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Feelings of anger can be interpreted as a protective cover for what we really feel underneath.

Anger is a secondary emotion that is more socially acceptable to express than the primary emotions we feel. Showing anger allows us to protect our vulnerable feelings of:

1. Fear
2. Jealousy
3. Shame
4. Sadness
5. Hurt

If someone says something derogatory, controlling, or demeaning to you, it may seem like a personal attack. You may feel fear, shame and/or grief because you are being treated in such a demeaning way. Instead of voicing these vulnerable feelings that you may believe are weak, you lash out in anger to feel more in control. Unfortunately, reacting in aggressive ways like yelling, throwing things, pushing or hitting does not address what you are really feeling.

The next time you begin to feel angry, pause and think: “What am I feeling underneath?” Explore the feeling of sadness, shame, jealousy or fear that your anger is covering. Think about what outcome you want from the situation and the best way to achieve it. While you take time to reflect on your internal thoughts the anger will subside. You may need to count to ten or leave the room. Think of the best way to express your primary feeling to the offending party.

Some examples are:

• I feel hurt when you say xxxx or do xxx.
• I need some time to cool off, can we talk about this in (an hour/tomorrow).
• I am going for a walk to relax and think.
• I am very tired/hungry right now. I can give you my undivided attention after I rest/eat.

It is a good idea to reflect on the times you’ve gotten angry in the past and try to uncover the primary emotion behind your reactions. Think of the best way to express that primary emotion in a calm, clear way and how to achieve your desired outcome. Writing your thoughts down will help you remember and mentally rehearse a better way to respond to situations that trigger anger. The next time you feel angry you will be prepared to express what you are really feeling and better able to get your needs met.

In anger management, the words “respect” and “disrespect” are heard often. Mostly it is about how someone else is disrespectful. So let’s think about what it means to be or feel disrespected.

First, let’s define the term “Respect.” According to Dictionary.com, respect is defined as deference to a right, privilege, privileged position; proper acceptance or courtesy; and acknowledgment. According to Merriam-Webster, respect means a high or special regard. Thus, when a person states they are disrespected, they are probably feeling disregarded, or not acknowledged.

In our Anger Management program, we discuss how the feeling of anger is a secondary emotion, meaning there is an underlying emotion felt before anger. Understanding this feeling allows you to reduce the likelihood of aggressive behavior.

Take the following example: someone cuts you off while driving and you slam on your brakes to avoid rear-ending that person. You suddenly become angry and start yelling at the person. However there is an underlying feeling here: fear. You become afraid that your life or car might be in danger however, you cannot do much with fear. Therefore, anger takes over to help you take action. This is the point you start to honk. The underlying feelings of disrespect and anger parallel.

The word “respect” is based on a person’s beliefs and experiences. Since people have different perceptions about what happens around them, their version of “respectful” will vary. So, when you hold certain beliefs about how someone should act with you in certain situations, and that person acts differently than what you expect, you think that he/she is being disrespectful towards you.

Example: You feel that your partner should be at your side throughout the duration of a party or social event. Let’s examine the situation. Think of the following belief: A partner should be by the side of a significant other at social events otherwise, it is not a good relationship. The reason for this belief is to feel emotionally safe with your partner. Feeling disrespected occurs when your partner leaves your side for a little while. You start to think, “He prefers being with his friends than with me,” and you begin to feel disregarded and hurt. Your discomfort with feeling hurt becomes overwhelming, so your body’s defense mechanism prevails. Instead of connecting with the emotional pain and taking responsibility, you blame your partner for “disrespecting” you.

Notice how you attribute your responsibility of your pain to your partner. You are holding your partner responsible for your own emotional pain, and expect them to change their behavior (which you label as disrespectful), rather than changing your own belief and thought around the situation (owning your emotion and belief, and taking responsibility). Essentially by stating “He disrespected me,” you are victimizing yourself. You are giving your partner the power over your feelings. The purpose of this blog entry is to help become aware of your own beliefs and thoughts, and not give so much power to those around you.

You may think, “Well, at what point am I not supposed to be okay with what my partner is doing?” Great question since it is frequently asked. You still have your set of boundaries that feel comfortable and/or uncomfortable. If you have friends in your surroundings that seem to have healthy relationships, ask them how they perceive the same situation. Or ask yourself, “Is this belief helping me or hurting me?”

The good news is that beliefs that result in feeling disrespected are learned, so they can be unlearned. When replacing a belief with one that is helpful, you realize that you rarely feel disrespected; your poor perception of the situation changes. Your improved insight of the underlying thoughts and feelings of disrespect helps with building healthier relationships.

If you would like to work on your outlook of life so that you feel more respect rather than disrespect, contact one of our Anger Management counselors. At Anger Management 818, we are ready to help you have better influence of your life. You may request from your anger management counselor to review the “Disrespect Worksheet” with you.

Author: Anita Avedian, MFT
Director of Anger Management 818

Anger gets a bad rap. It always gets blamed for those explosive outbursts you hear about in the news, road rage, post office shootings, and domestic disturbances. I wouldn’t want to be blamed for all those things. Would you? Does anger really deserve such a bad reputation? Could it be possible that anger is actually a good thing but it just gets used in the wrong way? Could it be something healthy and productive if used or channeled in helpful ways? Many people let anger get the best of them; replacing their rational thinking and leading them to do irrational things that are often violent.

Anger is held responsible for so many bad things in our society that most people now think anger is completely wrong, not allowed, and a problem if you feel any of it. Anger Management 818 provides anger management classes that help people learn about how anger operates in their lives and we help people find ways to use it more productively. As an anger management facilitator, I had one man say that he had learned helpful tools in my class but he still was getting angry and wasn’t happy about it. I had to remind him that we all get angry and it will be that way for the rest of our lives. Anger is part of our basic emotional operating system, like our computers, meaning it is a core emotion, along with fear and love. These emotions are primal to us as humans, informing us about how to live our lives and how to survive. Anger can’t be surgically removed but it can be managed and channeled in ways that benefit us and don’t cause harm to others.

In an effort to reframe the bad reputation that anger has gained, let’s understand why anger is one of our core emotions. Anger is energy. It is also a signal that tells us much about who we are and what is important to us. When we get angry, there is a biological response. Our bodies prepare for fight or flight, with perhaps a raised heartbeat, clenched fists, and tightness in the chest, all gearing up to protect ourselves and continue surviving. This worked really well when we as humans were living in caves, surviving hand to mouth, and dealing with wild animals potentially attacking us. Now in our ever so domesticated society, we still have caveman aspects to our brains but don’t have those life threatening scenarios on a daily basis. When our bodies respond so strongly, it’s easy to let that build-up of energy (anger) come rushing out of us, by punching someone or verbally slaughtering another, only to have law enforcement get involved and potentially go to jail, get written up at work, and get court ordered to attend anger management classes. 

So, before anger gets the best of you, let’s look at ways to better handle it. Anger is best managed by being proactive. This is a very, very important concept in anger management. Being proactive includes having a higher self-awareness that puts you in touch with your own feelings and emotions on a minute by minute basis. Part of this includes beginning to recognize all the emotions that lie underneath your immediate anger response. Anger is a secondary reaction to primary emotions such as fear, sadness, and frustration.

Additionally, being proactive includes using four basic concepts– knowing how your anger works and your anger triggers, using assertive communication, exercising genuine empathy for others, and managing stress in your life. Noticing the small beginnings of internal anger allows you to diffuse it sooner, instead of letting it build up and eventually explode. It is much harder to manage and dissipate explosive anger than addressing the initial feelings of it early on.

It also helps to identify and recognize how anger has operated in your life, how it has affected yourself and others, and what building blocks are included in leading up to your own anger responses.

Looking at how you communicate with others helps in identifying how changes can be made. Four basic communication styles are commonly used – passive, aggressive, passive/aggressive, and assertive. Recognizing which you use most often can help you begin moving from unproductive ways of communicating to more productive, open, and healthy styles of communication. This is best accomplished by using assertive communication which includes clearly stating your needs, being respectful of the other person’s opinion, and using ‘I’ statements. Speaking from the position of ‘I’ keeps the perspective coming from your own experience instead of starting sentences with ‘you’, which can feel attacking to the other person and lead to defensiveness. Using assertive communication will lead to clearer expression, new solutions, and helpful compromises.

Empathy is another important part of anger management. Using empathy starts with recognizing that most of the time, none of us really know what’s going on with the other person and the dangers of assuming we know how, what or why someone has done or said something. By identifying how each of us would like to be treated in many scenarios, a different approach to understanding others emerges, leading to less reactionary responses. One approach to using more empathy includes taking a 5 to 10 second pause before reacting and responding to someone. This pause allows you to imagine what it might be like to be in the other person’s shoes and respond with that perspective in mind.

Lastly, recognizing how stress builds up in your life and how it affects your own feelings and behaviors helps in managing many of your reactive responses. Some of the ways for one person to manage stress might not be the best way for another person, so it’s ideal that you find specific approaches that work for you. When one of my clients was getting upset and could feel some aggression coming up, he got down on the floor and did as many push-ups as he could, until he was exhausted. Afterwards, his body felt different, less explosive, and his head was clearer, making it easier to focus on the situation at hand. He told his wife he would be doing this from time to time and she learned to support him doing it, even in the middle of an argument. By do so, their communication was more successful and both of them were less aggressive.

These are some of the basic ideas behind anger management. They are the building blocks to healthier ways to live with anger, rather than letting reactionary emotions get out of hand. Using these approaches can be very helpful and healing. By implementing these tools, we are finding people in the world who are more self-aware and less likely to have those angry explosions that we hear about in the news, on the road, and in the post office.     

Molly Lyda, MA, MFT Intern, is an Anger Management Facilitator with Anger Management 818. For more information on anger management, go to angermanagement818.com.