Counsellor and Psychotherapist
Perth, Western Australia
"Anyone can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person at the right time, and for the right purpose and in the right way ...that is not easy." - Aristotle
Anger is healthy and natural. What is not healthy is when the anger turns into uncontrollable rage. Anger is a secondary emotion used to cover up the primary core emotions, such as fear, hurt, pain and sadness. People sometimes hit out when they feel threatened as a way of protecting themselves; however the threat not be physical and may be unrealistic. The perceived threat is often based on previous experiences for example ...when you were unsafe in the past, a memory has been triggered and applied in a new situation that may or may not contain a real threat. Words/actions may not be understood by the receiver as the sender intended and this can create unnecessary conflict. In order to ensure clear understanding of intent, good communication is a great asset. Quite often people do not stop to consider whether another's words or actions are even really meant for the person who is hearing them, creating an altercation that could have been prevented.
Anger is one part of the "fight or flight" response. There are times when to be angry is valid and appropriate, however during this time maintaining perspective can be difficult, especially if someone is not used to using healthy anger and the anger spirals out of control.
Listed below are some strategies for healthy anger management;
- Pay attention to what is happening in your body. You may experience
muscle tension, increased heart rate, feeling hot, stomach churning,
tight chest, difficulty thinking and other reactions that will
vary with each individual.
- Looking for the emotional signs can enable you to make sense
of your feelings. Perceptions of rejection, betrayal, abandonment,
jealousy or feeling mistreated in some way, are some of the powerful
catalysts for anger. Being able to identify what the causes of
anger are will help to enable you to find your voice and clearly
convey what is happening. Being clear about negative self talk
or beliefs will also help to make sense of the anger reaction.
Once you know how and what causes your feelings you will be better
able to communicate this to others.
- Anger is functional; it can get us what we want, but the danger
is that by doing so there may be damage to relationships, because
we can distort our perception of the other. During heightened
anger you may forget about all the good qualities of the person
you are arguing with and only focus on the negative. In order
for this not to happen, here below are some techniques that may
- Let people know how you feel, but be compassionate and respectful.
- Practise breathing exercises to enable you to be present in
the moment and in control.
- No one is angry all the time. It is important to remember the
times you were not angry and what you were thinking and feeling
then. This helps to reduce distorted thinking.
- Learn how to take responsibility for your anger. A part of
this is to take 100% responsibility for your actions and not to
buy into the "look what you made me do" approach to anger.
- There is a correlation between people's moods and alcohol or
other drug use. Pay attention to the effects of alcohol and other
drugs on anger development. If you want to control your anger,
controlling drinking of alcohol and drug taking may be also required.
- Take time away from an angry situation to cool down and think about what is happening. Use time out technique ( see below).
Anger Management Techniques in a Relationship
"Time Out" Technique
The technique must be agreed upon by both partners before using.
Time out is different from running away.
This is a method used to prevent violent/aggressive behaviour when arguing. There are two types of time out;
1. Crisis time out
This is used when one partner feels their anger escalating and
are aware they may erupt.
That person must say firmly and clearly " I feel very angry and I need time out."
Leave the situation and do something that will bring your body back to a calmer state.
Return to your partner when you are in control and if possible return to the issue. If it is impossible, agree to not talk about the issue until you have a counsellor/mediator present.
The partner being left must respect the request for time out and not pursue the other.
2. Practise time out
In an argument when there is no emergency, practise asking for fifteen minutes time out. Ensure you stick to the time limit and use the time in an enjoyable way. Return to partner and thank them for respecting your request.
Guidelines for Fair Arguing
Arguing, like anger, is also a healthy part of a relationship. What is not healthy is when the argument becomes out of control. This is when people may say things they later regret. The purpose is to clear up misunderstandings and express feelings in order to build a more united relationship. If the purpose of the argument is clearly defined the argument has boundaries and can be entered into more safely.
Ensure you stay to the topic under discussion and don't bring in other examples.
Don't get personal or blame the other.
Don't stop until the topic is resolved otherwise it will recur. Use active listening technique. This involves listening and then repeating back what you think you have heard to ensure you have understood correctly what the other is trying to tell you. Most arguments can be resolved in 5 minutes.
Don't try to win- if one wins the other loses and resentment may build up, thus weakening the relationship.
Respect crying. This is a valid response to how someone is feeling, but don't let crying stop the argument, unless the partner who is crying calls a time out.
No violence. Physical violence, mental or emotional intimidation and the threat of violence violates the process because it eliminates equality.
Any communication requires two people who are willing and able to participate. In regard to the partner who habitually avoids discussing difficult topics the couple may need to seek help to explore what is in the way.
If you would like more information, or to make an appointment,
M Soc Sc (Counselling), B Sc Psychology, Grad. Dip. Ed.