Understanding Anger – Part II

IMPORTANT: This blog is not a substitute for therapy, but provides evidenced-based education for the purposes of self-help, or to compliment the therapeutic process. ​ ​This blog is non-monetized.

By: Christina Crowe, RP

In Part I of Understanding Anger, we talked about anger as a healthy and normal emotion (at times).  We also reviewed how anger unchecked can do a lot of damage in your life: on your physical health, your family and romantic relationships and on the job.  We all get angry for different reasons – because we are all very different people, who have different life circumstances.  

There is no one size fits all solution, but there are many strategies you can try until you find the one that works for you. One of the first things to try and figure out, is what is your anger trying to tell you?  Is your anger covering up for other feelings such as embarrassment, insecurity, hurt, shame, or vulnerability?  It’s hard to have those feelings come to the surface.  However, I would invite you to consider one thing:  when you let yourself admit that you aren’t perfect, that you are in fact human, you begin to let the walls down that keep people from truly connecting to you.  Shame is a loss of connection to people, and specifically, the people you love.

HOW DO WE REPAIR THIS?

When you can reconnect to people, shame can disappear.  We know a lot about shame, thanks to shame researcher Brene Brown, and her work has influenced and supported a massive movement forward in understanding the difference between people who we recognize as living life “wholeheartedly” with “joy” and connection to their community and families and those who do not (and of course both groups of people have had the same range of tough things happen in their lives).  

​If you decide you would like to work on your relationships, you might find you’ve got some work to do if anger has consistently been present there. 

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We also talked about slowing our thought process down, trying to understand where the negative thinking spirals out of control.  Cognitive distortions are errors that we all make in our thinking, and they can be a real source of pain for many people.  Here are some examples of common cognitive distortions:

  • Overgeneralizing. This is happening anytime you say “always” or “never”. “You always interrupt me.  You never consider my needs.  Nobody respects me.  I never get the credit I deserve for what I do around here.”
  • Obsessing on “should’s” and “musts.”  Having a rigid view of the way things should or must be and getting angry when reality doesn’t line up.  I like to say you need to stop “should-ing” all over yourself. 
  • Mind reading and jumping to conclusions.  Assuming you know what someone else is thinking or feeling—that he or she intentionally upset you, ignored your wishes, or disrespected you.
  • “Collecting straws”.  Looking for things to get upset about, usually while overlooking or blowing past anything positive.  Letting these small irritations build and build until you reach the “final straw” and explode, often over something relatively minor.
  • Blaming.  When anything bad happens or something goes wrong, it’s always someone else’s fault.  You blame others for the things that happen to you rather than taking responsibility for your own life.

There are more …. but do you recognize any of these in yourself?  The important point here is that it isn’t the thing that made you angry, but your interpretation of it, is what you can work on.

STOPPING THE SPIRAL

Once you have spent some time identifying the things that trigger your anger, you can have a little bit of insight into where your thinking might be leading you down an unhelpful path.  Next, you can work on changing your reaction.  The overriding principle is to get out of your head, into your body and into the present moment.

  1. Focus on what is happening in your body: that racing heart, jumbled thoughts, stomach in knots, muscles tensed.  Doing a “body scan” from the tips of your toes – slowly – to the top of your head will highlight to your where your tension is manifesting in your body.
  2. Start taking some slow deep breaths.  It’s important to actually focus your mind on your breath (not let your mind wander while you just breath slower).  Think about how the air going in your nostrils is slightly cooler than the air coming out. Take 10.  THIS is the step that slows your body response, so you can think straight. 
  3. Move your body.  Run up and down the stairs; take a walk around the block.  Give yourself a chance to burn off the tension and allow a cooler head to prevail.  You can also focus on some stretching exercises, or massaging your head and scalp. 
  4. Repeat this list as much as you need to.  If you really practice, it will get easier with time. ​

TIME FOR A REALITY CHECK

Another technique we counsellors like to use that can be very effective is referred to as conducting a “thought record”. 

This essentially helps you slow your thought process down, on paper.  

  1. You write down what the triggering event is (my spouse has not done X again, even though they KNOW how much it bothers me). 
  2. Then you assess how emotionally wound up you are over this, on a scale from 1-100 (I’m at 80%).  
  3. Then you think of all the reasons you are right (They just don’t care, I’m not a priority, etc). 
  4. THEN you write down all the reasons you could be wrong – I like to call this “poking holes in your theory” (They had other things to focus on, there was something more pressing, I know they love me, they aren’t perfect). 
  5. And then you rate your emotional feeling on the same scale again (Now, I’m at 50%). 

The idea here is that you are giving yourself your own reality check.  How important is this thing you’re angry about?  Is it worth ruing your day over?  Do other people react to you this way?  How would that make you feel?  Is there another way to approach this?

MOVING ONTO HEALTHIER RELATIONSHIPS

It’s not always so simple, but sometimes even the smallest awareness of these issues is what it takes to crack the window of personal growth open.  And for some people, this is enough – you are the expert of your own life.  You know what you need to do to move forward and have more authentic / real connections to people. 

​Believing you are worthy is part of the hurdle.  But when you look at all the work that is listed above – that’s a lot of work!  Taking the time to reflect on all the work you are doing helps that worthy feeling become more present in your life.  Hopefully this post has given you a few things to consider that might end up being helpful for you. 

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Picture of ​Christina Crowe, H.BSc. MACP, RP, (S-Cert) OAMHP (she, her)

​Christina Crowe, H.BSc. MACP, RP, (S-Cert) OAMHP (she, her)

Registered Psychotherapist, Validated Clinical Supervisor, ADHD Therapist & Coach Podcast Host The Christina Crowe Podcast Christina is a Canadian Registered Psychotherapist, a member of CADDRA's Advocacy Committee and relentless mental health advocate. Christina believes great mental health information should be available to everyone, loves creating content that makes invisible things VISIBLE and finding new ways to bring healing experiences to as many people as possible.

1 thought on “Understanding Anger – Part II”

  1. Excellent post. I recently came upon your site and wanted to let you know how much I’ve enjoyed reading through your writings.

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