image by Christina Xu (lic)Though anger is a normal human emotion, the way you choose to express your anger may not be normal or acceptable to those around you. If you suspect you have an anger problem, or if people you respect have told you that you do, we invite you to read on so as to learn about how to gain better control over your anger.
Help for anger problems is available through anger management programs which are offered through various sources including your workplace, employee assistance program, and through local counseling clinics. Anger management programs are designed to help you learn to control your anger responses in order to improve your relationships and reduce the likelikhood of serious health problems. Anger management programs have much to teach that can help you to gain mastery over your problem anger. However, like any therapy or educational program, anger management programs can only benefit you to the extent that you decide to participate in them fully, and take in all they have to offer.
Learning to control your anger will be an ongoing task. You will need to rethink your automatic responses towards people. You will also have to take more responsibility for your thoughts and actions than you may have in the past. All of this will require discipline and a plan. As a means of helping you to gain this discipline and plan, we will next step back and review how normal people approach making large scale life changes. Having this perspective should prove useful in your anger management efforts. Understanding the best way to approach a problem is an important step in eventually overcoming it.
Stages of Change
People tend to go through a predictable set of several stages while working through life-changes. Progress through the stages is largely due to a combination of motivation, technique and dedication. Some people move quickly through the stages, while others move more slowly, perhaps even taking a step or two backward before continuing on to complete their change.
As you consider each of the stages of change below, think about how each stage has played out in your own life as you have made life changes in the past. Imagine how you will work through the challenges of each stage as you approach your anger management goals. While your experience may not mirror the order of the stages listed below, understanding each stage can help you on your way to achieve your goal.
- Challenge. Deciding to learn how to control your anger represents a big change in how you will life your life. People aren't usually motivated to make big life changes like this until something comes along that challenges them to examine their old way of doing things, and motivates them to learn new, better ways of handling those things. Most people decide to make changes in the way they deal with anger only after they experience serious personal, social or occupational consequences for their anger. Challenging consequences might occur when a spouse starts divorce proceedings after a violent fight, or when you have lost your job after a workplace outburst. Some portion of angry people feel personally out of control after an outburst and decide to go for help so as to gain better self-control. Others go for help just to get other people off their back.
- Awareness. The awareness stage begins as the angry person seeks information about anger management; what anger is, how anger affects health and relationships, and how anger can be controlled.
- Preparation. Awareness is all about information gathering; it involves no commitment. The Preparation stage begins with your decision to actually make a change in the way you will express anger. Beyond commitment to change, preparation involves self-study and planning. It may be useful for you to keep an anger management journal where you keep a record of the things that make you angry, how you react when you are angry, and the consequences of your reactions. Your anger journal will help you identify and become aware of your anger triggers and may help give you some insight into how proportional your angry outbursts are to the various situations that provoke them (more on this later). The more you learn about your personal anger triggers, the better your chances of success in changing how you express anger.
- Action. In the Action stage you start making real changes. You may decide to take a professional anger management course or to purchase workbooks, tapes, or videos. You may also design a personal program for anger management. Any of these approaches might help you to develop greater control over your anger. However, none of them will work if you do not apply yourself to them with dedication and persistence.
- Maintaining Gains. The maintainance stage of change never ends. During this stage, you learn to accept the fact that you are not perfect, that you will make mistakes and act inappropriately, and that you can recover from lapses in your behavior when they do occur. Achieving sustained behavior change is a project. It may take multiple attempts and multiple failures before you will achieve this goal. Each time you do lapse into old behavior, you can use the tools and strategies you have learned along the way to help you pick yourself up and recover.
It is particularly difficult for many people with anger problems to work up the motivation to seriously want to work an anger management program. Because anger has a seductive, self-justifying quality to it, people are not typically drawn to anger management on their own. Many times, people need to suffer serious negative consequences of their anger before they realize that they need help in controlling their outbursts. Even then, motivation for continuing an anger management program can wax and wane. It is fairly common for angry people to stop attending an anger management program before finishing it, or for people to never actually apply or use the techniques they learn in their program. People often need to repeat anger programs a number of times before they truly understand the message and incorporate the training into their own lives.