Anger is a major issue in gaining sobriety and it can be a cause of relapse. An addict is deprived of the crutches they have relied on and has to face the issues they spent years and energy avoiding.
Anger is a valid, healthy emotion.
We all know what anger is, and we've all felt it: whether as a fleeting annoyance or as full-fledged rage.
Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy, human emotion. But when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems—problems at work, in your personal relationships, and in the overall quality of your life. And it can make you feel as though you're at the mercy of an unpredictable and powerful emotion. This brochure is meant to help you understand and control anger.
The Nature of Anger
Anger is "an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage".
The instinctive, natural way to express anger is to respond aggressively. Anger is a natural, adaptive response to threats; it inspires powerful, often aggressive, feelings and behaviors, which allow us to fight and to defend ourselves when we are attacked. A certain amount of anger, therefore, is necessary to our survival.
On the other hand, we can't physically lash out at every person or object that irritates or annoys us; laws, social norms, and common sense place limits on how far our anger can take us.
People use a variety processes to deal with their angry feelings. The three main things people do are expressing, suppressing, and calming. Expressing your angry feelings in an assertive—not aggressive—manner is the healthiest way to express anger. To do this, you have to learn how to make clear what your needs are, and how to get them met, without hurting others. Being assertive doesn't mean being pushy or demanding; it means being respectful of yourself and others.
Anger can be suppressed, and then converted or redirected. This happens when you hold in your anger, stop thinking about it, and focus on something positive. The aim is to inhibit or suppress your anger and convert it into more constructive behavior. The danger in this type of response is that if it isn't allowed outward expression, your anger can turn inward—on yourself. Anger turned inward may cause hypertension, high blood pressure, or depression.
Unexpressed anger can create other problems. It can lead to pathological expressions of anger, such as passive-aggressive behavior (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on) or a personality that seems perpetually cynical and hostile. People who are constantly putting others down, criticizing everything, and making cynical comments haven't learned how to constructively express their anger. Not surprisingly, they aren't likely to have many successful relationships.
Finally, you can calm down inside. This 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.
The goal of anger management is to reduce both your emotional feelings and the physiological arousal that anger causes. You can't get rid of, or avoid, the things or the people that enrage you, nor can you change them, but you can learn to control your reactions.
15 Types of Problematic Thinking
- Filtering: You take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation.
- Polarized Thinking: Things are black or white, good or bad. You have to be perfect or you're a failure. There is no middle ground, it's "all or nothing."
- Overgeneralization: Coming to a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence. If something bad happens once, you expect it to happen over and over again.
- Mind Reading: Without them saying so, you know what people are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, you are able to tell how people are feeling toward you.
- Catastrophizing: You expect disaster. You notice or hear about a problem and start “what ifs”. What if tragedy strikes? What if it happens to you?
- Personalization: Thinking that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you. You also compare yourself to others, trying to determine who's smarter, better looking, etc.
- Control Fallacies: If you feel externally controlled, you see yourself as helpless, a victim of fate. The fallacy of internal control has you responsible for the pain and happiness of everyone around you.
- Fallacy of Fairness: You feel resentful because you think you know what's fair but other people won't agree with you.
- Blaming: You hold others responsible for your pain. Or, you take the other tack and blame yourself for every problem or reversal without regard to external causes.
- Shoulds: You have a list of ironclad “rules” about how you and other people should act. People who break the rules anger you and you feel guilty if you violate the rules.
- Emotional Reasoning: You believe that what you feel must be true- automatically. If you feel stupid and boring, then you must be stupid and boring.
- Fallacy of Change: You expect that other people will change to suit you if you just pressure or cajole them enough. You need to change people because your hopes for happiness seem to depend entirely on them.
- Global Labeling: You generalize one or two qualities into a negative global judgment.
- Being Right: You are continually on trial to prove that your opinions and actions are correct. Being wrong is unthinkable and you will go to any length to demonstrate your rightness.
- Heaven's Reward Fallacy: You expect all your sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if there were someone keeping score. You feel bitter when the reward doesn't come.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
5 - 10 minutes; do exercise slowly for maximum benefits.
- Select a comfortable sitting or resting position.
- Loosen any tight clothing.
- Now, tense your toes an feet. Hold the tension, study the tension, then relax.
- Now, tense you lower legs, now, knees, and thighs. Hold the tension; study the tension, then relax.
- Now, tense your buttocks. Hold the tension, study the tension; then relax.
- Tense your fingers and hands. Hold and study the tension, then relax.
- Tense your lower arms, elbows, and upper arms. Hold the tension, study the tension and now, relax.
- Tense your abdomen, hold the tension, feel the tension and relax.
- Now, tense your chest. Hold and study the tension. Relax. Take a deep breath and exhale slowly.
- Tense the lower back. Hold and study the tension and relax.
- Tense the upper back. Hold the tension, feel the tension, then relax.
- Now, tense the neck, back and throat. Hold the tension, feel the tension; relax.
- Now, tense the shoulders; try to make them touch your ears! Hold the tension, feel the tension; now relax.
- Now tense your head. Make a grimace on your face, feel the tension in your face. Hold the tension, study the tension; now, relax.
- Now, try to tense every muscle in your body. Hold the tension, feel the tension and now... hold the tension longer. Relax and breathe deeply.
- Continue to sit or recline for a few minutes, feeling the relaxation flowing through your body. Know the difference between muscles that feel tense and muscles that feel relaxed.
- Now, stretch, feeling renewed and refreshed, continue with your day in a more relaxed manner.
NON-ASSERTION: Failing to stand up for oneself, or standing up for oneself in such an ineffectual manner that one's rights are easily violated.
Characteristics: Indirect, self-denying, inhibited, hidden bargains, emotional dishonesty.
Your Feelings: Hurt, anxious at the time and probably angry later.
Respondent's Feelings Toward Themselves: Guilty or superior.
Respondent's Feelings Toward You: Irritation, pity, disgust.
ASSERTION: Standing up for oneself in such a way that one does not violate the basic rights of another person. It's a direct, honest, and appropriate expression of one's feelings and opinions.
Characteristics: Direct, expressive, leveling.
Your Feelings: Confident, self-respecting at the time and later.
Respondent's Feelings Toward Themselves: Valued, respected.
Respondent's Feelings Toward You: Generally respected.
AGGRESSION: Standing up for oneself in such a way that the rights of the other person are violated in the process. It's an attempt to humiliate or put down the other person.
Characteristics: Direct, domineering at another's expense, cutting off communication, putting down others.
Your Feelings: Righteous, superior, deprecatory of others at the time, and possibly guilty later.
Respondent's Feelings Toward Themselves: Hurt, humiliated.
Respondent's Feelings Toward You: Angry, vengeful.
Tips for Resolving Conflict
- Have a point(s):
What is the expected result of the confrontation?
What is really making you angry?
- Timing is Everything!
Plan a time to talk when you have plenty of time, privacy, and are feeling calm.
- Stay Focused:
Keep your voice calm and steady; take long, steady breaths, take a "time out" if you feel yourself escalating; own-up to your feelings and beliefs.
- Stay on Issue:
Only discuss the issue at hand. Don't get personal, insult or use foul language. Avoid making global accusations ("you always/never"); be specific in your concerns.
Agree to disagree; don't try to "win" or change someone's mind. Accept responsibility for your thoughts and feelings.
Tolerate diversity and/or ambiguity.
Tips for Diffusing Anger
- Breathe deeply; get your heart rate and breathing to a steady rate. Doing this in front of another angry person can also "model" this technique for them.
- Remove yourself from the situation if possible, and deal with it when you or they are feeling calmer or "centered." Let the other person know that you definitely want to talk, but at another time.
- Reframe the situation; consider another possibility for the conflict or outcome. Help others understand their anger by providing "plausible alternative reasons" for the situation.
- Ignore personal attacks. In the long run, it will gain you more respect.
- Exercise Regularly. Exercise allows your body to build up energy reserves and stimulates the release of endorphins, the body's natural calming hormones. Think of this as a preventative technique.
- Violence is non-acceptable and not a solution, unless you are being physically attacked. Violence can only be used against you and could have negative legal repercussions. If someone else attacks you, however, protect yourself! Call 911 for reinforcements and to initiate legal protective action.
Checklist for Hidden Anger
If we have any national fault, it is hiding our own anger from ourselves. Here is a checklist to help you determine if you are hiding your anger from yourself. Any of these is usually a sign of hidden unexpressed anger.
- Procrastination in the completion of imposed tasks.
- Perpetual or habitual lateness.
- A liking for sadistic or ironic humor.
- Sarcasm, cynicism or flippancy in conversation.
- Over-politeness, constant cheerfulness, attitude of “grin and bear it.”
- Frequent sighing.
- Smiling while hurting or feeling angry.
- Frequent disturbing or frightening dreams.
- Over-controlled monotone speaking voice.
- Difficulty in getting to sleep or sleeping through the night.
- Boredom, apathy, loss of interest in things you are usually enthusiastic about.
- Slowing down of movement; feeling lethargic.
- Getting tired more easily than usual.
- Excessive irritability.
- Getting drowsy at inappropriate times.
- Sleeping more than usual.
- Waking up tired rather than rested and refreshed.
- Clenched jaws - especially while sleeping.
- Facial tics, fist clenching and similar repeated physical acts done unintentionally or unaware.
- Grinding of the teeth - especially while sleeping.
- Chronically stiff or sore neck.
- Chronic depression - extended periods of feeling down for no reason.
This is not about rage. This is about the feelings we call "irritation," "annoyance" or "getting mad." We are taught to avoid expressing these feelings and to avoid having them if possible.
Unfortunately, many people go overboard in controlling negative feelings; they control not only their expression, but their awareness of them, too.
Because you are unaware of being angry does not mean that you are not angry. It is the anger you are unaware of which can do most the most damage to you and to your relationships with other people, since it does get expressed, but in inappropriate ways. Freud once likened anger to the smoke in an old-fashioned wood-burning stove.
The normal avenue for discharge of the smoke is up the chimney; if the normal avenue is blocked, the smoke will leak out of the stove in unintended ways - around the door, through the grates, etc. - choking everyone in the room. If all avenues of escape are blocked, the fire goes out and the stove ceases to function.
Likewise, the natural expression of anger can be blocked, just like a chimney; this blockage can be disruptive to self and others. Our expressions can be stifled in an effort to protect our selves. By continually suppressing our feelings, we convince ourselves that we are not angry, even when we are. Such self-deception is seldom completely successful, and the blocked anger “leaks out” in inappropriate ways, some of which are previously listed.
The items in the list are all "danger signals" that negative feelings are being bottled up inside. It is true that each of them can have causes other than anger (procrastination, for example, can be due to an unreasonable fear of failure), but the presence of any of them is reason enough for you to look within yourself for buried resentments.
If you are human, you will find some. If you are fortunate, you will find few, since you will have learned effective ways of discharging them. If you are like most of us, you will have to unlearn some old habits before you can learn new ways of handling these feelings - ways that are constructive rather than destructive.
Getting rid of a lifetime accumulation of buried resentments is a major task, which is one of the goats of counseling. Whether such a process is necessary for you is best decided in consultation with a qualified professional person.