Therapy for Anger
If an individual has experienced trauma, such as psychological or emotional distress, that they haven’t acknowledged, their hurt can influence how they currently feel. Sometimes a person’s anger is masking other emotions like sadness or fear.
When communicated incorrectly, expressions of anger and rage rarely solve any issues but instead leave us – and those around us – feeling worse. Acknowledging the trauma enables us to confront it and then move on. Hence, treating anger with psychotherapy often involves exploring the underlying causes of our rage with a therapist.
Anger management and Psychoanalytic Therapy
The primary focus of this type of therapy is to reveal the unconscious content of a client’s psyche in an effort to alleviate psychic tension, in this case anger. A psychotherapist may explore past incidents as well as our current lives. Occasionally a circumstance reminds us of a past experience (unconsciously) and, as a result, we displace our anger about the past onto the present situation. In this way, anger isn’t always a reaction to a current situation so it’s important to explore our thinking in relation to past as well as current events.
Psychoanalytic Therapy is beneficial if you would like to deal with long-standing, severe, or repetitive anger. It is also helpful for those who would like to understand their anger more thoroughly.
Anger management and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
What triggers anger? The causes vary but here are some examples of external factors which contribute towards experiences of anger:
- Failure or loss
Examples of internal factors include:
- Frustration or perceived failure
- Feeling of fear
- Feeling of injustice or deprivation
Typically, anger has less to do with an event and more to do with how a person reacts to an event. Certain negative thought patterns, such as blaming, overgeneralisation, rigid thinking and “collecting straws” often precede an outburst of anger. Collecting straws is a form of mental tallying, when a person mentally tallies events to justify their anger. They allow small incidents to build in their head until they reach “the last straw.” The person’s anger then boils over into what can be an overreaction. Most people can reduce their anger by challenging these thought patterns. This is the foundation of the cognitive behavioural approach to anger therapy.
How can we control anger?
Many mental health issues are the product of distorted thinking patterns and chronic anger is no exception. Tackling anger with CBT is not about suppressing anger, it’s about putting this emotion – and its cause – into perspective. With therapy, people can learn how to reconstruct their thoughts to gain perspective and eventually avoid distorted thought processes altogether. With anger under control and increased perspective they have more mental space to solve any problems they’re facing.
Anger management as emotional regulation
Emotional balance – that is, not allowing our emotions to run away with us – can help us to maintain control in the face of challenging situations. Learning how to regulate our emotions is a key component of effective anger management. Therapy sessions may involve the practice of relaxation techniques to calm the individual down.
Why do we experience negative emotions like anger? Sometimes our emotions are important as communication signals. They have developed to alert us of threat or adverse conditions – as well as to tell us when things are good. In a fight-or-flight scenario, anger can be necessary for survival. In day-to-day situations, it can help us to relieve stress by motivating us to solve a problem instead of enduring it. But learning to communicate our emotions effectively, whether they are positive or negative, is important for our mental health and those around us.
Harnessing our anger
A healthy expression of anger can open up dialogue about negative feelings. Some people show anger because they have difficulty expressing other feelings. For example they may have been taught that certain emotions, such as fear or sadness, are unacceptable. Masking these emotions in the form of anger may be adopted as a defense mechanism, to avoid feelings which could damage self-esteem or cause more stress. Or, anger may result when less extreme emotions are suppressed but build up.
A therapist will work with their patients to teach them how to state their needs and concerns with assertiveness rather than aggression and how to approach potentially heated discussions which may develop into arguments. Often issues can then be resolved, or pressure taken off your shoulders, before a situation becomes too stressful and triggers anger.
Like many emotions, anger isn’t intrinsically bad or good. The consequences of anger depend on how a person reacts to this emotion. A mental health professional can help you express emotions in a healthy manner. Learning how to communicate our emotions is another useful outcome of anger therapy.
Learn new skills and relaxation techniques
Physical tension associated with anger may trigger a fight-or-flight response. This leads to rising cortisol levels and mental distress. If left unchecked, anger can build into rage. Relaxation techniques can prevent anger from spiralling.
Conscious processing and evaluation of our thoughts and feelings provides us with the opportunity to change them. So, checking for signs of building rage is an important skill for people with anger management issues. Mental and physical signs of anger include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Exaggerated thoughts
- Rapid breathing
- Muscle tension
Relaxation techniques include:
- Deep breathing – deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system which calms a person down. It can have immediate effects on one’s blood pressure and it can also reduce the production of stress hormones.
- Stretching and massage – self-massage and stretching can release muscle tension
- Mental exercise – counting to ten, repeating a mantra, or imagining a calm place aim to interrupt a person’s spiraling thoughts. This gives the person time to weigh the consequences of their next actions. Neutral or relaxing stimuli may also dampen one’s stress response.
- Meditation – during meditation, a person can gain insight on the roots of their anger.
Make lifestyle changes
Once we have tackled anger issues in the short-term, there are also new habits which, when adopted can have lasting effects on a person’s emotions. Exercise can raise endorphins and reduce stress and other hobbies can improve a person’s mood. Some individuals find writing their emotions down can be cathartic. A private journal can be a way to vent thoughts without hurting other people.