It is normal for an individual to experience irritability and anger. Some people however experience excessive and uncontrollable anger which may manifest as verbal or physical aggression. These maladaptive responses to anger often lead to failed relationships with family, romantic partners and problems at work. The physiological symptoms of anger may include increased arousal and heart rate, palpitations, surges in blood pressure, heart disease, perspiration, shaking muscles and increased activation of the endocrine and nervous system. People also experience cognitive issues such as difficulties concentrating, excessive rumination about events, memory problems and fantasies of revenge. Behavioral problems related to anger symptoms may lead to risk-taking behaviors that result in legal problems and serious physical threat to self and others such as reckless driving, alcohol consumption, drug use and possession, assault and battery and accidents.
Individuals develop anger management problems for a variety of reasons including genetics and environmental influences. Evidence suggests that some children are born irritable, aggressive and easily angered and these traits are present from an early age. Many individuals are taught that anger is a negative and unacceptable emotion and never learn how to handle or channel anger constructively. Research has also found that family background plays a role. Often, people who are easily angered come from families that are chaotic, disruptive and unskilled at handling difficult emotions.
Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT for anger issues is a form of treatment that focuses on alleviating current symptoms and changing thoughts and behaviors. CBT targets the situations, beliefs and behaviors related to events and triggers for anger. The common model involves Albert Ellis’ ABC model, where “A” stands for Activating Events, “B” stands for Beliefs, and “C” stands for Consequences. Situations that trigger anger can then be targeted by using this model to help reduce symptoms and change behaviors in addition to cognitive restructuring, problem solving, effective communication, skill building and relaxation training.
CBT therapy and psychotherapy can help clients manage anger by:
- Identifying what causes the rage response (triggers for anger). Ask yourself some important questions... What types of people or situations make me angry? What do I do when I am angry? How does my anger affect those around me?
- Teaching you how to respond to these triggers without being aggressive.
- Learning specific skills to help you manage triggers for anger more effectively.
- Helping you identify times when your thoughts do not lead to rational conclusions.
- Teaching you self-regulation skills such as how to "sit with" intense feeling states.
- Learning relaxation techniques to manage anger.
- Noticing sensations in your body
- Helping you learn assertiveness skills which will lead to a sense of agency and control.
- Assisting you with problem-solving techniques which can lead to empowerment which will serve to reduce the risk of triggering anger or frustration.
Using a four-step process for managing triggers can be helpful as well. You can write them in a journal or keep them in your smartphone or iPad. It looks something like this:
- What was the trigger?
- What were my feelings and emotions?
- Intensity of the trigger (very low, low, medium, high, very high or 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
- How could I change my response to the trigger? (what could I do differently in the future)
I have experience and training working with anger management for clients who are experiencing difficulty in personal or professional situations and am able to use a variety of techniques including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT, Mindfulness, Acceptance and EMDR therapy.
NYC Therapist Kimberly Seelbrede, LCSW is a skilled Psychotherapist, Relationship and Stress Reduction Expert in New York City. She provides therapy, EMDR & Coaching to individuals and couples.