“Anger always comes from frustrated expectations”. Elliot Larson
Before we discuss specific anger management strategies, it is helpful to first understand the nature of anger. While most are familiar with this emotion, not everyone is aware of its underlying dynamics.
The Cycle of Anger
Anger is a natural emotion that usually stems from perceived threat or loss. It’s a pervasive emotion; it affects our body, thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Anger is often described in terms of its intensity, frequency, duration, threshold, and expression.
Anger typically follows a predictable pattern: a cycle. Understanding the cycle of anger can help us understand our own anger reactions, and those of others. It can also help us in considering the most appropriate response.
lllustrated below are the five phases of the anger cycle: trigger, escalation, crisis, recovery, and depression.
The Trigger Phase
The trigger phase happens when we perceive a threat or loss, and our body prepares to respond. In this phase, there is a subtle change from an individual’s normal/ adaptive state into his stressed state. Anger triggers differ from person to person, and can come from both the environment or from our thought processes.
The Escalation Phase
In the escalation phase, there is the progressive appearance of the anger response. In this phase, our body prepares for a crisis after perceiving the trigger. This preparation is mostly physical, and is manifested through symptoms like rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and raised blood pressure. Once the escalation phase is reached there is less chance of calming down, as this is the phase where the body prepares for fight or flight (to be discussed later).
The Crisis Phase
As previously mentioned, the escalation phase is progressive, and it is in the crisis phase that the anger reaction reaches its peak. In the crisis phase our body is on full alert, prepared to take action in response to the trigger. During this phase, logic and rationality may be limited, if not impaired because the anger instinct takes over. In extreme cases, the crisis phase means that a person may be a serious danger to himself or to other people.
The Recovery Phase
The recovery phase happens when the anger has been spent, or at least controlled, and there is now a steady return to a person’s normal/ adaptive state. In this stage, reasoning and awareness of one’s self returns. If the right intervention is applied, the return to normalcy progresses smoothly. However, an inappropriate intervention can re-ignite the anger and serve as a new trigger.
The Depression Phase
The depression phase marks a return to a person’s normal/ adaptive ways. Physically, this stage marks below normal vital signs, such as heart rate, so that the body can recover equilibrium. A person’s full use of his faculties return at this point, and the new awareness helps a person assess what just occurred. Consequently, this stage may be marked by embarrassment, guilt, regret, and or depression.
Understanding Fight or Flight
The Fight or Flight theory, formulated by Walter Cannon, describes how people react to perceived threat. Basically, when faced with something that can harm us, we either aggress (fight) or withdraw (flight). It is believed that this reaction is an ingrained instinct geared towards survival.
Unhelpful Ways of Dealing with Anger
The following are unhelpful ways of dealing with anger:
- DON’T ignore the anger.
- DON’T keep the anger inside.
- DON’T get aggressive.
- DON’T get passive-aggressive.
- DON’T use non-constructive communication styles.
Helpful Ways of Dealing with Anger
he following are helpful ways in dealing with anger:
DO acknowledge that you are angry.
DO calm yourself before you say anything.
DO speak up, when something is important to you.
DO explain how you’re feeling in a manner that shows ownership and responsibility for your anger.
Using Relaxation Techniques
Another way to help you control your anger is to intentionally induce yourself to a state of calm. This can help especially in addressing the physical symptoms of anger.
Relaxation techniques that you can do include:
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
Art and Crafts
Blowing Off Some Steam
Another way of controlling your anger is by getting the anger energy out— blowing off steam. These techniques are especially helpful when you are in the crisis phase of the anger cycle.
The following are some constructive ways of blowing off steam:
It is wise to direct your anger towards problems— not people; to focus your energies on answers— not excuses.
William Arthur Ward
Separate the People from the Problem
Anger is not just personal. It can be relational as well. When managing anger that involves other people,
it helps to have a problem-oriented disposition, setting personal matters aside. This way the issue becomes an objective and workable issue.
- Use Objective Language
- Identify the Problem
- Build Consensus
- Identify Solutions
Making a Plan
You’ve already picked a solution for your problem. Now it’s time to create a plan for its implementation.
The following are some guidelines when making a plan.
Keep your goal(s) central to you plan.
Break down your action plan into concrete steps.
Note all the resources you would need.
Plan how the solution would be evaluated.
He who angers you, conquers you. Elizabeth Kenny
Dealing with Angry People
It is not just our own anger that can get overwhelming. Another person’s blow up can also trigger intense reactions in us, including shock, fear, and even reactive rage.
Understanding the Energy Curve
One of the tricky things about handling another person’s anger is reacting in a way that will not escalate the anger. This is where an understanding of the Energy Curve can help.
The Energy Curve shows the pattern commonly found in angry reactions. It shows how angry reactions progress in stages, and in each stage there are appropriate responses.
Below is an illustration of the Energy Curve:
Here are some key points to note about the Energy Curve:
RATIONAL BEHAVIOR. The baseline of the curve is rational behavior. This is the stage when a reasonable discussion about the cause of the anger can happen. Before an angry reaction, a person is said to be in that ‘rational’ frame of mind. However, once the angry reaction takes root, people go into a state of mind not conducive to reasoning. It is important then to get the person back to a rational frame of mind.
IMPLICATION: You cannot reason with a person during these times: when their anger is taking off, at the height of their anger/ rage and even at the point when they are cooling down! You’ll just waste a perfectly good argument.
TAKE OFF. Angry reaction slowly builds momentum, and the point when the anger is gaining energy is called the ‘take off’ stage. The way anger builds in intensity differs from person to person. For example, some people start with hostile facial reactions, which progresses to shouting, and which progresses to hitting the table. Other people build up anger in less obvious ways, they start with keeping quiet and then progresses to physically withdrawing themselves from other people. The anger would continue to build energy until it reaches its peak.
IMPLICATION: Anger naturally builds energy during the take off phase. Arguing back at this point in fact, any conversation would just be futile. Don’t react! Respond.
SLOW DOWN. In this stage is the most intense of the person’s reaction. It is a turning point; the reaction stops gaining momentum and begins a steady decline.
COOL DOWN. Once the angry reaction has reached its height, it will start to subside. You can tell by observing the person’s behavior — often their voices go down to a level tone, they are not moving their hands as much and they seem to breathe easier. Unless provoked further, the person will run out of steam. However, if you start arguing to the person or agitating the person even during this stage, the reaction can take off once again.
IMPLICATION: Only when the angry reaction has slowed down can you introduce supportive behavior. Supportive behavior can be any statement that acknowledges the anger, example: “I can see that this is an upsetting experience for you.”
BACK TO RATIONAL BEHAVIOR. Once the individual has returned to this stage, you can begin to start talking about the problem reasonably. You may even start problem solving at this point.
SUMMARY: When a person is angry, just let them vent! It’s the fastest way to deal with the situation.
De-escalation techniques are skilled interventions designed to facilitate a person’s cooling down process, reduce the possibility of getting verbally or physically hurt, and gain control of the situation.
The following are examples of de-escalation techniques:
Practice active listening.
Most of the time, all an angry person needs is an opportunity to tell someone how they feel, and have their anger acknowledged. Seeing that you are genuinely listening to their grievance can help lessen the intensity of their angry reaction.
The following are some helpful components of active listening:
- Show non-verbally that you are listening: Make sure that your posture shows openness. Establish eye contact. Speak in a soft, well-modulated, non-threatening tone of voice.
- Reflect: Re-state what you hear from the person. Example: “This is what I heard from you: You are mad because the package did not arrive on time.” You can also mirror back their body language in a tentative but objective, non-judgmental fashion. Example: “I can see that you’re really upset. You are clasping the desk very tightly.”
- Clarify: Help the person make sense of their garbled, confusing, and or illogical statements. “Could you help me explain to me a bit more about what happened in the cafeteria? What do you mean by ‘he bullied you’?
Increase personal space: Anger can escalate if a person feels that he is being stifled. Make sure your body language is non-threatening. Create distance between you and the person.
Help the person recover a sense of control: Angry people may feel victimized by a situation, and may need to recover even a small sense of control. You can help do this by:
- Giving them choices.
- Example: “Would you like to move to a different area and talk?”
- Seeking their permission to speak.
- Example: May I tell what I think about what just happened?
- Focusing on immediate solutions.
- Example: “What do you think we can do today to help solve this issue?”
Orient them to immediacy: People temporarily loses track of their immediate surroundings at the height of getting overwhelmed. Orienting the person to the time, his location, and who he is with can help de-escalate a person. It helps a person feel less threatened if he knows where he is and how he got there. The goal also is to shift him from attending to his overwhelming feelings to recovering rationality.
Invite criticism: Ask the angry person to voice his or her criticism of yourself or the situation more fully. You might say something like, “Go ahead. Tell me everything that has you upset. Don’t hold anything back. I want to hear all you have to say.”
Agree if possible. If not, agree to disagree: There are cases when anger is triggered by a legitimate grievance. In these cases, it can help a person lose steam by hearing someone validate the presence of injustice. At the very least, agreeing that a person has a right to the opinion they have can help de-escalate anger.
Reiterate your support: Emphasize your willingness to help. Example: “Okay. I don’t know how this thing could have happened, but you have my assurance that I’ll stay with you until we figure it out.”
Set limits: Tell the person that you are willing to listen, but you’d appreciate that the tones down the expression of his anger.
Example is: “I’m listening right now. I’d like to talk, but without the shouting. When you shout it is distracting, and if this issue is important to you, then I want to be able to concentrate without hearing you raise your voice. Can we start again? How did I upset you? “
Not all angry reactions can be effectively dealt with. Here are situations when it is more advisable to back away:
- When you are too affected by an issue to view it objectively.
When there are warning signs for verbal and/ or physical violence.
When there is influence of mood-altering substances.
When no amount of rational intervention seems to work.
When there are signs of serious mental health conditions.
The following diagram is a summary of all the anger management techniques discussed in this workshop. The techniques can be summarized into four main steps: be informed, be self-aware, take control, and take action.