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The Eight Tools of Anger Control

It seems that anger is everywhere in our society. One just has to read the newspaper daily or watch the evening news to conclude that controlling one’s angry feelings is a major challenge for many adults, teens, and children.

Uncontrolled anger is a major factor in domestic violence and spousal abuse, in aggressive driving violations, in workplace rudeness and disruption, and in marital conflicts and family fights. Several large and respected studies have shown that one-third of couples studied at least one incident of domestic violence during the course of their marriage. The same study found that about 1, 500,000 children per year are severely assaulted (kicked, punched, beaten up, burned) in their homes.

Managing angry feelings requires mastering specific thought and action skills and then practicing these skills on a daily basis. The costs to persons who do not learn how to regulate their negative emotions are high and include increased risk of relapse, loss of relationships, conflicts at work, loss of respect in the eyes of loved ones, and lowering of self-esteem.

A particularly high cost of anger is on your children. The effect of children witnessing extreme conflict in the home can be devastating—more harmful most of the time than a parental divorce. It is estimated that between 2.3 million and 10 million children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year in the United States alone.

Although many adults believe that they have protected their children from exposure to domestic violence, 80-90% of children in those homes can give detailed descriptions of the violence experienced in their families.

What is Anger?

We view angry feelings as a normal emotional reaction to frustration in our everyday world. It is natural to become angry when we have a goal and this goal is blocked in some way. Anger isn’t just one emotion, but a family of emotions that are related to each other both in our brains and in our behavior. People often give a variety of names to their angry feelings, which range from mild irritation to rage.

Once anger begins, it generates changes in our expressions, our faces, our voice, and changes in the way we think. It also creates impulses to action. In fact, the purpose of emotions such as anger is to organize and mobilize all of our bodily systems to respond to our environment in some way.

Anger, like all emotions, is regulated by that section of our brain called the “limbic system” (located in our mid brains beyond our inner ear) Emotional memories are stored in the “amygdala” and other structures which are located in this limbic system.

You may experience anger now in your life which may actually be caused by a mixture of what is triggering it now and experiences you have had in the past—even if you don’t remember them. This “old anger” is activated by your brain in its attempt to protect you— even though the original danger is no longer present.

It is up to the thinking part of the brain, our frontal lobes, to find a way to deal with the angry feelings the amygdala and other brain structures have set in motion. Fortunately, as thinking human beings we have the unique ability among mammals to have choices regarding how we will deal with our feelings.

My Model of Anger Management

In our view, anger management is NOT about never getting angry—that would be an impossible and ridiculous goal because angry feelings are “hard-wired” in your brain and probably serve a protective and survival function.

Rather, anger management is about learning how to regulate and express those natural angry feelings in a way that makes you a more effective human being. Persons who manage their anger well have better relationships, better health, and more occupational success than those who manage their anger poorly. They also get more of their needs met without antagonizing loved ones or colleagues.

Learning to manage anger involves mastering the eight tools of anger control that we have found to be highly effective in our local anger management classes. This model of anger management is not therapy and does not dwell on the past or the underlying reasons for anger. Rather, our approach is psycho-educational, skill-building, and practical drawing on recent research and findings in neuroscience, marriage/relationships, stress management, and the emerging science of happiness and optimism.

The Eight Tools of Anger Control

Tool 1 – Recognize Stress
Stress and anger tend to go hand and hand. The higher one’s stress level, the easier it is to allow our anger to get out of control. It is a challenge for most of us to manage our stress levels in a complex world with many demands and expectations. Learning stress management techniques us an effective way to reduce the physical, behavioral, and emotional problems caused by too much stress.

Stress is often the trigger that takes us from feeling peaceful to experiencing uncomfortable angry feelings in many common life situations. Whether the stressor is external or internal, scientists have discovered that the major systems of the body work together to provide one of the human organism’s most powerful and sophisticated defenses; the stress response which you may know better as “fight-or-flight”. Before your stress response turns into anger or aggression, use stress management strategies to get it under control.

Tool 2 – Develop Empathy
Have you ever been in a restaurant and noticed that the customers at the table next to you were speaking louder than anyone else? It was as if they had no idea that they were being so loud and intrusive to the rest of the patrons. This lack of awareness is often a sign of not being emotionally or socially alert. Or, have you ever been in a situation where you tried to express your feelings and it backfired in some way?

Some of us are very good at knowing how we feel and expressing it, while others struggle to do so. It is crucial to express emotion in order to relate to those around us. Our ability to know how we are feeling as well as our ability to accurately sense the feelings of those around us help us make positive connections with others. This characteristic is often called “empathy.”

To empathize is to see with the eyes of another, to hear with the ears of another, and to feel with the heart of another. Lack of empathy leads to poor communication and a failing to understand others. To manage anger, it often helps to see our anger as a combination of other people’s behavior and our lack of empathy toward them or their situation.

Tool 3 – Respond Instead of React
Many times we become angry because we find people and situations that literally “push our buttons”, and we react just like a juke box that automatically pulls down a record and starts playing when you make a selection. Rather than reacting to anger triggers in this fashion, you can learn to choose how to deal with frustrating situations — to respond rather than automatically react like that juke box.

There are many advantages to learning to how be more flexible in dealing with the stresses and frustrations of life. At the top of the list is a sense of empowerment. It just feels good and powerful to know that you are in charge of your response, rather than being controlled by other people or circumstances. Many people notice their anger level going down as their feeling of empowerment goes up.

Tool 4 – Change That Conversation With Yourself
“For some reason whenever I get upset I am always putting myself down” said one woman in an anger management class. “Even my friends tell me I am just too hard on myself”, she said. When I get upset, I will often say things like, “I’m such a loser”, or, “if I don’t make it on time, everyone will think I’m a jerk”, the woman explained. “Sometimes I even tell myself that I am worthless and stupid when I make mistakes.”

A crucial tool in dealing with angry feelings is that of challenging that conversation with yourself. Like the woman described above, you are constantly telling yourself all kinds of things which cause you to have certain feelings or emotions—even though you may not realize it. Learning to change that “self-talk” empowers you to deal with anger more effectively in terms of how strongly you feel the anger, how long you hold onto your anger, and how you express your anger.

Tool 5 – Communicate Assertively
Good communication skills are an essential ingredient to anger management because poor communication causes untold emotional hurt, misunderstandings, and conflict. Words are powerful, but the message we convey to others is even more powerful and often determines how people respond to us and how we feel toward them.

Anger expressed toward others is often a misguided way of communicating a feeling we have or a need that is not being satisfied by other people or situations. Assertive communication—as distinct from aggressive communication— is a set of skills to honestly and effectively communicate how you feel and how you are responding to things—without getting angry or hostile about it. 

Tool 6 – Adjust Expectations
Have you ever been told your expectations are too high? Anger and stress can often be caused when our expectations are too far apart from what is realistic to achieve. In other words, anger is often trigg

ered by a discrepancy between what we expect and what we get.Learning to adjust those expectations—sometimes upward and other times downward—can help us cope with difficult situations or people, or even cope with ourselves. In marriage, research shows that much anger is caused by trying to solve problems which are unsolvable and perpetual. Successful couples learn to live with each other around these issues rather than getting angry about them.

Tool 7 – Forgive But Don’t Forget!
Anger is often the result of grievances we hold toward other people or situations, usually because of our perception and feeling of having been wronged by them in some way. Resentment is a form of anger that does more damage to the holder than the offender. Holding a grudge is letting the offender live rent free in your head.   Making the decision to “let go” (while still protecting ourselves) is often a process of forgiveness – or at least acceptance – and is a major step toward anger control.

Tool 8 – Retreat and Think Things Over!
Jim and Mary Jones loved each other deeply, but often went into horrific verbal battles over any number of issues. However, they were unable to give each other “space” during an argument insisting they solve the issue immediately. Even worse, Mary often physically blocked Jim from leaving and would follow him from room to room demanding discussion. Needless to say, this is a dangerous practice as it can escalate levels of anger even further and cause partners to do and say things they don’t really mean and may later regret!

Research shows that we are pretty much incapable of resolving conflicts or thinking rationally in an argument when our stress level reaches a certain point. To avoid losing control either physically or verbally, it is often best to take a temporary “time-out” – and leave.  This tool of anger management works much better if (a) you commit to return within a reasonable amount of time to work things out, and (2) you work on your “self-talk” while trying to cool down.

The Anger-Damage effect on your heart: Guest blog from Dr Alan Levy

THE ANGER-DAMAGE EFFECT ON YOUR HEART

Guest Article by By Alan Levy, Ph.D.

How does anger do its damage and contribute to heart trouble? In this brief article, I explain the physiological and psychological mechanisms that are problematic ways of handling frustration and anger. I also present 8 helpful hints to better manage negative emotions and protect your physical and mental health.

How does Anger Affect our Bodies?

First, here’s how the physiological mechanism of anger works, according to the nation’s top heart-brain research centers, such as the Cleveland Clinic: Emotions like anger and hostility stimulate the “fight or flight” response of your sympathetic nervous system, releasing the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline.

These chemicals significantly speed your heart rate and your respiration. Your blood pressure goes up, and your body is hit with a burst of fight-flight energy. That’s often what triggers someone to fly into a rage, to
begin yelling and even throwing things.

This heightened state of physiological activation is designed to mobilize you for real emergencies, but can become habitual. Chronically high levels of stress hormones cause extra wear on your cardiovascular system.

Even the walls of your arteries can be damaged by the frequent anger response, because of the extra load of glucose and fat globules secreted into the blood stream.

The Good News

The good news is that anger and hostility as a risk factor can be changed for the better, just as blood pressure or cholesterol can be modified. Of course, stress can’t be measured as easily as cholesterol, but you can learn to take responsibility for your emotional responses and modify them for the better. Here are a few tips to interrupt storms of explosive anger or relieve yourself of self-damaging, imploded anger.

  1. Recognize, as early as possible, when you’re beginning to feel angry.
  2. Pause, before saying something or doing something impulsively. The time-worn advice– “count to ten”– is still wise.
  3. Put the situation into perspective. Ask yourself if this issue will matter 5 years from now.
  4. Say to yourself: “If this is as big a deal tomorrow as it is now, I’ll deal with it then, when I’ve cooled off a bit.
  5. Realize that, even though someone else’s behavior might have triggered your upset, blaming them for it won’t help you take responsibility for handling it well enough to regain your emotional balance.
  6. Understand that acting angry is not the way to show that you really care about something or someone.
  7. You may understand the nature of your problems with anger, but if you can’t put your insight into practice, it’s time to consult with an experienced therapist. Even a brief investment in counseling can
    produce remarkable results.
  8. Finally, remember to take this to heart: a change of heart comes from a change of mind about how you handle frustrating situations.

To sum it up, stressful reactions such as anger, anxiety, guilt, or mood instability can add up to increased risk for all kinds of medical problems, including heart trouble. Taking care of your emotional health will pay off with big dividends in maintaining your physical health and well-being.

Dr Alan Levy is an seasoned psychologist who practices in Costa Mesa, California. His website: alanlevyphd.com

Downloads

Download a FREE Worksheet PDF file called “Areas of Change” that will help you develop the techniques discussed in this article.

Couples Conflict – The Dance of Anger

Jim and Sally have been married for 10 years. They argue so much that friends invite them for dinner a lot because they provide the evening’s entertainment with their bickering and constant conflict. Their arguments are over many of the same issues over and over again. They just seem to trigger angry responses in each other and it is never ending. Watching them reminds one of seven year olds fighting in the sand box.

If you took a picture snapshot at any point in time you might think that one of them is the culprit starting the fights. But, taking a snapshot at another point in time might give you a different impression, as you observe the “victim” actually now provoking their partner.

Truth is, they are in a strange, intimate dance with each other even though they probably don’t realize it. Psychologists might say that we are observing the battle of part of the brain called the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the limbic system. It is in the amygdala that hurts, pain and anger are stored. Its purpose is to protect you from harm, even though the threat is not physical but the verbal assaults of your partner. So, it immediately prepares you for fight and survival. You are programmed to attack back,to protect yourself.You are reacting on a nervous system level but may not be aware of this fact. It happens so rapidly that things can spin out of control before you know it. And the anger dance begins.

The “Issue” Is Not The Only Issue
It may appear that you are fighting over the kids,who should do the dishes, or how much money you should spend on a new car. But you are also fighting on deeper levels often without your awareness. My experience with many scores of couples is that you are really fighting because you are triggering in each other old ways of feeling or behaving toward someone you love which you learned as a child from caretakers or others. Under stress, your brain reverts back to that earlier learning, never mind that you are now an adult professional, a responsible community member, and a parent. So, instead of being a reasonable human being, you become that petulant child who is not getting his way, you grind on your partner over minor infractions to wear him or her down (just like you wore down your parents), or you openly rebel to communicate feeling hurt and rejection.

In the heat of battle. many partners forget to pay attention to the damage they may be doing to the relationship itself in how they are fighting or arguing. They focus on winning the battle, but lose sight that they may be losing the war. What good is winning the argument if you are pissed at each other afterward or experiencing feelings of hurt for days or weeks? Successful couples broaden their lens and see that they must always be aware of how what they do or what they say will affect the relationship itself. Successful partners know that even if they conflict or disagree with the benefits of softening your water, they have each other’s back and they feel secure in knowing that they will be there for each other, regardless of the outcome of the specific argument.

<strongThe Dance of Security
Feeling secure in a relationship seems to be a basic human need. Secure functioning should be a major goal of any intimate connection. When there is secure functioning, partners protect each other at all times, in both public and private. They notice how they are affecting each other. When they emotionally injure each other, they know how to make quick repairs. Secure functioning partners are skilled at being able to quickly change their own emotional state and positively influence the emotional state of their partner. They think in terms of what is best for both of them not only as individuals but also as a couple.

Problem is, partners often come into relationships with different styles of feeling secure. This is because of different backgrounds and different ways of learning how to “attach” to loved ones. Unless partners learn to deal with each other’s styles of attachment, they will trigger INSECURITY in each other which often leads to anger and other negative emotions.
Jim, for instance , doesn’t believe in talking in public about personal things; he believes in strict boundaries. He is self-contained and doesn’t turn to others for emotional support or problem-solving. Sally, on the other hand, loves to talk and to share everything with everybody, especially after a few glasses of wine. Talking and getting feedback from others helps to regulate her emotions and feel good and connected with others. She firmly believes that Jim should love her no matter how she behaves in public; if he shows disapproval, this means he doesn’t really love her (in her thoughts). She doesn’t see that she is doing anything wrong.

Clearly, they are working against each other. That which reduces her anxiety, increases his, and vice versa. She becomes more and more angry and resentful as he pulls away and increasingly avoids her. He doesn’t deal with anger directly, so he starts to “passive-aggress” her by snipping,jabbing, innuendo and sarcasm. She fights back by denying him sex later that night. He complains. The next day she accuses him of not loving her for her and says that he is emotionally unavailable and she can’t stand it any longer. The dance is on but it is anything but a fluid tango….it is more like a war dance.

Putting the Pieces Together
Partners come in all sizes and shapes emotionally, many with ragged edges which we sometimes don’t see until later when the dating hormones settle down. At this stage, sometimes partners worry they are fundamentally incompatible with each other, that they may have made a mistake or that they were deceived by the other who is now clearly showing a different side to their personality. In couples therapy, we explain to the partners that they are probably going through a developmental period in which they are challenged to learn how to function as individual yet learn to do things differently so as not to trigger insecurity and anger in the other.

The simplified principle is this: Instead of trying to change your partner,find a way to give your partner what they need so they will be more motivated and eager to give you what you need. Both of you will feel more secure and will co-create what Dr. Stan Tatkin calls “the couple bubble.”

In our case example, Sally and Jim both have hard-wired (and different) styles of attachment and ways of regulating their emotions to feel comfortable. It is highly unlikely that either can change this. They can greatly decrease their levels of conflict, however, by accepting the differences between them and doing things to make the other more emotionally secure. Each needs to ask himself/herself what they are doing to make their partner feel better, not worse. They need to further ask themselves why they are doing things (like bringing up personal marriage thing in public) that they know emotionally (and socially) harms their partner. Or why Jim doesn’t share more with Sally when he knows that she needs this to feel secure inside and feel loved.
If we love someone, shouldn’t job number one be to try to make them happy (within reason) and be a source of need satisfaction for them (as long as it is reciprocal and we are getting it back)?

10-hour local anger management classes

Anger Class 101: Silence is an Anger Management Tool

They say that silence is golden.

Tell that to Sally and Jim who argue constantly and fight like cats and dogs over almost every issue. Both are highly successful, intelligent and verbal so there is no end to issues over which to fight. If perchance they do run out of issues temporarily, they creatively start fighting about fighting. They need anger class 101.

Let’s listen to the dialogue for a moment:
with one accusing the other of being unfair or talking “with that sneer of yours,” or “shouting at me.” while the other insists they are not shouting.

As a couples therapist, and someone who has conducted over 1000 anger classes in Southern California and a calgary naturopath, I sometimes want to say to one or the other: “Why don’t you just keep your mouth shut so avoid an argument? Partners often inflame each other, escalate anger, and talk themselves into major fights which could easily be avoided with the practice of temporary silence. This is known as the tool of “Retreat and Think Things over” in out system of anger management.

As Lao Tzu is quoted as having said:
“Silence is a Source of Great Strength.”

But, back to Sally and Jim who continue the argument:

Yes, Jim says, but I am right and she knows that I am right, so why should I silence myself?” “The restaurant WAS where I said it was – NOT where she kept insisting (wrongly) it was located.”

“Oh Lord, It is so hard to be humble when you are perfect in every way”
…….Mack Davis song, 1980

Know anyone who ALWAYS has to be right, like Jim? Not only do they always have to be right, they have an irrepressible urge to point out when they factually know that you are wrong. So,like Jim, they correct you, contradict you, argue with you, contest everything you say, and then later remind you that “I told you so” if there is any evidence that you are wrong and they were right.

The frustrating thing is, often these people ARE right, or partiality right as http://stridestrong.com says. But, few important issues in the world are about absolute right or absolute wrong. They are about shades of each. Only very rigid people divide the world into absolute rights or absolute wrongs. Partial truths often drive arguments because of mis-communication or misunderstanding.

“Black and White People” vs “Gray” people.

“Black and white” people see the world in absolutes. It is either this way or that way. “Gray” people see in between possibilities, and understand that “truth” or “reality” in many cases is a matter of perception..not a matter of fact. Often, “black and white” people marry “gray” people and the fight is on.

Some common examples: Jim sees wife Mary as stubborn and unbending. She sees herself as morally right, principled, and duty-bound to do things Jim does not agree with. As another example, Mary sees Jim as lazy, not ambitious, and negligent in his household duties. Jim sees himself as evolving to the place in life where he can enjoy life, have fun with the kids, and generally appreciate his good health and financial freedom.

Who is right and who is wrong in these examples? Honestly, is your experience that the world most people live in is black and white, or do most issues fall in the gray area?

Four ways to deal with a partner who sees the world differently than you do.

1.LET IT GO.
For some people, it is part of their personality and their ego. They cannot stand not to be right, correct an injustice, or make sure you know the right way to do things. It validates them and makes them feel good about themselves to be right and to prove you wrong. You should not be around a person like this unless you are super-secure. Let them be right in their own minds, if they have to. Let it go! (Most times). If they swear it is noon; calmly show them a clock showing it is 1pm. Do you want to learn more? Then just click here and read the website.

2. AGREE TO DISAGREE
On many issues in a relationship (research shows 69%), you are never going to agree anyway. So, agree to disagree and don’t bring the subject up unless the “house is on fire.” (or unless it is really doing damage to someone)

3. SEPARATE IN YOU REMIND THE ISSUE FROM WHO YOUR PARTNER REALLY IS. Personally, I like many people even though they are diametrically opposed to things I truly believe in. If you get irritated over one slice of behavior displayed by your partner, try to see him or her as a total person.

4. DON’T TALK AN ISSUE TO DEATH TRYING TO PERSUADE YOUR PARTNER OF ITS TRUTH OR YOUR RIGHTNESS. Sometimes the more it is talked about, the worse it gets. Let the issue get some rest. MAybe it will recover sooner.

The AngerCoach on Skype: Get individual sessions at your convenience

The AngerCoach on SkypeOver the years, I have always tried to use technology to help offer my services to more people and in more convenient ways. For over a decade I made practical use of my website for this very reason. Once the technology became available , toll free number I made my anger management program available as an online course and I continued with my online marriage class. Continuing this tradition, I am happy to announce the ability to offer Skype conferences to all of my clients.

I recently relocated to the Newport Beach area in Southern California, but if you require anger management consultation or couples and marriage therapy, I can now offer these individualized services to anyone in the world. If you are seeking anger management consultation, treatment or marriage and couples therapy, then feel free to contact me at 714-745-1393 to schedule a Skype call.

I look forward to helping you!

New Office Location in Newport Beach California!

I am proud to announce my new office location in Newport Beach California. I hired someone from Mississauga commercial cleaning, to come clean the office before I moved everything in it. They did a really great job! Located at 200 Newport Center Drive, Suite 300, (Fashion Island – next to the Edwards Theater), Newport Beach, California. I can serve individuals and couples for anger management consultations, classes and therapy in addition to marriage and couples therapy. On Tuesday nights I offer group classes.

This new location will enable me to provide my services to a wider audience and assist those with specialized needs. If you are in the Southern California area and would like to schedule a consultation, please contact me at: 714-745-1393 or email me. I can also provide Skype consultations if needed.

Anger In Home Affects Children

In a recent letter to “Dear Abby,” a distraught woman wrote that her Asian husband recently lost a great deal of money in the stock market resulting in “…the negativity in our house is so bad that even our kids don’t want to be in the same room as their father. I have considered divorce, but it’s not easily accepted in my culture, and I am afraid of being on my own.”

Continuing, she says ….”I have tried everything” offering to help him, be there for him, trying to appease him, giving him his space, etc. There is no relationship left.”

“…He was always arrogant, difficult to get along with and had a temper” but now it has gone from bad to worse. I don’t know what to do anymore.”

This sad letter illustates several things that we have often heard from our anger management clients:

1. The emotional cost of anger is high, especially in terms of how it affects the children and partners. The angry sullen person often sets the “emotional tone” of the house which affects all family members. Loss of affection and/or alienation of children is difficult to recover from.

2. The angry person must decide to change himself/herself. There are many resources of anger management that would help, including therapy, medication (for some cases), and anger management classes, but they usually only work when the angry person is motivated to change.

3. In extreme cases of pent up anger or rage, violent outbursts can occur. “We see countless news stories about home and spousal abuse cases, and the angry person could end up in jail on a charge for a violent crime with no change of any bail bond in the matter of a minute,” according to a Bail Bonds in Los Angeles company. This is why it’s extremely important to treat anger – and not repress it or delay working it out.

Anger management is a self-improvement process. Those who benefit the most recognize the damage their anger is doing to themselves and people they love, and want to do something about it!

A Case Of Turkey Rage

News item: “27-year-old Vermont resident Steven J. Lapre is claiming that he is being made an example of after being accused of running over and killing a wild turkey as he was driving to his anger management class.

He asked at his arraignment, “How many citations do they hand out for all the dead deer by the side of the road?” He also claimed he tried to avoid an entire flock crossing the road, but still managed to hit one. He faces a $500 fine if convicted.

Two witnesses came forward saying they saw Lapre speed up and swerve toward the turkeys. Lapre countered this, saying his car has a loud muffler. As he left the court he caused a stir, saying “You know how stupid this sounds?”

Do you agree?