Anger Management Live with @ProjectProactive

I joined @Project Proactive ( for a interview on anger management on July 15, 2019. Read on for a summary of key points discussed and watch the full interview below!





















Anger Management: A Primer to Issues and Solutions


Who experiences anger? Everyone! Anger results when expectations are not met. Expectations are often not met in this world... Both men and women experience anger, but there can often (not always!) be a difference in how anger is expressed. Men often exhibit more physical, verbal, and expressive anger whereas for women, anger can often be displayed in a more passive-aggressive manner. Think hot anger vs. cold anger! Of course these are generalizations - but this may be one reason why anger is often considered a bigger issue for men, as male anger can simply be more visible and more pronounced. 

Children in particular experience difficulties with anger (if you're a parent, lift your hands and say amen!). One reason for this is that anger is highly connected to language development. Anger is an emotional way of saying, "My needs are not being met." Adults, can (hopefully!) express this in words, yet children often lack the language proficiency needed to express an idea like this. Instead, they may yell, hit, pout, and otherwise lose it when something goes wrong! Fortunately, as children's language improves, aggression, tantrums, and meltdowns do decrease as well, to some extent. So verbal language matters in anger management. However, emotional language difficulties can be an even bigger problem. Verbal language helps us express our emotions, but what if we don't know what our emotions are? Some children (and many adults as well) experience difficulty in recognizing what their emotional experience is at any given moment. Consider what we might want our child to say instead of yelling and tantruming. Perhaps, something like, "Mom, I am feeling very upset right now." That's emotional language. Children can feel anger, frustration, rage, upset, hurt, and any other related feelings yet without having words for these feelings, they may be unable to express them in a helpful way (and the same goes for adults!). There's a lot of research showing that when people's emotional vocabulary improves, their ability to manage their emotions improves as well. Parents can help children build their emotional vocabulary by naming their child's emotional experience, offering them the feeling words they aren't using. "Oh, I can see you're really frustrated by this!" or "That's terrible, you must be furious!" would be some examples of this process. Strategies like these build emotional intelligence and also simultaneously tame some of the fire - as our children feel understood and that their emotional experience is validated, they begin to become able to release those emotions. Adults can use the same process: learning more feeling words, identifying their own feelings, and acknowledging that those feelings are there to also build their own emotional intelligence and ability to self-regulate and self-soothe. 



Anger as a surface emotion - what do you really need?

Ultimately, anger is rarely experienced in isolation. Anger can be thought of as a surface emotion. Consider as the tip of the iceberg with many other related emotions going on beneath the surface, including anxiety, depression, sadness, fear.  - leading to one small intervention, work on understanding what you are really feeling and what you really need.

Anger is the emotion that comes out but it doesn't necessarily help us get what we need

Often, we use anger ostensibly to help us get what we want, yet it's usually less effective than expressing other needs. Anger often leads to "You" statements - you should have done this etc... which just results in people putting their walls up and getting defensive. Expressing other emotions such as hurt, or sadness, often comes in the form of "I" statements. "I'm sad that we didn't get to do this." which is more likely to lead to an empathic and helpful response from another person. 

Increase awareness of whats going on - I'm angry and, I am feeling angry

So how can we people increase awareness of other emotions? Use internal language, "I am feeling angry and" - use construct "I am feeling angry instead of I am angry". When we think "I am angry", anger is experienced as all-consuming and as defining us, expressing it as something we are feeling helps us notice that it is just one part of our current experience (there is an I who is experiencing anger...)


Increase awareness of what's going on for kids - label it

Adults can do that themselves. Adults can also label kids experiences "Oh you must be getting hungry/tired" - accuracy is important, we can't just label kids anger as something else but if we reasonably suspect that something else is going on that is strongly contributing to anger experience, labeling that is important. 


Sometimes, we are angry!

It is however, also true that adults and kids can just plain be upset! Again, when expectations aren't met, anger does result. 


Validate that anger is your experience - "calm down" doesn't work...

So first, regardless of whether you are helping yourself or your child, it's important to validate that anger is a normal reaction to unmet expectations. We can't really control whether we feel angry about something in the moment! This is one reason why a classic anger management intervention "Calm down!" doesn't work so well...

Change what you do, not what you feel!

For this reason, anger management strategies usually emphasize changing what you are doing when anger shows up instead of not getting angry in the first place. 


Is anger bad? Nope, angry-behaviour can be...

This also connects to the question - is anger bad? Not inherently, it depends what you do after you feel anger. Anger can motivate people to change situations that need to be changed and take healthy growth-oriented actions. People doing this are not the ones anger management is designed for... in anger management we are targeting problem anger, which is defined by behaviour problems. 


Problem anger - two forms of aggressive-expressive 

Problem anger can come out in the form of aggressive behaviour. These are you classic anger signs, instantly recognizable - yelling, arguing, damaging things, hitting, etc... but other forms of anger expression too, including passive-aggressive behaviour. Keeping distance, silent treatment, glaring, cold behaviour. Both are problem anger. 

What about not expressing anger?

Okay, expression can be bad. So what about not expressing? Bottling up, keeping anger inside. Great, great, great. Except, not. Takes a toll on our mental and physical health. Ruminating is not fun. And it still comes out in our behaviour, i.e. being more distant, irritable. Also, eventually builds up to strong anger reaction. So no. 


So, what is effective anger management? 

Okay, so what then? What behavioural outcomes reflect effective anger management? Being able to express your needs, assertively not aggressively. Taking care of yourself, when your needs are not being met. Picking your battles and letting go. Taking care of your real needs (i.e. not kicking the dog..). 


Assertive vs. aggressive - what's the difference?

Assertive vs. aggressive, big part of anger management work. Recognizing that getting needs are important, but also recognizing how you express those needs matters. Aggressive - standing up for your needs while not respecting others needs, assertive - standing up for your needs while respecting others. Assertive gets us what we want more than anger does. Assertive does not mean simply speaking in a louder, stronger voice!


When things go wrong, use self-care not anger. 

Our needs are not always met and disagreements take time to resolve. So what then? Learning how to take care of ourselves when things go wrong is hugely important.


Take stock of how effective anger has been for you, figure out what you want to be happening...

Is anger behaviour getting you the results you want? Need to consider, what do I really want? Has what I've been doing getting me closer? If not, what would help? 


Top 3 anger management strategies for adults:


1. Ask yourself the Big Question: What do I need do right now to be happy and healthy in the long-term?

2. Relaxation training - Anger is more emotional experience than intellectual - we may know what we are doing is problematic, but we are simultaneously being pumped full of chemicals that engage the fight-or-flight system and the threat centers of our brain. Knowing how to tone this down is important. Things like deep breathing, mindfulness practices, and progressive muscle relaxation can be super helpful. But... relaxation techniques work best when practiced on a regular basis, when not angry - helps to build the skill of physically relaxing so can pull out later when needed, works best at 1-6 level of anger, once anger goes past a 6, these techniques not so practical. 

3. Learn your triggers - and prepare for it while you are calm. Mindfulness helps people recognize internal triggers. To figure out external triggers, make a list of anger-provoking situations for you. Take a look at it and see if you can recognize any patterns. Whatever your triggers, plan alternative behaviours and strategies you can use when you are starting to get triggered or anticipate entering into a triggering situation.


What about kids?


Kids ability to self-regulate is significantly worse than adults (surprise!). The younger the child is, the more the parent acts as the regulation system for the child. To a certain extent, kids can learn skills to help them manage anger and express themselves more effectively. They younger the child is, the more parents/teachers need to guide and prompt this behaviour. 

Top 3 anger management strategies for children:


1. Teach children skills to use to calm themselves when upset with breathing (cookie breathing, other creative interventions), tension reduction strategies (i.e. do something physical like jumping jacks)

2. Help children release anger feelings through validation and emotion coaching (show understanding, label emotions) - think of this as parent-delivered mindfulness. remember, nothing wrong with feeling angry!

3. Help children learn appropriate alternative behaviour to use when angry and reinforce this (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice the upcoming book Better Behaviour Now! by Sarah Chana Radcliffe )

Anger Management or Anger Relief?

Ultimately - the concept of anger management isn't that attractive! We don't want to always be managing anger, instead we are working for true relief from anger issues. Use the information in this primer to begin taking steps towards anger relief for you and yours. Take the next step towards real anger relief by booking a session with me here