Anger Management: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Managing Anger

Managing anger

Have you ever been told to “manage your temper?” It can be quite annoying to hear, even more so when you don’t know how to manage your anger. Although managing one’s anger is a highly praised and valuable skill, we typically aren’t told how to manage our anger. Approximately 1 in 5 Americans have anger management issues (Tafrate & Kassinove, 2019). While we may reserve the idea of anger management classes or techniques for those who have anger problems and/or have violent outbursts due to anger, learning to manage your anger can be beneficial for everyone.

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Identifying and defining your anger

Anger is a negative emotion that we typically express in outward behaviors and emotions (e.g. yelling or being in a visibly “bad mood”) (Turan, 2021). So, how does one go about managing their anger? It can be quite convoluted, however, the best way to start is to identify and define your anger. Everyone experiences anger a bit differently, some may feel distracted or depressed while others display more physiological symptoms such as high blood pressure or back pain (Cannon, 2011).


Knowing what exactly causes you to feel anger is an important first step. You may automatically think “it makes me angry when my boss criticizes me in front of everyone” or “it makes me angry when someone cuts me off in traffic.” While those are important to note, identifying what feelings those experiences brought upon can help you manage your anger. This process requires some digging and focuses on the feelings of the experience rather than the actions of the experience. 


Using the example of your boss criticizing you in front of your co-workers, maybe you felt ashamed, embarrassed, or exposed by the open denunciation. Although these feelings are entities by themselves, they often lead to anger. You may feel angry that your boss embarrassed you rather than feeling angry by the criticism itself. It can be helpful to recognize any feelings that may lead to anger, which again is highly personalized. Try to look back at instances that you felt angry in and try to identify what feelings and emotions were present. 


How does identifying what feelings cause you to feel angry help you in managing your anger? Unfortunately, anger is not black and white, it is much more complex than we often think it is. Anger is inevitable, especially when it stems from environmental stress such as unstable home life or a toxic work environment (Turan, 2021). As discussed previously, identifying your anger and stressors is a vital step in anger management.

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A study conducted by Turan (2021) looked at the benefits of anger management training in intensive care units. 32 nurses were evenly split into 2 groups: the control group and the training group. Those in the training group attended training sessions that covered topics from defining anger to distinguishing between positive and negative stress. These sessions employed a series of exercises such as group discussions, relaxation exercises, and role-playing activities.


The study lasted 8 weeks and all participants were asked to rate their positive and negative feelings before and after the experiment. The nurses in the training session group reported a 31% decrease in negative mood and feelings of anger. Additionally, the nurses who attended the training sessions felt 36% more resilient against any negative feelings or moods and felt 69% more socially competent and in control of their emotions (Turan, 2021).


While the study was localized to nurses in intensive care units, many of us face situations that may bring upon feelings of anger on a daily basis. Learning to identify the root causes of your anger is important and essential on the path to better anger management. However, how a person reacts and deals with their recognized anger is equally important. 


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anger

This sounds quite drastic and extreme, however, it is a bit tamer than one would think. Essentially, a belief system is one’s personality, values, needs, expectations, and perception of life. These beliefs typically change over time and pertain to all aspects of one’s life (Askari, 2019). 


How does one’s belief system interact with anger management? Since a belief system involves one’s emotions and thought processes, it can lead to or heighten negative thinking or emotions. Persistent irrational and negative beliefs can lead to greater issues such as anger management problems, anxiety, chronic stress, depression, and feelings of guilt (Askari, 2019). 

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How we react and respond to situations and experiences is centered around our belief system. In simple terms, a specific event combined with our beliefs will determine how we will react and feel about the event. For example, you have co-workers that persuade you into doing some of their work for them (the event/situation). You are not confrontational and fear what your co-workers will think of you if you say no (the beliefs). Therefore, you end up doing your co-workers’ work for them (the outcome) (Cannon, 2011). 


Changing your belief system can be tortuous and it differs for each person. A study by Askari (2019) used cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) as an intervention for couples experiencing anger management problems. The basis of the CBT intervention involved recognizing one’s belief system, discussing and analyzing the belief system, and constructing a new belief system through discussion, critical thinking, mindfulness, or journaling. 


The study consisted of 14 couples (28 individuals) and lasted 5 months. In addition to the CBT sessions, participants were asked to practice mindfulness exercises (e.g. breathing techniques or meditation) for 20 minutes a day. At the end of the study, participants in the CBT intervention reported a 60% decrease in feelings of anger. Furthermore, participants also reported feeling more control over their anger and emotional expressions by 78% (Askari, 2019). 


While the prospect of CBT is enticing, many of us do not have the luxury to do so. As mentioned above, the CBT intervention in the Askari utilized mindfulness exercises such as simple breathing exercises and journaling as a means to manage anger. However, anger can be quite unpredictable and can bubble up during less than ideal situations, such as conversations. If you’d like a free way to practice CBT, the LIFE Intelligence app provides useful self-therapy exercises. CBT is one of the free-forever features it offers, and can be found in Mission 1 (out of 9 Missions, or “topics” on self, career, and relationship development). 


Applying anger management strategies in conversations

Unfortunately, anger typically arises in conversations and leaves its mark with hurt feelings, embarrassment, resentment, or animosity. Most of us have often said things or acted a certain way out of anger that we later come to regret. This can burn bridges and create a hostile environment in our personal and professional relationships. So, how can we express our anger in a more appropriate and healthy manner?

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1. Don’t assume the other person was intentionally trying to make you angry.

While there are some situations when the other person has the intention of producing some sort of distressing reaction, it is best to air on the side of caution. Most of us have probably gotten into an argument due to the conversation being taking out of context or being misinterpreted which can lead us to believe the other person had spiteful intentions. In the heat of an argument, it can be difficult to take a step back and realize the person probably had no intention of causing you anger or distress. However, it is important to redirect your attention to the actual stressor or cause (Barlow et al., 2019).


2. Focus on the “stressor” rather than the person.

Unfortunately, when we are in conversation and we become angry, it is often the result of a deeper issue at hand. The person you are speaking to is usually the middleman who has no intention of causing distress. For example, a project at work is taking longer than expected and there are some issues. While discussing the issues with a co-worker, they offer some constructive criticism or advice and you become angry due to feeling unheard and the overwhelming stress of the project. When this anger arises, take a moment to acknowledge that the person is not what is making you angry per se, but the project and the feeling of being unheard (Tafrate & Kassinove, 2019).


3. Use “I” statements to communicate your feelings.

This can be a bit uncomfortable to do, especially with co-workers or people you may not be as close with. However, the other person cannot distinguish if your anger is a result of them or something else entirely. Following the above example of a co-worker offering advice on a stressful project, your co-worker will most likely assume you are angry at them and what they said. This can lead to animosity in the relationship and create a distressing and hostile environment. Instead, try to use statements such as, “I am feeling stressed/angry because this project keeps running into delays” or “this project is causing me a lot of stress.” Not only does this allow your voice to be heard, but people also tend to be more understanding when they are aware of the situation and the feelings surrounding it. 


Anger is an emotion experienced by everyone and despite this, it is often communicated poorly and burns many bridges (Martin, 2020). No one likes to admit they are angry nor does anyone like to analyze the root cause of their anger. In the past, research on anger focused on anger management of violent offenders or those in the prison system and lacked generalization. Fortunately, more and more research is being conducted studying anger in the general population and how to better manage it. 


When properly managed, anger can promote problem-solving and determination in individuals (Martin, 2020). However, it can be tough and confusing to learn how to manage your anger. Thankfully, emotional management apps such as LIFE Intelligence provide convenient help, right in your pocket. LIFE’s main anger management feature is a user-friendly mood tracker and mood management system. You can choose the level of anger you feel, whether frustrated, envious, or enraged, and find scientifically-proven exercises to help you cope or communicate. From breathing exercises to step-by-step plans for “hard conversations,” you can learn, journal, and control your anger in minutes.

LIFE Intelilgence: Personal Development
Mason Low
February 26, 2021

References

Askari, I. (2019). The role of the belief system for anger management of couples with anger and aggression: A cognitive-behavioral perspective. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 37(3), 223-240. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10942-018-0307-5

Barlow, M., Watson, B., & Rudolph, J. (2019). How being a great Receiver can change the game in speaking up conversations. MedEdPublish, 8. https://doi.org/10.15694/mep.2019.000204.1

Cannon, M. (2011). The Gift of Anger: Seven Steps to Uncover the Meaning of Anger and Gain Awareness, True Strength, and Peace. New Harbinger Publications, Inc

Colville, G., & Stewart, C. (2021). Keep calm and carry on: Anger management on the intensive care unit. Intensive & Critical Care Nursing, 62, 102979. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iccn.2020.102979

Lotfalizadeh, M., Miri, S., Foroughameri, G., & Farokhzadian, J. (2020). The effect of anger management skills training on anger status of the people with HIV. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 56(3), 605-613. https://doi.org/10.1111/ppc.12475

Martin, R. C. (2020). Including Maladaptive Anger in Psychology Courses. Teaching of Psychology, 47(1), 102–107. https://doi.org/10.1177/0098628319889540

Tafrate, R. C., & Kassinove, H. (2019). Anger management for everyone: Ten proven strategies to help you control anger and live a happier life. New Harbinger Publications.

Turan N. (2021). An investigation of the effects of an anger management psychoeducation programme on psychological resilience and affect of intensive care nurses. Intensive & critical care nursing, 62, 102915. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iccn.2020.102915

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