Counseling Corner: You can learn to deal with anger

July 1, 1993

Counseling Corner: You can learn to deal with anger

By Marlene Greenspan, L.P.C.

Anger can be a tricky feeling, and one that affects our lives in a variety of negative ways. Not being able to control your anger can create significant problems in your social, professional and family relationships. Even milder bouts of anger, if not recognized or dealt with, can have serious implications.

Short-term physical responses to anger may include not feeling well, developing sudden aches and pains, or even unexplained feelings of dissatisfaction about everyone and everything in and around us. Long-term responses may include major illnesses, unruly behavior, and poor performances in the outside world or at home.

One of the key issues facing individuals is determining how to control anger before it controls them. This is a process that takes time and energy, not just a switch to be thrown at will.

An important first step is recognizing the internal signs that mean you’re becoming angry or are already there. Self-observation and remembering your personal reactions, both visible and those you kept to yourself, can help you understand how you are reacting when angry. It can also help to talk to trusted friends and family members, in a calm moment, about how they perceive you when you are angry.

Once you can recognize the signs that indicate you are becoming angry, it’s time to consider what steps you can take to deal with that anger. It’s important to determine these steps in a calm frame of mind to assess accurately how you’ll implement them when needed.

There are always a variety of alternatives available for venting anger, some more productive than others. Anyone can strike out verbally or physically at another person who seems to be the cause of the angry feelings. Close investigation, however, usually reveals that uncontrollable anger comes as a response to hidden personal feelings of inadequacy or self-disappointment. Instead of striking out at yourself, you may strike out at the person or thing that seems to reflect your weakness. Unfortunately, many people think that is an acceptable form of dealing with anger.

A more helpful first step in dealing with your anger can be to distance yourself from the anger stimulus—physically remove yourself from the scene or individuals causing your anger.

Next, it helps to find an acceptable means to work off the energy, both physical and emotional, that has been generated by your anger. Healthful physical exercise, like sports, jogging or walking, can be one outlet. Sometimes simply listening to soothing music can have a calming affect. Or, perhaps you might feel better if you sing loudly or play an instrument. Some people turn to artistic projects or write treatises or letters to vent their dissatisfaction. Muttering to yourself can even help, or you might find someone trustworthy with whom to discuss your distress in search of useful solutions.

When you’ve taken control of your angry feelings enough to avoid an out-of-control reaction, it’s time to determine exactly why you feel so angry, and to look for realistic and positive ways of handling situations and people who make you angry. Sitting down and visualizing what actually happened can help you prepare for situations in the future that might trigger feelings of anger and loss of personal control.

In other words, most cases involving anger do not require angry responses. Fights and explosions do not have to be the outcomes of disagreement or displeasure. If a particular person purposely goads you, an unexpected response like not rising to the bait can be very effective. If a particular situation consistently causes you problems, it may be possible to change or avoid it, or at least be better prepared for it.

The most important thing to remember about anger and loss of control is that there is always a way out or someone to help, even in the darkest moments. As you get to know yourself and your anger triggers, it’s possible to prevent negative responses by redirecting personal energy into more productive behaviors. And if you find, despite your best efforts, that controlling your anger still seems to elude you, seek help. A counseling professional can help you understand what is causing your anger, and provide you with techniques to help control and avoid such reactions.

Marlene Greenspan, a licensed professional counselor, has been coordinator of guidance for the last 18 years at the Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge. She is also in private practice in Teaneck, N.J., has published numerous articles in professional counseling journals, and conducted workshops for counseling professionals.

“The Counseling Corner” is provided as a public service by the American Counseling Association, the nation’s largest organization of counseling professionals, and with the support of the American Counseling Association Foundation. Additional information for consumers and counseling professionals is available through the ACA Web site at www.counseling.org.

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