Instrumental anger occurs as a result of the person (e.g., the driver of a car being frustrated in an attempt to achieve a goal. Attributed anger occurs as a result of hostile interpretations of ambiguous events. (The driver is cut off by another vehicle and sees this as a personal attack). Consider, for instance, a slow moving car in the your lane. Why is the driver going so slowly? You can attribute the cause to the traffic situation. You might think that the car is old or malfunctioning, or perhaps there is a child in the car, or someone is sick. But a driver with road rage attributes it to the driver’s disposition. He might think that the person is inconsiderate, incompetent, stupid, dumb. Or he may attribute it to the driver’s appearance, such as race, gender, age, or ethnic background.
A variety of both conscious and unconscious processes can be used to deal with angry feelings in a healthy manner. These include expressing, suppressing, and calming.
Expressing angry feelings in an assertive—NOT aggressive—manner is the healthiest way to express anger. Being assertive does not mean being pushy or demanding; it means being respectful of yourself and others, making your needs clear, and getting them met without hurting others.
Anger can be suppressed, and then converted or redirected. The aim is to hold back your anger and convert it into more constructive behavior. The danger is that if it not redirected properly it can turn inward— causing severe stress or depression.
Angry people tend to feel that they are morally right, that any blocking or changing of their plans is an unbearable indignity and that they should NOT have to suffer this way. Maybe other people do, but not them! Anger also affects risk tolerance.
Risk tolerance is the amount of risk that one would normally accept when driving.
- Someone with a low risk tolerance takes few chances and drives in a cautious manner.
- People with a very low risk tolerance may drive in an overly cautious way and hold up traffic by not taking acceptable gaps when turning or driving slow enough to delay or hold up others.
- High risk-tolerant people may be overconfident in their skills and abilities and take chances by speeding or they may be seeking the thrill of “being on the edge” and pushing the limits.
- Assertive drivers have a risk tolerance, which is appropriate to the situation and consistent with accepted standards.
Unexpressed anger can lead to pathological expressions, such as passive-aggressive behavior (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on), an anti-social personality, or perpetual cynicism and and hostility with relationship problems.
Some anger is learned. We are more likely to get angry if we are frustrated and feel stressed, if we are tired, if we tend to hold our feelings inside rather than talk them out.
A form of anger control disorder called intermittent explosive disorder is characterized by repeated episodes of aggressive, violent behavior with reactions that are grossly out of proportion to the situation. People with intermittent explosive disorder may lose control and attack others causing bodily injury and property damage, feeling remorse, regret or embarrassment after the event. Uncontrollable angry outbursts can also be a sign of Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar Affective Disorder, or Depression. All of these are treatable conditions and can be treated with medication and counselling, and Cognitive Therapy.
How to manage anger
1. Recognize angry feelings:
- How does my body feel?
- What are the external and internal triggers involved?
2. Calm down:
- Take three deep breaths
- Count backwards slowly
- Get out of the situation
- Talk to yourself
3. Think about the consequences before you make a choice:
- Passive Aggressive?
- -suppress for now
- Is it safe? Is it fair?
4. Identify your deeper feelings and decide if you want to act to solve the problem or not:
- use an anger iceberg
- talk it out
- use “I” statements
5. Think about it later: What worked?
- What didn’t work?
- What could I do differently?
- Did I do a good job?
Try out this anger awareness exercise and see if it helps unlock a complicated emotion.
- Draw an iceberg on a piece of paper with the water revealing about 10% of the tip. Label the tip as Anger.
- Think about a time you felt angry in a situation.
- Write the things you did with your anger above the water.
- Check the ways to understand and control anger section. What type of choices did you make? What happened as a result?
- Since anger is always the second emotion, think about the first feeling(s) you had in the experience and write them under the surface of the “water line.” Examples: Hurt, betrayal, jealousy, vulnerablity or frustration.
- Did the problem get solved? Do you need to tell the people involved how you felt?
- Do they need to use the anger iceberg to figure out what their responsibility is?
- Evaluate your choices and include what might have happened if you used an assertive response.
Some positive anger management tools are:
- distracting yourself (refocusing on something else),
- asserting yourself peacefully (making a simple request,
- describe the misbehavior,
- remind the other of rules, state the consequences),
- active listening (listening in silence, then repeating what was said, giving your message,
- checking if you are understood), increasing your empathy (the others’ motives may not be evil),
- raising your tolerance level (allowing the other some slack),
- seeking God’s help (praying and studying God’s word), and
- laughing at yourself (about the trivial and unreasonable).
At times seeking counsel (mediation, and service to others (working it off) may also be helpful.
Calming means not just controlling your outward behavior, but also controlling your internal responses, taking steps to lower your heart rate, calm yourself down, and let the feelings subside (See tips on the right).
Watch out for anger triggers, wait to cool down and then decide on a course of action.
Consider stopping hostile thoughts, feelings and actions when they deserve no further attention and are not effective.
Give yourself TIME OUT to cool off. Say to yourself “STOP!!”. Avoid over-stimulation from caffeine, sweets, and drugs.
If nothing works, you may be suffering from a disorder like intermittent explosive disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar Affective Disorder, or Depression, and may require professional help and treatment.