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The Art of Relationships

with Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

There is an art to maintaining the intimate relationships in our lives. Read on to explore our experts' perspectives, and learn new techniques to improve your own relationship skills.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How to Manage Your Anger

Anger is an emotion that all humans share, and so there is nothing inherently wrong with experiencing it. However, we associate anger with getting hot; and so, by fueling our anger, we risk burning ourselves — and others — with it.

Sometimes people think that they can vent the anger out of themselves… if only they can yell, hit, or get vengeance on those who have insulted or hurt them. But anger doesn’t work this way. Mostly, venting anger is like fanning a flame; encouraging it to blaze anew. For example, screaming at someone certainly vents anger; but it also increases angry thoughts. And, it increases the other person’s anger and defensiveness, furthering the cycle of anger.

There are some skills, though, that you can develop to help you improve your ability to manage anger. If anger often gets the better of you, I suggest that you work on these when you are not in its grip. Just like with any other skill set, it’s best to practice when you don’t have the pressure of needing to be doing it well in that moment. Think of it this way: No one learns to swim by jumping into the deep end of the pool alone. With this in mind, consider the following ABCD approach:

Activity: Exercise regularly, and then also do it when you feel your anger building. If you don’t already have an exercise routine, explore different types of exercise to find the ones you most enjoy (e.g. jogging, weight lifting, Pilates).

Breathing: Deep (or diaphragmatic) breathing can be very helpful in calming down or reducing anxiety. You breathe slowly, taking time to pause at the end of each inhale and exhale. With this kind of breathing, your stomach will ‘inflate’ like a balloon when you inhale, and ‘deflate’ when you exhale. Meanwhile, your chest will not expand. If this is difficult for you, try lying on your back with your knees pulled up and your feet flat on the floor. It can also help to place a hand on your stomach to feel its rise on your inhale.

Calming activity: Find a hobby or activity that you enjoy and can engage in with your full attention. Examples are gardening, yoga, painting, or playing music.

Deepening Understanding — of yourself and the other person: It can be extremely helpful to be aware of what ‘pushes your buttons.’ By fully understanding this, you can step back and see it happening, which also means that you will not be as caught up in it and can choose to respond differently. So, for instance, you might say to yourself, “There I go again. Every time someone even implies that I’m not doing a good job, I get furious.”

It can also be helpful to understand the person triggering your anger. Chances are that they think their actions are valid; so by understanding their perspective (even if you disagree), you might be able to lessen your own anger and even respond in a way that they can respond more positively to. As Nelson Mandela said, “It never hurts to see the good in a person. They often act the better because of it.”

By using all of these tools, you can manage and even reduce your anger. Then, if the reason you originally got angry still needs to be attended to (e.g. your boss continually treats you poorly), you can do it with clear thinking (e.g. talk calmly with your boss). The feeling of anger will most likely still be there as part of your reaction to certain situations, but you will also be more in control of your actual response.

To join a general discussion about this topic on the Relationships and Coping Community, click here.

Posted by: Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD at 3:36 pm

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