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Anger Self Help Guide

What is anger?

Anger is a bodily reaction to something that happens around us (external events such as noise levels, machines breaking down, other people, constant physical pain) and/or something that happens within us (inside us such as poor self esteem, depression, lack of healthy coping strategies, hormonal disturbances).

We feel anger for two reasons- when we believe something is unfair; and when we believe we have no control; power or choice.

When a person gets angry, their nervous system can make physical changes to the body.

For example, we may quickly feel tension in our muscles, increased adrenaline surges and our heart rate may increase. Excessive anger over a long period of time can contribute towards physical ailments including a higher risk of heart disease and strokes.

Emotionally, anger can make us feel agitated, rageful, depressed, guilty and possibly suicidal.

Some people are naturally angrier than others and this may be because they are responding to a past trauma, shame, unhealthy/unhelpful thinking, low frustration tolerance, a lack of assertiveness, fear, loss, or it may have become a habit.

Just because you are angry does not necessarily mean you have a problem. Most people get angry at some point in their lives. It is after all, a natural survival response which helps us to protect ourselves.

For example, Anger can;

• Give us the courage to defend ourselves or those we love
• It motivates us to improve the world by inspiring social justice and action.
• It warns others not to take advantage of us.
• It can help prevent depression, low self-esteem and a feeling of victimisation.
• Make us feel more powerful

However, on the flip side, excessive anger is not useful and is likely to have a negative effect on your life, affecting relationships, your health and ability to be happy.

Managing your anger

There are three steps to anger management

1) Understanding the triggers and pay-offs 

Although you may gain some short-term benefits from your anger , most of these can benefits could be gained from healthier means of asserting yourself.

Some gains people may get from their anger might include;

• Feeling that anger is more comfortable than crying
• Feeling weak and vulnerable if not showing anger
• Anger stopping people feeling afraid
• A way of getting people to listen
• A release of pent up emotion

2) Learning to calm yourself in triggering situations

• Try to change your activity
• Look at objects, not people
• Count to 10
• Repeat what the other person has said and ask for time to consider
• Play music that calms you
• Exercise
• Relaxation techniques or meditation
• Counting and slowing your breathing
• Leave the situation if you think you might lose your temper or become violent
• Describe the room around you to yourself in neutral terms
• Tense and relax muscles, tensing each in turn for five seconds and then releasing
• Changing your posture and rolling your shoulders
• Massage yourself on your stomach or chest
• Imagine laughing at the situation later
• Imagine a relaxing scene, perhaps somewhere beautiful

3) Learning strategies to prevent anger rising in the future.

• Decide whether your anger is healthy or unhealthy.
• Avoid or reduce stimulants such as alcohol or drugs
• Read up about the subject of anger
• Share feelings without blaming someone else
• Be realistic about how much you have been treated unfairly
• Try to see the other person’s point of view
• Stop fantasising about revenge
• Do not go into self-blame and shame about your response, try to be compassionate with yourself.
• Ask others who get less angry than you, how they cope and try their ideas
• Challenge your angry thoughts
• Share your concern with a counsellor and consider anger management courses.
• Try to learn relaxation and stress management techniques
• Become aware of disguised anger such as sarcasm or cruel jokes
• Learn to healthily assert yourself (See our section on assertiveness)
• Consider the past origins of your anger.

If you do not feel any anger towards your abusers, the likelihood is that you have suppressed this anger and it may be turned inward towards yourself, particularly if you are feeling shame or self-blame.

Therapists sometimes refer to the emergence of anger in survivors as ‘the backbone for healing’ because it demonstrates a movement forward from a position of blaming oneself for the abuse, to putting the blame and responsibility directly where it belongs- with the perpetrator.

However, many survivors find anger deeply uncomfortable and may be scared of what will happen if they allow their anger to surface and be felt. Some survivors may be anxious that if they truly allow themselves to feel their rage, they might harm someone else. This is extremely unlikely. In therapy or anger -management classes, a safe space is created for you to explore your anger and to explore ways of releasing it safely too.

Some examples of how to release anger safely are listed below;

• Punching a pillow.
• Squishing play-dough or clay
• Kneeding bread-dough
• Punching a punchbag
• Shouting aloud when alone
• Banging the bottom of saucepans with wooden spoons
• Playing drums
• Kicking through leaves or snapping twigs in Autumn
• Popping or twisting bubble wrap

Finally.. if you are experiencing anger, rather than beat yourself up for those feelings, be kind to yourself…

• Accept that any feelings of guilt may be a way of containing your anger
• Work on being assertive (See our tips on being assertive) Tackling feelings of anger as they arise and tackling them assertively may prevent anger from being bottled up
• Remember that having feelings of anger and thoughts of revenge is a common reaction to trauma
• If you feel tempted to act violently, think about the consequences. Violence can feel like a solution but can actually create more problems.
• If you fear there is a serious danger that you might harm someone else or yourself, seek professional help