Anger: Can it be "managed"?
Everyone gets angry from time to time. In the 1970's, therapists gave people foam bats to hit each other to "get their anger out", based on the theory that expressing emotions is healthy and helps people release and reduce their anger. Unfortunately, research now shows that expressing anger through physical action, yelling, tantrums and the like, not only does not decrease the intensity of a person's anger, it actually just makes them more angry!
Humans are biologically programmed for anger and aggression as survival mechanisms. Dr. Israel Kaufman, an anger management expert, explains, "Anger is the emotional drive to defeat anyone or anything that we perceive as a threat." People become angry when they feel they are victims. Everyone wants to be respected and to feel successful. When people feel disrespected or treated badly, or feel like they are "losers," a natural reaction is to feel anger.
Although many people think of anger as an emotion over which we have no control, a significant piece of anger is cognitive, that is, what we tell ourselves. For example, someone who is angry with their spouse may say to themselves, "She doesn't understand how hard I work so that we can have a better life! It's not fair that I work hard and then come home to no dinner", etc. The angry spouse thinks they have been treated badly, and focusing on those thoughts makes them feel justified in their anger.
We cannot stop having emotions, but we can learn to control the internal dialogue we have with ourselves, which determines how long-lasting and intense the emotions become. Focusing on how someone has hurt or wronged us causes us to feel more upset and angry. Evaluating the thoughts that make us feel angry can reduce the angry feelings and help us have a more balanced view. Rather than, "He never thinks of what I need!", a more reasonable thought might be, "Sometimes he does not seem to know what I need, but there are many times he does, like when he rubs my aching neck."
Another component of anger management is dealing with the flooding of physical sensations and stress chemicals created when we are angry and upset. Increased heart rate, blood pressure and stress-chemical/hormone levels take a minimum of 20 minutes to decrease when the "fight or flight" response kicks in. Self-calming techniques and mindfulness training help reduce the physiological arousal that makes us want to yell or hit something, and interferes with having thoughtful conversations that lead to solutions.
With Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and mindfulness training, clients learn new ways to manage anger, and even begin to rewire their brains to be less reactive and hijacked by anger.
We all get angry sometimes, but anger does not have to get us!