How do you handle anger?

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Anger results from a combination of beliefs, thoughts and feelings. And it results in a number of beliefs, thoughts, feelings and behaviors. In other words, it has the potential to create its own worsening cycle.

Much of how we handle anger was learned as a child. We saw our parents demonstrate how they handle anger. We learned what our parents' responses were, when we showed anger. We learned how our peers responded to our anger. We modified our responses, in keeping with their effect on how people responded to us.

Anything which is learned, can also be unlearned.

Anger has a function, of mobilizing our resources, when we are unsuccessful with calmer responses. It can give us energy, minimize our regard for risks, minimize our regard for other considerations, such as appropriateness, or right and wrong.

It is inherited from our prehistoric ancestors, when "Fight or Flight" was necessary for physical survival. It is controlled by a brain area which is separate from our intellectual functions (reason.)

It can also just seem to aid us, because we may falsely believe that calmer responses would not have been effective.

Anger allows us to respond quickly, without the interference of thinking. Because we reduce our thinking when we are angry, we can respond faster, but it is a "quick and dirty" type response.

In other words, it may not be the best of our options, because we did not take time to think.

Anger serves as an anesthetic for other feelings. If we feel fear, humiliation, guilt, loneliness, grief, rejection, or some other feeling which is more painful than anger, anger will cover it up. It also creates the illusion that we can do something about it. If we are ashamed of those feelings, it conceals them from others, and is intended to create a public image of greater strength (or so we may hope.)

Anger allows us to blame others for our feelings. By assigning blame to others, we attempt to remove distressing feelings from ourselves, by assigning responsibility for their being there to someone else, at least in our own minds, and perhaps in the minds of others.

Anger and blame also tell us that we can relieve the bad feeling, such as rejection, by justifying aggression on the other person. Unfortunately, carrying out an aggressive act, we do not become any less rejected, or lonely, or whatever, than we were before.

Obviously, expressing anger in an irresponsible way comes at great cost to ourselves. It convinces others we behave immaturely. It convinces others we can not be dealt with in a civil and rational way, because we will not do so, ourselves. It may convince others they do not want to be in our presence in the future. Carried to greater lengths, it may get us fired or divorced or arrested.

Consider the concept of externalizing. That means blaming one's feelings on something in the environment. If you say "He made me mad," you are talking about two separate things. He did something, and I also got angry. They can be dealt with separately.

When you were a child...

1. How did your father act when he was angry?

2. How did your mother act when she was angry?

3. How did they handle conflict?

4. What lessons did you learn from 1, 2, & 3 above?

5. How did you express anger as a child?

6. What did you learn from this exercise that you would like to change?


Recognize and label your anger. Just saying the words, "I am really angry!" can help to defuse the anger by giving you rational power over it.

Evaluate your beliefs about anger. Do you think that anger should be suppressed, kept inside, or let loose as soon as it is experienced? Do you believe that displaying anger increases the respect people have for you? Do you believe that fear is the same as respect?

Use counter statements to change angry thoughts. Instead of thinking, "I'm really angry at him for being late," say, "It would have been nice if he were on time, but it won't ruin my life if he was late, and I'm not going to get worked up about it."

Use Fantasy or Imagery. Visualize various ways of dealing with anger. Imagine yourself in situations in which you cope positively with anger. See yourself dealing with the situation in ways that you resolve it.

Fantasies may be outrageous, unrealistic and unlikely to happen in real life. Yet, fantasy can function as a safe way of releasing your anger. Just remember that it IS a fantasy, and don't let it get you worked up.

Use prayer and meditation. Many find this helpful. For a simple form of meditation, just sit quietly, close your eyes, and mentally repeat a nonsense syllable to yourself, such as "shahm. shahm." Or use a meaningful word such as peace or love. Continue for about 15 or 20 minutes. Don't use a loud alarm that would startle you, to indicate the time. Just peek at a clock from time to time.

In a calm state of mind, evaluate the risks and benefits of getting angry, or expressing your anger in various ways.

Remind yourself of the negative effects of dealing with anger in inappropriate or irrational ways-- hurtful effect on others, harm to the way others see you, people avoiding dealings with you, reduced success because people avoid you.

Identify the potential benefits of handling anger in constructive ways. (Public respect, for example, for your maturity. An effective outcome, in terms of people being more likely to cooperate with you. The moral consideration of dealing rightly with people.)

Use slogans, or positive self-talk. "This too, shall pass." or "Let go and let God." or, "I'll deal with my anger and not ignore it." "I'm in control of myself." "Keep cool." Actually say or think the words. Keep them on a card, or framed on a wall.

Deal separately with your anger, and the incident that triggered your anger. Always remember that they are not the same.

Make amends to those who have been hurt by your anger.

If you believe you may lose control, walk away from situations which provoke you. You can always return when you are in a calmer frame of mind.

Redirect your energy towards an activity. Something physical can help to use up the adrenalin in your system.

Use creative media. Painting, drawing, clay modeling, and things which provide satisfaction can help to calm your anger.

Exercise or engage in physical activity regularly. This helps to cause your brain to release endorphins and enkaphalins, chemicals which cause a feeling of well-being.

Write about your angry feelings and thoughts in a private journal, or "anger log." Tear up paper. Squeeze a ball of clay.

Practice ahead of time what you will do or say in a given situation. Keep in mind that others may not say what you expect, so the scene may not go exactly as planned.

Get all of the facts about a situation, before you jump to conclusions.

Let go of the past. Talk to a therapist if you find that necessary, in order to do this.

In coping with another person's anger, it is not necessary to get angry yourself. It is not necessary to be heard at the same time the other person is speaking, because they will not hear you, anyway.

Sometimes you actually increase your power in a situation, by remaining calm, when the other person is trying to provoke you.

You also increase your stature in the eyes of others, if you can rise above such a situation. It is not necessary to take another person's remarks seriously, because they are just speaking out of anger.

It can be helpful to calmly say to the person, "I'm not willing to talk to you while you are like this. I will talk to you when you are in a calmer frame of mind."

Keep in mind that there is no right for every wish to be answered with "yes." If that were true, it would be true for everybody else, as well.

Keep in mind that you may not be angry with the person in front of you, so much as somebody in your past. If this could be so, then why ruin your life, and somebody else's life, because of someone or something that is in the past, or is somewhere else?

Don't save up anger. Calmly and politely air your complaints while they are still small ones. Expect that you may or may not get cooperation, but at least your increase your chances, and at least others know what you want, or how you look at it.

Remember-- If I say, "He made me angry," I'm talking about two things. He did something, and also I got angry. Those can be dealt with separately. (See EFT and TAT pages for examples.)

If somebody calls you a chair, does that make you a chair? Of course not. So why get upset in that case?

That person is implying (at least for the moment) that he does not respect you. However, that is something going on in his head. You need not be concerned with what happens inside of him. That is his problem.

If a person, such as a spouse, begins a game of "Uproar" or "Courtroom" (See Games People Play) whenever you see them, calls you names and falsely accuses you of wrongdoing, or brings up actual misdeeds from the past, keep in mind -- You are not responsible for that. That is just something that s/he is doing.

If you play the courtroom game, you are allowing them to be your prosecutor, judge and jury. There is no point in defending yourself, because the other person will always find you guilty, anyway. It's not a "real" courtroom, so guilt or innocence is only in their mind. Their motive is not to determine the truth or to find "justice," but to harass and annoy you. But this can happen only if you let them.

Remember, a tennis game can only continue if you bat the ball back. If you do not, the game is over. (See Fighting Fair on this website.)

A better response is to not take them seriously. They are responsible for their thoughts, and you can not force them to think differently, or to have more honest motivations. It is best to not worry about what they are thinking, if their attacks are dishonest anyway. Their thinking is their problem. You are not responsible for what they think or do.

How do you know if their accusations are dishonest? If you both saw the situation they described, and their description is totally different from what happened, then one explanation for their behavior is dishonesty. Remember, a person playing a game of "Courtroom" or "Uproar" never loses a case.

Arguing against that is falsely assuming they will be fair and objective, want to listen to reason, and would change their mind if you explained it to them. If they would not, then to give no argument is the more reasonable thing to do.

See the Dirty Fighting Techniques page.

Games People Play is found on the Recommended Reading page.

Read the article, "Are You A Rational Thinker?"


Techniques like EFT, TAT, and EMDR are very useful in treating anger. (See Techniques, EFT, TAT and EMDR under "More.") The recent events that have provoked you are only part of it. Your inner mind associates the recent event with more distant past events. The subconscious recall of older events adds feeling to the present one, and makes it more intense.

Treating the older events, though you do not consciously recall them, reduces the strength of feeling in the recent ones. This can be achieved, sometimes in a few minutes, by a little tapping on yourself. I say, "sometimes," because there is often a LOT of background to one's present anger, and repeat treatments are required to get it all out. (See articles on EFT.)      


Do any of these habits control your responses to situations, without your knowing about it?

1. Labeling. Categorizing someone in a totally negative manner. This reduces them to objects having a single dimension and label. Examples: "That jerk!" "What an idiot!"

2. Mind-Reading. Assuming we know why a person acted in a certain way. We often decide that a person's provocative behavior was deliberately intended to cause us harm. "He knows I can't stand that." "She is trying to drive me crazy."

3. Fortune-Telling. assuming we know what will happen in the future. Because something happened in the past, it will happen again. Examples: "She will never change." "There is no use in trying." "He will always be like this."

4. Catastrophizing. Exaggerating the importance of a negative event. "I can't stand it!" "It's driving me crazy!"

5. "Should" Statements. Changing preferences into demands. Because I would like it to be, it should be. This leads to a sense of injustice and self-righteous anger, and finally, a desire for vengeance. It is as if a preference has become a law or rule. Examples: "It's not fair!" "She shouldn't act that way." "She can't get away with it."

6. Consider this -- information generally travels upward. It begins with our senses in different parts of the body. It enters the lower brain at the "amygdala." At the amygdala there is a primitive, but a sort of processing, in which data is associated with past events and past feelings about those events. All this happens unconsciously, and we are not consciously aware of what those associations are.

Information then moves upward to the cerebral cortex (up and on the outside) and the frontal lobe (just behind the forehead.) Generally speaking, we can not consciously control what our amygdala does. That is, "generally speaking." We can consciously control the effect of the amygdala in the following way:

When you are upset, close your eyes, and slowly inhale to the count of four. Fill your abdominal area first, and then your chest. Hold your breath in to the slow count of four, and then slowly let it out to the slow count of four.

If your initial feeling had a strength of 10 on a scale of 10, then repeat this until the feeling is 5 or below. Or continue on, with a goal of its going to zero, if possible.

When your inner mind calls up a memory, it must re-file it. If it is re-filed in a calmer state than you had had before, then even at later times your experience of these memories (both the recent conscious event and the older events you are not aware of) will be "milder."

Right now, you can do this experiment -- think of a past event that angers you every time you think about it. Rate its strength on a scale of 10. Do the breathing exercise above, and then rate the strength of feeling again. Do this repeatedly until it is at least down to half as much. Continue beyond that if you want to.

Once you have done that, then read the articles on the "More" menu on TAT and EFT.


Check your crabby quotient (CQ) with this quiz, and don't forget to smile.

Are you a grumpy, crabby, generally out of sorts person? Take the following test to check out your grumpiness index.

1. Do you wake up in the morning complaining about how you feel, the little sleep you got, that you don't know how you're going to get through the day?

2. Do you look in your closet and complain that you have nothing to wear?

3. Do you then look in the fridge and say, "There's nothing to eat?"

4. Do you drive down the highway commenting, either in your head or aloud, about the inconsiderate and incompetent drivers on the road? (We know what to do about that, don't we?)

5. When standing in line, do you fret and hop from foot to foot, asking yourself and others how you always seem to manage to be in the slowest line? (Actually, there's a formula for that. When you see a long line and a short line at the bank, assume that the others already know that the little old lady at the head of the short line is counting $100 in pennies.)

6. When you're in a restaurant, do you frequently complain about slow service or poor quality of food? (Makes a great excuse for not tipping, right?)

7. Do you obsess about things never seeming to be right, always saying, "why me," and "It isn't fair?" (Well, you're right about that, aren't you?)

8. When you play cards or golf, do you become annoyed because others take too long to execute their moves? What about doing it well? ("Getting it over with is the point to the game. Besides, You're not here for his pleasure, he's here for yours.") Right?

9. When talking to friends, do you always have a story about someone else's bad or outrageous behavior? (And there do seem to be a lot of such someone elses, right?)

10. When around others, do you purposely keep your head down or a scowl on your face so no one talks to you? (Well, how else are they going to be kept in their places?)

11. When you can't find something at home or at the office, do show by your body language and comments how irritated you are? (Try being subtle: spreading the nostrils will communicate the idea, as will some rapid exhaling through the nostrils.)

12. Is the weather generally too cold, too hot, too humid, too rainy? (Who can you blame for that? After all, the lack of springtime does seem to be directed at you. And who are those fools playing in the snow, anyway, or hanging out at the beach?)

13. Do you complain about repetitious tasks, such as balancing your checkbook, paying bills, emptying the dishwasher, cutting the grass? (I'll bet Donald Trump doesn't have to put up with this nonsense.)

14. Do you think about how you're not being compensated enough at work, or how friends and relatives don't appreciate what you do for them? (Well, it's the truth, isn't it?)

15. Do you often say there isn't anything worth watching on television, but continue to sit and watch it? (So? What else is there on TV?)

16. Do you crab about the unfairness of life, and "what's it all about, anyway?"

17. Do you check your wristwatch during the church service or sing extra fast to get the congregation moving? (Hint: if you check your watch during sex, your problem is extra serious.)

18. Are you often unhappy with your children, neighbors, friends or co-workers? (Why shouldn't you be? Who else has to live among such a lot of jerks, anyhow?)

19. Does your mood rapidly change from positive to negative when someone challenges or crosses you? (So? Do you expect me to give him a kiss?)

20. Do you often rant about how everything costs, how rude (other) people are, how nobody gives a darn (about you)?

21. Does getting yourself upset over any of these matters do anything to make it better?


* Three or fewer yes answers, you have your moments, but you couldn't be called a grump.

* Four to eight yes answers -- call yourself semi-grumpy.

* Nine or more yes answers, you are hard to live with, and rain on many people's parades, including your own. (Grow a white beard and join the Seven Dwarfs.)

By Doris Wild Helmering, psychotherapist and author of "Being OK Just Isn't Enough: The Power of Self-Discovery," available through National Seminars Group, (800) 444-2524 (Parenthetical remarks added by website.)

TEST YOUR HOSTILITY -- Hostility is a readiness to be angry, sometimes called a "chip on the shoulder."

To measure your hostility, check the items that apply to you:

* When I am in the express checkout line at the supermarket, I often count the items in the baskets of the people ahead of me, to be sure they aren't over the limit.

* I am often irritated by other people's incompetence.

* When an elevator doesn't come as quickly as I think it should, I am likely to pound on, or repeatedly press the button, or think nasty thoughts about the people delaying the elevator on other floors.

* I tend to remember irritating incidents and get mad at them all over again.

* Little annoyances have a way of adding up during the day, and leave me frustrated and impatient.

* If my barber or beautician trims off more hair than I wanted, I fume for days.

* When I get into an argument, I can feel my pulse quicken, my breathing change, or my jaws clench.

* When someone doesn't show up on time, I rehearse the angry words I'm going to say.

* I've been so angry at someone that I've thrown things or slammed doors.

* When someone cuts me off in traffic, I flash my lights, honk my horn, pound the steering wheel, curse, or shout.

* If someone mistreats me, I look for an opportunity to pay that person back, just for the principle of it.


* If you checked three or fewer items, you have a pretty cool head.

* If your score is 4 to 8, take it as a warning. Hostility may be raising your risk of heart disease.

* A score of 9 or more puts you in the hot zone. This level of cynicism, anger, aggression and self-centeredness is probably high enough to endanger your health and your relationships. It could also endanger your career and your relation with the law.

(Adapted from Redford Williams, author of Anger Kills )