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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.

Anger cannot be controlled but our response to anger is in our control. Anger is an automatic response of the nervous system. When it feels threatened the brain floods the body with stress hormones prompting the body’s fight or flight response. It is extremely important to pause and reflect on your anger and the desired outcome before you speak or act. Some tips for calming your mind include: Counting to ten or walking away from the situation until your emotions subside and you can think rationally.

Fear, anxiety, grief, and shame are primary emotions. Anger is not.

Anger may give you a false sense of power. Expressing anger by yelling, fighting, assaults and self-harm do not lead to respect from others. Instead it will destroy relationships and in extreme cases can lead to personal and financial losses. Taking the time to acknowledge anger, and discover the underlying problem can inspire you to be more solution oriented. Ignoring anger and bottling feelings not only neglects to address the problem but may result in serious health problems that can affect your quality of life.

Anger Health Problems Include:

Headaches
Digestive Problems
Insomnia
Depression
High Blood Pressure
Heart Attack
Stroke

Anger Management Skills:

It is important to accept anger as a natural response to perceived threats and loss. Learn to observe your thoughts calmly without judging or reacting. It may be helpful to keep a journal to record when and why you get angry. By jotting down your feelings you can refer back to them and discover your anger pattern to reach possible solutions. Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, listening to music, and any hobby or activity that allows you to have a sense of peace. Research has shown that regular exercise like walking, running, dancing or yoga can reduce stress levels and improve your mood as well as your health. Treat yourself and others kindly and respectfully to reduce frequency of angry outbursts. Consider joining an anger management group to learn better communication and conflict resolution techniques.

MARCH: THE MONTH OF CHANGE

“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.” — Victor Frankl

Many people who choose anger management are inevitably seeking some sort of change. Something needs to be different, they feel. But what is it that truly needs to change?

It’s pretty simple: they need to change their thoughts and beliefs.

Let’s discuss this further. Imagine you put five people in the same situation—let’s say…..being cut off while in traffic—and only one of them (let’s call him Alex) felt intensely angry about what happened. Considering that everyone else felt little to no anger, it’s important to ask why Alex in particular felt very angry.

As mentioned earlier, it’s because of Alex’s specific thought patterns and beliefs. If one of his beliefs is, “People should never cut me off in traffic,” then he’s setting himself up to feel angry every time he drives. On the other hand, Alex could try adopting a more rational belief such as, “Sometimes people cut other people off in traffic; although I certainly don’t like it, it is a fairly regular aspect of driving. It is my choice how I respond to other drivers’ behavior.”

Easier said than done, right? Of course it is. But it is certainly worth trying! Because, the truth is, it can be done. And it has been done. So be willing to change outdated thoughts and beliefs and adopt healthier, more rational, more empowering ways of thinking.

CALL TO ACTION!

This week, the next time you feel angry, see if you can pinpoint the exact thought and/or belief that contributed to your feeling. Then, see if you can reframe that thought into a more rational one. If the new thought is both believable and peace-inducing, then you’re on the right track!

FEBRUARY: THE MONTH OF LOVE

“There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.”
~Sylvia Plath

Many people who struggle with anger often want to know how to deal with this powerful emotion, especially in moments when their anger is at its worst. They want the “magic pill” that will decrease their anger from a 10 to a 1 in 0.5 seconds. Unfortunately, that pill simply does not exist!

What does exist, however, is a simple yet powerful tool which can help greatly reduce your anger: prevention. You’ve heard it before, but it’s true! Prevention is the best medicine, and one of the best ways to prevent your anger from spiraling out of control is learning how to practice stress management.

Why stress management, you may ask? Stress is one of the biggest factors that can negatively impact your anger. Therefore, the more you learn to control your stress, the better chance you have to control your anger. In other words, when you feel calm and relaxed in the moment, it takes a lot to make you angry; on the other hand, when you feel stressed out and frazzled, it doesn’t take much at all to get you riled up!

What’s the key to managing stress, then? Catch it early!! The sooner you notice yourself feeling stressed and the sooner you take action, the more quickly you can reduce your stress and, in turn, your potential for feeling anger. In addition, the stress management techniques you utilize can be on any or all levels, including the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual levels. Choose what’s right for you, and remember….take action as soon as possible.

Call to Action!

This week, choose 2-3 stress reduction techniques that you enjoy. For example, you could try getting a massage, exercising regularly, journaling your feelings, walking in nature, getting rest, and/or breathing slowly. No matter what activities you choose, see if you can do them as soon as you notice the first sign of stress. Take action, and watch your stress melt away….

FEBRUARY: THE MONTH OF LOVE

Anger will never disappear so long as thoughts of resentment are cherished in the mind. Anger will disappear just as soon as thoughts of resentment are forgotten.” —Buddha

The month of February may bring up many emotions for people. After all, it is the month that contains that either beloved or hated holiday we all know as….Valentine’s Day! Those of us in relationships may embrace the holiday of romantic love with open arms (or sometimes not!), while those of who are single may curse the holiday with a raised fist and anger in our hearts.

If you are feeling anger toward the holiday, toward others, or even toward yourself this month, take a break for a moment and remember to breathe! Most likely, you are feeling angry because of the thoughts and/or beliefs you are holding with regard to this time of month. Remember—negative thoughts lead to negative emotions.

For example, one reason you may be feeling angry is because you feel you should have a partner on Valentine’s Day, and if you don’t, you feel less worthy than others. If your thoughts are demanding that you should have a partner, begin by questioning them.

Is it really true that you absolutely must have a partner? Is it possible that now simply isn’t the time for a partner? Or, is it possible you’re simply not ready for a partner at this point in your life? Finally, consider that not having a partner now does not mean that this will always be the case.

In addition, is it true that you are less worthy if you don’t have a partner? Is it possible that having a partner has nothing to do with your own sense of worth? Could it be that your worth is completely intact regardless of any external circumstances, including a partner?

Once you begin questioning these irrational beliefs and replacing them with more rational ones, you will probably start to feel less emotionally charged. Once again—change your thoughts, and you can change your feelings!

Call to Action!

*Once this week, consider being your own partner by taking yourself out on a date. Yes, I’m serious. If you love nice restaurants and flowers, then go ahead and take yourself out to your favorite restaurant, and reward yourself with a beautiful bouquet of flowers afterward! Treating yourself the way you wish a partner would treat you is not only empowering, but it is also self-loving.

In last week’s blog, we discussed one method of journaling through anger, a method referred to as “morning pages” by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. For this week, we will focus on a second method of journaling, which involves writing with your non-dominant hand (the hand with which you rarely write). This method is described in detail in Lucia Capacchione’s book, The Power of Your Other Hand.

Writing with Your Non-Dominant Hand

Since childhood, just about all of us became comfortable writing with one hand over the other. Sure, a few of us became ambidextrous and could write comfortably with both of their hands, but most of us learned to write with either our right hand or our left. My non-ambidextrous friends—I have a secret. It is a secret I learned while reading Capacchione’s book, one that changed my life, and I believe it will change yours too.

Are you ready for it? Here it is….

Your non-dominant hand has more wisdom, guidance, healing power, and connection to creativity than you ever thought possible. It offers a direct source to your authentic emotions, your inner child, and (for those of you who are spiritually-oriented) a higher, spiritual power.

So, how does this process work?

It’s pretty simple, actually. The next time you feel angry, hurt, or upset, simply grab a sheet of paper, a pencil, colorful pens, markers, and crayons. Starting with your dominant hand, write out a question to your non-dominant hand. The question could be something like the following: “Hi there. How are you feeling right now?” or “Do you want to share what you’re angry about?”

Whatever question you ask, make sure to let your non-dominant hand know that whatever she or he has to say is entirely acceptable. If you promise your non-dominant hand that you will not judge any part of it, then it will feel safe enough to freely express itself. Once you’ve made this agreement between your hands, allow your non-dominant hand to respond to the question posed by your dominant hand.

When you write with your non-dominant hand, your writing will most likely look like a kindergartener’s writing—let it be so! You’ll be amazed by what your non-dominant hand has to say through writing. Hidden emotions, higher wisdom, deeper hurts and wounds…..any and all of these may appear. Consider letting your non-dominant hand write with the medium of its choice; if it wants crayons, pass them over! If it wants markers, go for it! Simply go with the flow of your hands, and let a conversation between both hand ensue. You may even notice the voices change from hand to hand. For example, your non-dominant hand may have started out as the voice of an angry child, but transformed into the voice of a wise sage by the end of the dialogue. That’s perfectly okay! The purpose of this journaling exercise is not to “get it right,” but to let the creative flow guide you toward a place of greater understanding, acceptance, and healing of all parts of yourself. Most of all, enjoy the process—this can be quite fun!

People talk a lot these days about the benefits of journaling. They say that journaling can be highly effective for helping people process their emotions. Seems easy enough, right? Well, simply writing your feelings down on paper can be effective, but to get the most out of the journaling experience, consider experimenting with different methods. In this blog post, we will focus on one particular journaling method, called Morning Pages.

Morning Pages

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way and many other fabulous books, offers a powerful way to express your feelings through what she named “Morning Pages.” The way it works is simple. In the morning, when you wake up, the very first thing you do is sit down at your desk with pen and paper in hand, and you write. NON STOP. Until you’ve completed four pages.

What?!?! Four pages?!? Why so many? The reason is this: during the first couple of pages or so, you’re practically vomiting all the garbage in your mind onto paper (yes, vomiting!). All the negative thoughts and emotions, misunderstandings, irrational beliefs, complaints, and hurts you carry around with you…they’re usually the first to come up and out on paper. So let it rip!

The trick is to KEEP GOING—by letting it all out, you give yourself the space to get beyond the negativity, and toward the truth.

But don’t stop yet! Once you’ve expressed that part of yourself, you can finally get to the heart of the matter and find out what it is you really want and need. As you keep writing, you may start to feel a shift in your energy. Perhaps you feel a sense of relief, a greater connection to love and joy, or maybe even an insight about yourself and your life. Whatever it may be, the important thing to note is that you keep writing until the negative charge has dissipated. When you experience yourself residing in either a neutral or a positive place, then you know that you’re done journaling.

Congratulate yourself!

“Anger is a signal, and one worth listening to.”
—Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Anger

Many of us believe that anger is a bad thing. We’re told various messages about the negative aspects of anger, such as:
“Let go of your anger. Just move on.”
“Your anger will only end up hurting you.
“Anger is detrimental to your health.”

While these messages are generally true, it is not always so easy to simply “let it go.” If it were, we’d all be walking around, as enlightened and as happy as the Buddha!

However, by reframing anger and looking at it in a new way, we can see the hidden benefits of this powerful emotion and the events that trigger our own inner anger.

Let’s start with an example. Imagine you are waiting in line at the grocery store, and someone tries to cut in front of you. Immediately, you may feel that old, familiar feeling of anger rise up inside yourself. Maybe you want to yell at the person and tell him/her to go to the back of the line. Or maybe you want to push that person away. Whatever the reaction, it’s clear and simple: you feel TRIGGERED.

So what’s the benefit of being triggered, you might wonder? How can this possibly be a good thing???

Well, here it is—any time we feel triggered or upset by something that happens outside of ourselves, no matter how small the event may seem, it is simply a spiritual opportunity for us to heal an old wound that has yet to be healed.

What this means is that some time in our past, we developed some misbelief or misunderstanding about life (ex: “People always try to take advantage of me”). This belief has become so ingrained in our consciousness over the years that we actually re-create situations in our lives that reinforce this negative belief. Thus, if our misunderstanding is that people will try to take advantage of us, we will look for evidence of people doing this to us, and when it inevitably happens, we will likely feel angry and upset.

According to spiritual psychological principles, as taught by faculty at The University of Santa Monica, each time we feel triggered, we are actually being given an incredible opportunity to look inside ourselves and heal a part of ourselves that needs to be healed, once and for all. Keep in mind, we must be fully ready and willing to do the inner work necessary to heal the situation; however, once ready and willing to change, we can reframe our outdated belief system, forgive ourselves, and choose behaviors that allow for more love and joy in our lives.

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

Sometimes it is hard to remember all the tips and remedies for defusing anger. When you experience a situation with someone that results in feeling upset, the following three principles are basic to dispelling and/or preventing anger from arising.

1. Think: This situation is not meant personally against me. This person is having a bad day. I have had bad days and know that I do not always put my best foot forward under those circumstances. I must find out more so I will ask the person disarming questions (if possible) about how his/her day is going. I call this the “Not -Personal Principle.”

2. The Golden Rule applies: Am I treating this person as I would like him/her to treat me? (Irrespective of how I think they are treating me). I call this the “Respect Principle.”

3. Ask yourself: Do I need to fight this battle now? At all? If not, I should take a break and tell this person that I will get back to him/her later (specific time) when I am able to think more rationally and I respectfully hope that he/she will do the same. I call this the “Another Time Principle.”

In the meantime one can review other ways of problem-solving or dispute resolution which may eliminate the problem altogether in the long-run.

Author: Michael L. Hecht, MA, MFT
October 4, 2011