Anger Management

Dr. Aber specializes in the treatment of anger problems and has had good success in counseling helping people overcome this often difficult-to-treat issue. Individual therapy using the Cognitive-Behavioral approach described in the book "When Anger Hurts" by McKay (2003) is by far the most effective counseling approach for anger management, and that is the approach he uses. Group-based anger management "classes" are much less effective and Dr. Aber does not offer such classes.

     What follows is an introduction to the Cognitive-Behavioral approach to overcoming anger problems and some suggestions to get you started on effective anger management.

What can you do to better manage your anger?

Prolonged or chronic anger can lead to mental health problems like depression, and physical problems like "stress" headaches and high blood pressure. Sleep disorders and digestive and cardiovascular problems can also result from long-term anger. To protect yourself against these problems, it is important that you communicate about all of your feelings, including anger, constructively. The healthiest and most effective way to express anger is in a manner that does not cause physical harm, emotional distress, or social loss. The goal of anger management is to help you find healthy ways to express the anger you feel and resolve the problems that ignite it.

Is It Good To "Let it All Hang Out?"

No - Psychologists have found that this is a harmful myth. People often use this myth as a justification to lash out at others. Research indicates that "letting it rip" in an angry manner increases the likelihood that you will be angry again in the future, and does nothing to help you (or the person you're angry with) come to a constructive resolution.

How do I know if I have a problem with anger?

Some indications that anger is a problem are listed below (there are many other possibilities).

* Your family and friends have expressed concerned about your anger.
* Anger is causing difficulties in your personal or work relationships.
* You keep relying on being angry to get what you need/want from others.
* You use alcohol or other drugs to blunt your anger.
* You feel (or fear) being out of control when you are angry.
* The people in your life are scared to upset you or disagree with you.
* You hurt others by insulting, cursing, or demeaning them.
* You tend to displace (shift) your irritation onto someone or something else instead of the actual person, event, or context that is bothering you.
* You have caused physical harm or property destruction while angry.

How do I learn to control my anger?

There are a number of different ways to manage anger and some strategies will suit you better than others. It is important that you find the right combination of management tools that are most effective for you. Many people find one or more of the following strategies to be helpful:

List the things that can trigger your anger
Make a list of the things (people, situations, events) that are likely to trigger you. If you can develop an active awareness of those triggers, you can either anticipate and plan how to deal with them or avoid those situations altogether.

Pay attention to the warning signs of anger in your body
What happens to your body when you get angry (perspire, red face, muscle tension, tight jaw, a pounding heart)? The sooner you can read these warning signals of anger, the more success you will have, in real time, at calming yourself before anger gets the better of you.

Take time out
If your anger does escalate beyond your control, take a break from the situation or argument. Step out of the room or go for a walk. Before you leave, though, remember to arrange a time to review the situation later when everyone involved has had a chance to calm down.

Control your thinking
When we're angry we tend to think in simplified, black-and-white terms. Try to substitute balanced, rational thoughts for the absolute thinking that is a predictable feature of an angry mind. Changing what you think about a person or situation, even slightly, can often have a noticeable effect on how you feel. For example, instead of thinking "This is terrible, my life is over," tell yourself: "I'm disappointed, for sure, but no one has been given a guarantee that things will always be fair. Plus, it's not the end of the world and lashing out is not going to alter what occurred."

Commit yourself to a set of internal assertions to say to yourself before ("I can control myself and my feelings."), during ("Stay calm, don't just look at this in black-and-white terms."), and after ("I handled that pretty well. I felt angry but kept myself in check.") any of the situations which typically make you angry.

Distract yourself
A time-honored and effective strategy for dealing with anger is to "change the subject" in your mind. Focus on counting backwards from 100, playing engaging music, conversing with a good friend, or a simple task like washing the car, making the bed, loading the dishwasher, or walking your dog. Many people find that vigorous exercise is especially effective as a distracting "mind-changer."

Problem Solving
Sometimes, our anger and frustration are caused by very real and inescapable problems in our lives. Not all anger is irrational; very often it's a natural response to these difficulties. Essentially, feeling angry can be a 'warning system' that lets us know that we (or our interests) are being hurt in some way. If we can, we should find rational solutions that reduce the harm we are experiencing. However, many of us believe that every problem has a solution, and it frustrates, even enrages, us, to face situations where this isn't the case. The best approach in these relatively uncontrollable or unsolvable situations is not to focus on implementing a solution, but to focus instead on how to live with and face the problem.

Learn assertiveness skills
Being assertive means communicating clearly and respectfully with others about what your needs and wants are and being prepared to negotiate, because other people have needs and wants too, and these can be different from yours. Assertive communication uses a preponderance of "I" statements ("I feel taken for granted." or "I feel disrespected when you don't call me when you're going to arrive late."), instead of "You" statements ("You take me for granted." or "You're always rude to me."). Avoid absolute descriptors like "never" or "always" (for example, "You never wash the dishes!"), because these statements are never (!) accurate, tend to pump you full of justification for your anger, and don't leave much room for negotiation.

Catch yourself displacing anger
Be aware of who you are expressing your anger to, and don't let yourself just dump anger on whoever happens to be nearby or on people who have less status or power than you.