I'm looking for some help controlling my anger.
August 6, 2006 2:24 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone suggest some self help ways of anger management?

I've been having problems controlling my temper lately. It's gotten to the point that I stupidly lashed out at someone I truly care about and have taken our relationship backwards from a very wonderful place.

Before anyone states it, no, I'm not looking for an anger management group. I don't do well in group situations and this only happens from time to time, but little stupid things like traffic and everyday annoyances sometimes set me off.

If anyone can give me some honest, solid suggestions on ways to help curb my temper, I would vastly appreciate it.
posted by Hexidecimal to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
well... dealing with emotional stress tends to be an intensely personal endeavor. whether anger, sadness or any other emotion you can imagine we all deal with it in our own way. that said, i have two suggestions that have worked for me:

#1 - since you don't like groups, you may want to seek out a good psychologist to talk to. more often than not, uncontrollable anger stems from emotions that either we're avoiding or haven't developed a good way to deal with yet (typically, its an outward showing of internal sadness). but if this isn't a suitable option for you...

#2 - personally, i found studying buddhism to work really well for me. the four noble truths - which in short are: all life is suffering, suffering is caused by desire/attachment, suffering can indeed end by following the 8 fold path (more or less). for me, having a deep emotional understanding that my anger stemmed from my desire for control helped me put it to rest.

hope this is helpful for you...
posted by tundro at 2:41 PM on August 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

I suggest kickboxing because:

a) If you're angry when you go, you can really bash it out in a 'harmless' forum.
b) Exercise releases endorphins (happy makers!). Kickboxing is extremely strenuous = lots of endorphins.
c) It's actually a very amusing sport, and one in which you will quickly and constantly see your improvement, so there is a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

In the long term I suggest you figure out the REAL reason you're so angry (what were those long-term goals of yours, again?) and address that, maybe through tundro's suggestions.
posted by Lucie at 3:07 PM on August 6, 2006 [2 favorites]

meditations a good one , a thing called 'inner healing' is helpful too , its christian , i assume if you googled it you'd get some info.

you heard about tree hugging ?

try tree strangling - find a poor defenceless little tree and choke the living daylights out of it , you'll feel much better.
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:08 PM on August 6, 2006


Deep breathing all the while. Then you may speak.
posted by caddis at 3:25 PM on August 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Self-awareness is your best friend here. You've made considerable progress already by admitting that you want to change yourself for the better. The first thing you need to do is start becoming aware of situations that "set you off". For example, catch yourself during the morning commute when you get stuck and traffic and are fuming mad. It takes some time and some practice to be cognizant of the fact that a situation is getting you angry. Take a deep breath and ask youself "Can I do anything to affect this situation?" For traffic jams, there is nothing you can do. Honking won't make the cars go faster, neither will gradually giving yourself a coronary in the car. I'm not trying to be snarky here; force yourself to really asses what is worth your anger and frustration, and where it is fruitless.

Also, give yourself a positive outlet for your frustration. How about putting old scratch paper in you car so when you get stuck in traffic and frustrated, you can tear paper instead of honking and fuming and getting madder. Or, have a soothing jazz CD in the player. The gym, running, or your favorite sport is also a great outlet. I took up kickboxing to burn stress - it is truly fantastic, plus you get to punch and kick stuff.

As far as friendships go and keeping your cool there, think about it in these terms; your friends do not know about your bad day at work or the guy who cut you off in traffic or the parking ticket you got. Snapping at them does no good. If I have a bad day, I make sure that I take a deep breath and take a few moments to collect myself before going out and meeting friends or taking phone calls. That way, you are not transferring negative energy into your social life.

I commend you for taking the first steps to changing yourself for the better. Note that we all suffer from anger and frustration from everyday events. Those situations are not going to disappear, nor are they likely ever to be within our control, so the best solution is to learn to accept them and channel your frustration into a more positive outlet.

Best of luck!
posted by galimatias at 3:32 PM on August 6, 2006

How're you sleeping lately? I find my temper gets out of hand when I'm short on sleep. YMMV.
posted by seancake at 3:35 PM on August 6, 2006

I was a bit volatile as a youth, and over the years have picked up a variety of tools to cope with this tendency.

This comes from 12-steppers. Short for: "Never get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired". Basically it is a mnemonic for you to remind yourself to stop when things are going too far. Make an agreement with yourself that you will not push yourself to ignore any of these needs. When you feel it happening, immediately halt whatever you are doing and deal with the need in a constructive manner.

Don't bottle things up
Don't keep silent about something that is bothering you and harbor resentments until they build to an explosion.
Instead, pick a strategic time when tempers are cool to calmly and politely articulate the problem.

"I" speech
It helps a lot when discussing a problem, to phrase things in terms of how the problem makes you feel, rather than what they are doing. e.g. "I am feeling unloved" instead of "you don't love me". It is more than a cosmetic shift, if you find yourself twisting your words to make it fit, it is probably something better left unsaid. e.g. "I feel like you have it in for me.".

Leave yourself an out.
In any confrontation try to arrange an escape for yourself, and avail yourself of it when you feel yourself getting hot. Try to make the exit as graceful as possible, don't leave in a huff, slam doors, etc. If you are dealing with someone who tries to prevent this exit, try to establish a boundary regarding this behaviour.

Establish boundaries
A boundary is necessary when you find someones behaviour unacceptable. Find a opportune time to articulate this calmly and clearly (using the word unacceptable is a good way to be unambiguous without being threatening). The key is to understand the meaning of unacceptable. It means that you really cannot accept this behaviour, that if it continues you will be forced to remove yourself from exposure to it. Make up your mind what this removal involves and be very clear in your own mind that you will take this step if the boundary is violated. If you are not willing to take this step, then reconsider whether this issue is really a boundary for you, and whether you should perhaps try to accept it. It is extremely counterproductive to establish a boundary and then ignore its repeated violation.
posted by Manjusri at 3:37 PM on August 6, 2006 [4 favorites]

A couple more:

Watch out for caffeine.
Its effects basically simulate a "fight or flight" physical response.

Unite against the problem
When discussing a problem, externalize it by trying to conceive of it as something separate from you or the other person, and phrase things that way. Guide the conversation into a strategizing session on how you can help each other cope with and avoid the problem.
posted by Manjusri at 3:49 PM on August 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

My view of anger management in young men is that being pretty angry much of the time is fairly normal for guys below the age of 30. But the societal tolerance for being an asshole has come down sharply in my lifetime. When I was a kid, it was bad form to drink and drive, unless you killed a family doing it, when it became tragically criminal. Now, if you have 2 beers in an afternoon at a barbecue, and head for your car, you'll have people trying hard to grab your keys. Which is fine with me. But it does illustrate my point.

My point being that what used to constitute "boys being boys" will land a boy in jail these days. Hence, effectively, American society (and, I think, much of the rest of the world) now demands young men have constantly better control of themselves than ever it has before. But each young man still has the same issues with developing brain organization and testosterone as did his less regulated father, grand father, and great grandfather before him.

What to do? I think it's really important to stay connected to family, or work actively at building family like relationships. You have to have people around who can safely tell you that you are being a jerk, before you get to be a dangerous jerk. An older, wiser guy, who can put his hand on your shoulder so you can't get it off, can be a pain in the ass, and a life saver. Who is that guy in your life? When was the last time you talked to him?

Too many young guys get deeply involved romantically, and effectively isolate themselves with "that girl," only to learn the hard way that she can drive their anger and resentment, just as easily as she can their love and passion. Staying connected to others helps you keep balance, and keep your cool. It gives you people to ask advice of, who may actually know you and your girl personally, and be able to suggest things fairly. They can put her straight when she needs it, too, just as they can put you straight.

And it's important to note that sometimes, young women have no tact, and no class. Sometimes, they like to push your buttons, just to see if they can, with impunity. You have to learn what that looks like, and that when it happens, it is walk away time. It may or may not ever be walk back time later, but as soon as a female is getting in your face, it's shut up and walk away time. Free is better than right.

I do think sports can help, as others have suggested. There really is something about finding a way to safely trade pops with other young guys that is fundamentally healthy for your heart and your body. I don't know that its all about releasing aggression, either. I think some of it is the sense of essential respect you get no other way, even if you're not top talent. If you're showing up, doing what you can, taking your lumps, you get a certian level of respect you get no other way. So yeah, hit the dojo, or the basketball court, as your interests and skills dictate.

Finally, I think it is important for young guys to pursue some noble calling, some grand passion, even if in the eyes of a greater world, it's neither grand or noble. Maybe you can't cure AIDS, or stop wars, but you can train for a 100 mile bike race, or learn to fly, or learn to fly fish. There's got to be something more in your life, that you don't have to explain, than school/work, woman, and eating. If there is, you're closer to balance, and if there isn't, you're much more susceptible to whims of the moment, and negative emotions.
posted by paulsc at 3:57 PM on August 6, 2006 [4 favorites]

Is this something that has just started becoming a problem? I ask, because some medical conditions (Parkinson's, for instance) can cause changes in mood and affect that make anger more difficult to control, as can some medications. Mentioning this problem to your GP might not be the worst idea.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 4:14 PM on August 6, 2006

I think meditation might help: becoming acquainted first-hand with tranquility, so you can tell when it's being lost.

Also, a friend pointed out to me the stages of changing behavior: first stage - you're totally unaware of the behavior. Second stage - you become aware when someone points out what you've done. Third stage - you become aware of the behavior when you look back (later in the day or the next day). Fourth stage - you become aware of the behavior right after you do it. Fifth stage - you become aware of the behavior as you are doing it. Final stage - you become aware you're about to do the behavior and you sidestep it.

It takes time and practice to move from the first stage to the final stage. Be patient, and keep working at it. And, as pointed out above, keep track of what is under your control and what is not, and don't get all sweaty trying to control things you can't.
posted by LeisureGuy at 4:17 PM on August 6, 2006 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: No it happens on and off, usually about the time i think i have control of it, it kicks back up again. If it was a medical condition, I'd know about it already, I go for routine check ups twice a year, sometimes more. I'm a cancer patient who has beat it, so they still check me to make sure it is completely gone.

I'm looking into the meditation, I can't see myself going to a psychologist, but I'm loosely considering that as well.
posted by Hexidecimal at 4:17 PM on August 6, 2006

Thich Nhat Hanh's book "Anger" is exactly what you're looking for.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 4:46 PM on August 6, 2006

A good psychologist can be an enormous help. Emphasis: good. I would suggest you initially set it up for three visits, not more, and at the end decide for yourself if you want to continue. It's important that you and the psychologist have a good fit and can work together.

So far as books are concerned, there are a jillion books on anger management and, like books on management, most of them contain just one or two good ideas, along with a lot of contradictory advice. I will recommend one, though: Anger, the Misunderstood Emotion, by Carol Tavis. Her book is quite helpful and shows, for example, that "releasing anger" by bringing up what made you angry and punching a pillow, etc., actually increases the anger. Good stuff in there.

Good luck.
posted by LeisureGuy at 4:55 PM on August 6, 2006

Two books my husband found helpful: Taming the Tiger Within by Thich Nhat Hanh, and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Both offer suggestions for how to step back emotionally from a. the upsetting situation and b. the anger itself, so anger becomes less of an all-consuming beast and more something to ponder along the lines of "Man, I'm really angry. Why is it necessary to let myself get this angry?" Also, a good therapist has been priceless.

LeisureGuy's list of stages really rings true. It's taken my husband three years to get from stage one to stage five. The journey's been worth it, but I thought I'd mention our timeline to emphasize that habits of mind are a bitch, and can take much more practice to break than one might have expected at first.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 5:07 PM on August 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Take a structured time out. Following these steps will help you understand when you're becoming frustrated and likely to blow, and identify and deal with the feelings and situation involved. This stuff really works.

1. First, once you recognize that you're getting upset, excuse yourself from the situation and explain that you need to take some time out, and that you'll be back. This does not include saying "whatever" and slamming the door on your way out. You need to let the other person involved know that you're committed to actually working through difficulties. You don't want her wondering if you're coming back.

2. Go someplace quiet where you can think. A walk is good. Privacy is important.

3. Start calming down. Take deep breaths, hold them, let them out slowly. Relax the muscles in your hands. Stretch. Do whatever you need to so you can reduce your stress level. Have a smoke if you smoke. Don't have a beer. Do not lift weights or go for a run or any other physical activity where you can just shut your brain off. The idea is not to zone out and forget, but to reduce your physical stress so you can focus on dealing with whatever's bothering you.

Here's where most people stop. "I've calmed down, so now I'm ready to go back in and tell her why she's wrong." Or, "I've just burnt rubber in the street taking off for the bar so I can have a few drinks and forget about it."

Don't do that. Do the next steps while you're still calming down. Integrate them into your calming-down process. Make it automatic.

4. Think about what just happened. Be clinical and dispassionate. For example, "My girlfriend showed me photos of her ex-fiance and his awesome car. This ticked me off so I raised my voice."

5. What triggered you to take this time out? How upset are you? (1-10, 10 being "I'm going to punch a wall and put someone's head through it). This is important because it helps you identify when you're feeling strong emotions, before you let them take control over your behavior. Triggers are different for everyone. "I was cussing under my breath." "My heart rate went up." "I was clenching my fists." "I felt a tightness in my stomach." "I raised my voice."

6. What emotions are you feeling? Frustration. Anger. Bewilderment. Embarassment. Whatever they are. It's hard for many men to put names to their emotions. And no, "hungry", "tired" and "horny" are not emotions.

7. Next, identify the negative thoughts running through your head. You know, the ones you can't seem to stop, that raise your anxiety level. Try to identify two or three. There'll be more, but track the most prominent ones. "I know I don't make as much money as that guy, but he was a fucking jerk." "Does she think I'm a loser? She thinks I'm a loser." "All women care about is money."

8. Here's where the important stuff is. Once you've identified how you know you're upset (step 5), what made you upset (step 4), what being upset actually feels like (step 6), take what you learned in step 7 and apply it to the calming-down process.

Take each of the negative thoughts you're having, and turn them around. Rephrase them to put others in a positive light. For example, "She left him, and now she's chosen to be with me." "She doesn't think I'm a loser, those photos just happened to be part of the album we were looking at." "She cares about much more than money. She cares about hyperdimensional geometry and bongo drums more than money."

(Or whatever. The idea is to realize that she's not really a bitch, they're not really out to get you, the world doesn't really suck, people can actually be nice to each other, love can exist, traffic isn't the end of the world, etc.)

Use these rephrasings as self-calming thoughts. Repeat them, turn them over in your mind, think about what they actually represent. See how they defuse the negative thoughts that were causing your inner turmoil. You are building a defense against those negative thoughts that will help in future situations.

9. OK, last step. You've got to make a decision about how to continue. Are you going to let it go? If so, then really honestly let it go. Or are you going to discuss it with the others involved? If so, then be sure to listen to what they say, and admit when you were an ass. Or, the situation might be volatile enough, or unsettled enough, or whatever enough that you need to put it on hold. If you do put it on hold, be sure to actually deal with it later and not let it fester.

(The first few times you take a structured time out, write this stuff down. Not that you'll necessarily go back and re-read it, but writing it down helps clarify the steps in the process. Don't write it down while you're doing it -- treat it as an "after action" report.)
posted by bigbigdog at 5:14 PM on August 6, 2006 [7 favorites]

One more book, for changing any sort of well-established behavior (e.g., smoking): Changing for Good, by James O. Prochaska, John Norcross, and Carlo DiClemente. (Warning: there are other books with the same title.) This book is based on some very interesting large-scale research into how people who were successful in changing managed it. As he found out, there are six distinct stages, each stage requiring its own tactics. Worth getting (along with the Carol Tavris book).
posted by LeisureGuy at 7:46 PM on August 6, 2006 [2 favorites]

Just wanted to second the importance of relaxing your muscles, especially the ones in your hands and shoulders. That extra tension works as feedback to your brain, telling it "i'm stressed" and serving to escalate angry feelings.

I'm always well served by focusing on breathing as deep as possible until I start feeling lightheaded. No hyperventilating, but focusing on your breathing and slowing your heart rate can do wonders to derail some angry thoughts.

Don't physically act out your frustration! Studies have shown that punching bags or hitting pillows etc. are not as cathartic as popular opinion would have you think. People who act out their anger are more likely to still be angry later, or continue to have their anger escalate, which is never good.

My best way with dealing with somebody I'm angry with is by severing the conversation or interaction asap. I only continue to get angry when trying to control my anger in the presence of what is making me mad. If at all possible, I tell the other person that I need to call them back/take a break and that I'll get back to them when I'm in a frame of mind more conductive to conflict resolution. This often offends some people the first time they experience your diengagement, but my family has come to realize that it really does make a difference, because once I become overstimulated and overwhelmed its just too much for me to handle. Otherwise I start to stew in my own anger and things start to get blown waaay out of proportion.

Recognizing when you're just arguing in circles and not actually listening is a good skill to develop. Thats the point where continuation is futile and the best thing for everybody is just a good break. Just dont let the silence be for too long.
posted by gilsonal at 7:52 PM on August 6, 2006

Just an aside to say...it's okay to be angry. It's okay and sometimes very emotionally angry to feel anger. Anger is not the enemy.

It's how we choose to express that anger that can be the problem.

Strangely, I had an anger management problem that came from a different place. As a young girl, I was told that I was not allowed to be angry. That being angry was wrong. This led to my bottling up and denying some pretty righteous anger over the years at things I SHOULD have been angry and self-protective about. Unfortunately, this meant that I had this huge reserve of unexpressed anger that occasionally exploded in inappropriate ways or at inappropriate times. Something small might set me up and I would react completely out of proportion either because a) I could because I was with someone I loved and trusted...but how fair was that to someone I loved and trusted?, or b) because I was feeling vulnerable from stress or fatigue and I couldn't keep the lid on my anger reserves as well as I usually did.

A book that was really helpful was Harriet Lerner's "The Dance of Anger". It was originally written for women but I've received feedback about the book from men AND women that is very positive. I think this review sums up the book very well:

The Dance of Anger shows readers how to identify the actual sources of anger and to use anger as a tool for change. Lerner illustrates how getting angry gets nowhere if we do not identify and change our own part in the pattern.

Best of luck to you.
posted by jeanmari at 7:54 PM on August 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

This sentence should be:

It's okay and sometimes very emotionally HEALTHY to feel anger.

Sorry. Tired.
posted by jeanmari at 7:55 PM on August 6, 2006

It's okay and sometimes very emotionally HEALTHY to feel anger.
Yes. I have a friend who would characterize my advice as "being a wimp." I call it learning how to be responsible for your own actions, even when experiencing strong -- often valid -- emotions like anger or frustration.
posted by bigbigdog at 8:18 PM on August 6, 2006

Too many young guys get deeply involved romantically married, and effectively isolate themselves with "that girl," only to learn the hard way that she can drive their anger and resentment, just as easily as she can their love and passion. Staying connected to others helps you keep balance, and keep your cool.

I fixed that for you. Very helpful insight, btw, speaking as a 40-year-old.
posted by mecran01 at 8:32 PM on August 6, 2006

Since I've become aware of my tendency to lash out at people I care about, I've been doing a lot of mental gymnastics, trying to find a way to dissuade myself from this ugly behavior.

The first thought that's helped me is, "Maybe I'm totally wrong." Whether I'm right or wrong, the fact is they believe something else. Leaving the possibility that I'm wrong about something, and not condemning myself to self-hatred if I am, has left me more room to find a middleground in dealing with people. If I can, I'll take a moment to really explore their perspective in earnest. It doesn't mean I have to mince words or believe in nothing, but not feeling like being right is the point to every conversation makes things less combative.

I've also found an odd trick that works sometimes. Look at a still photo of the person, or think to a memory of a photo of them you like. Taking them out of the context of the argument can help you get perspective on your relationship as a whole.
posted by evil holiday magic at 8:50 PM on August 6, 2006

Although I suggest it far too often, Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman has a lot of cog-behavioral goodness in it designed to systematically approach the thoughts that lead to anger.
posted by mecran01 at 9:06 PM on August 6, 2006

Definitely cut out all stimulants from your diet; coffee, tea, soda, sugars, etc. Exercise a lot, preferably long distance running as opposed to something like weightlifting. Get at least eight hours of solid sleep. I think the biggest thing is to practice interacting with people in a non-argumentative way. Catch yourself when you attempt to disagree and force yourself to actually agree with the other person.
posted by JJ86 at 5:48 AM on August 7, 2006

I recall reading about a guy who was frequently angry and expressing it. He was diagnosed with depression and got treatment for that (antidepressants), which worked. What surprised him was that his anger seemed to go away---he just didn't feel anger anymore. Now, in his case, he was more or less angry all the time---one of those simmering personalities---which doesn't seem to describe you. But on the off chance, you might want to look at the possibility that you're suffering from clinical depression. Just a thought.
posted by LeisureGuy at 7:10 AM on August 7, 2006

Yet one more, and this one is key:

Understand that nobody else has control over your feelings and responses. Between stimulus and response lies the opportunity for proactivity. The next time you find yourself thinking or saying that someone else or some thing is making you angry, let that be a red flag to make you stop and reflect that you have the power to decide how to interpret and respond to the situation.

The easiest way to change your own behavior is to change your perceptions that drive that behavior. When the red flag mentioned above pops up, and you recognize that a tantrum is brewing, instead of viewing the situation as an unpleasant stimulus, reframe it as a valuable opportunity to practice and grow your newfound powers of discipline.
posted by Manjusri at 3:18 PM on August 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

« Older How to transfer mobile phone contacts from one...   |   Help my iPod know (in the Biblical sense) some... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.