.
There are four types of situations that tend to provoke anger: frustration, irritation, abuse and unfairness.
- Frustration. Anger is a common reaction when we are trying to achieve something important and an obstacle gets in the way. For example, you apply for a new job you really want but do not get a job offer.
- Irritation. Daily hassles are annoying and can trigger anger. For example, while trying to work, you keep getting interrupted or you leave something at home and have to go all the way back to get it.
- Abuse. Anger is a normal and expected reaction to verbal, physical or sexual abuse. For example, someone putting you down, hitting you or forcing you to do something you do not want to do.
- Unfairness. Being treated unfairly can also trigger anger. For example, being blamed for failing to meet a deadline at work when it was actually the fault of a co-worker.
What can I do about my anger?
Keep in mind that your thoughts, feelings and behaviours are all connected. Your thoughts affect your feelings, which then affect your behaviours. Your behaviour can also affect your thoughts, which can affect how you feel. Since they’re all related, making one change—to thoughts, feeling or behaviours—will make a big difference.
The best way to control your temper depends on you. There’s no quick fix. Every person needs to take time to think about what works for them.
- Be aware of your anger warning signs and triggers. While you might feel that you just suddenly explode into anger, there are physical warning signs in your body that anger is rising. Once you know how to recognize the warning signs and anticipate triggers, you can be proactive.
- Pay attention to what upsets you. When you’re able to figure out what triggers angry feelings, you can make decisions about how to manage those triggers. Sometimes they’re avoidable and other times not. It’s up to you to be prepared with strategies that will help you stay in control.
- Find healthy ways to express your anger. If you’ve decided that a situation is worth getting angry about and there’s something you can do to make it better, the key is to express your feelings in a healthy way. When communicated respectfully, anger can be a tremendous source of energy and inspiration for change.
- Take a second before reacting. The simple trick of “counting to 10” before reacting can help you keep your cool.
- Take responsibility and learn from your actions. You can actually decide on how you’ll behave in certain situations ahead of time if you find a way to “keep a cool head.”
- Think about the consequence of your behaviour. How you behave affects those you love and others around you. You can ask someone about how they were affected and remember this for the future. You can also reflect on the consequences of your actions to remind yourself what happens when your anger escalates.
- Breathe. Breathing can override your anger/stress response. Note how your breath is going in and out of your chest and focus on a replacement attitude, like compassion or appreciation. After about ten breaths, your heart rate will slow and you may think more clearly and act more reasonably.
Next: What triggers your anger?
- A Strategy for controlling your anger. American Psychological Association. Retrieved October 4, 2018 from: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/controlling-anger.aspx.
- Controlling anger before it controls you. Retrieved October 4, 2018 from: American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/topics/anger/control.aspx.
- Mehta M, et al., eds. (2015). Anger management. In: A Practical Approach to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Adolescents. New Delhi, India: Springer India.