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The Understanding and Management of Anger

Relationships donít flourish when youíre angry. Sometimes people donít realize that they are enraged, and not everyone hits out either. Some punish themselves internally or by self harm. When we are angry, our body mobilizes for defence or attack, and our thoughts are often filled with plans for retaliation or they focus on how unfairly we have been treated. As with all moods, anger is accompanied by changes in thinking, behaviour and physical functioning.

Anger Profile


  • Others are threatening or hurtful
  • Rules have been violated
  • Others are treatimg me unfairly

Physical Reactions

  • Tight muscles
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate

Respiratory Symptoms

  • Defend/Resist
  • Attack
  • Withdraw (to punish/protect)


  • Irritable
  • Angry
  • Enraged

Looking at the above chart you may notice that anger can range from irritation to rage. How angry we become depends largely on how we interpret the situation. The types of events that influence our anger are usually linked to our past as well as the rules and beliefs we hold. For example, if we have been abused frequently or severely in the past, we may have a tendency to be "on guard" against future abuse. We have learned that it is adaptive to be alert and wary of abuse if others are frequently hurting us. Some people who have a long history of abuse are quick to see current events as abusive and may experience chronic anger, sometimes seemingly out of proportion to the events that provoke the anger. The pattern of quick and frequent anger goes along with the belief that it is possible to protect ourselves by confronting abuse. And then there are those people who feel helpless to protect themselves and they often react not with anger but with resignation or depression. So the challenge for these people is to learn to experience anger when someone is directly harming them. I'm sure you can see then that anger can be a problem, either because it is too frequent or because it is absent. It is normal to feel angry sometimes.

Exercise: Understanding Your Anger

To understand what happens when you are angry, remember a recent time when you felt angry or irritated. Describe the situation using, who? what? where? and when? On a scale of 0-100, with 100 being enraged, 50 being angry and 10 being mildly irritated describe it in a word or two only. At the point when you were at your most angry, what was going through your mind? Write down these thoughts, words, images and memories as you recollect them now.

If your anger is a major problem, do this exercise based on at least 6 different angry occasions when you became angry about different things.

How Anger begins in the Mind

Anger is linked to a perception of damage or hurt and to the belief that important rules have been violated. We become angry if we think we have been treated unfairly, hurt unnecessarily, or prevented from obtaining something we expected to achieve. Notice the emphasis on fairness, reasonableness, and expectation. It is not simply the hurt or damage that makes us angry, but the violation of rules and expectations. eg: If someone stands on your foot on the bus, you feel pain. Whether or not you feel angry depends on your interpretation of the intent and the reasonableness of the persons behaviour. If for instance the person lost their balance whilst the bus was going round a corner too fast; you would still feel the pain but probably not feel the anger because you would see that it was an accident on their part. However, if there was no evidence to say it was accidental then you would assume it was deliberate and therefore "unreasonable" of them to have done it, and therefore more likely to be angry.

Donít Sit There Sulking

If you are annoyed, frustrated, upset or angry its better for your blood pressure and ultimately your heart, to let those feelings out or tackle the problem calmly than to brood on it, says a recent study by the Univ of Aberdeen. It showed that people who repress their feelings or let them out in an unhealthy way are more likely to have raised blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. Unexpressed anger can also lead to passive Ė aggressive behaviour patterns developing such as getting back at people without telling them why, or by being constantly hostile or cynical. You may continually put others down or be very critical of others. This type of personality does not experience popularity or good relationships due to their volatile nature. In the US, Dr Dean Ormish runs a famous and successful heart clinic that has helped to reverse heart disease by helping patients work on expressing their emotions, improving their relationships with family and friends and identifying their feelings to give them a greater sense of inner calm.

Donít Suffer In Silence

Because I can turn tigers into pussycats

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