In the previous articles looking at various coping skills for anger (Part 1 and Part 2), issues such as reinforcement, objectivity, keeping a journal and communication skills were discussed. Part 3 of the series will now cover:
- Venting anger
- Being grateful
- Visualization techniques
11. Venting Anger
Anger management experts focus on teaching you to control your emotions when angry, however, for some people this can take many months or even years to achieve. Many people have difficulty understanding how both physical and emotional well-being need to be balanced in order to have a healthy and happy existence. They are quick to learn avoiding physical pain yet repeat emotional pain time after time.
Having the ability to vent one’s anger (catharsis theory) without damaging anything or anyone is often considered a useful anger management coping skill. It might involve taking one’s anger out on a punch bag or undertaking some form of physical workout to let off steam, or alternatively, some people find it helpful to go somewhere isolated and simply shout and scream aloud.
However, it should be noted that some studies e.g. Bushman 2002, challenge the belief of venting one’s aggression and anger through the release of physical energy e.g. hitting a pillow or punch bag. Some researchers feel that these actions reinforce the expression of hostility and aggression, which may increase the likelihood of a similar and even more intense reaction in the future.
If distancing oneself mentally from the environment proves difficult, physically leaving the environment can be an aid. This is sometimes referred to as ‘time-out’.
At a basic level, it is a technique that is commonly taught to children in the form of, ‘Count to 10’. However, simple as it is, it can be a very effective technique even for adults; simply keep counting until your anger subsides. If followed through it will prevent instant retaliation, whether physical or verbal. It will help you focus on other things besides your angry emotions and give you time to cool off.
If you are a parent, you know that children can sometimes be extremely challenging. If this is a significant problem for you, what about escaping to recharge your batteries? Consider having a trusted family member or a friend look after them for a few hours (or maybe days), so that you can get away and ‘regroup’. Do something that you enjoy – maybe go for a walk, indulge in some retail therapy or do anything that helps you to relax. A more relaxed parent will be a happier person, be less prone to snapping and having angry outbursts at the children, and in general, be a far more pleasant person around others.
Time-outs can refer to many different scenarios. For example, repeated exposure to stressful images, thoughts and situations can intensify your emotional response. If you find that your anger escalates when you are exposed to these triggers, you will need to make a conscious effort to reduce or eliminate exposure to them. For example, some people just tend to wind you up. Avoiding them if at all possible, especially if you or the individual has a pattern of lashing out, takes away the negative emotion that comes with it.
This can be particularly difficult when it involves family members who do not get along but are expected to meet at family gatherings, such as at Thanksgiving or Christmas time. Parents raise children in the expectation that when they become adults with children of their own, large family get-togethers will be joyful occasions to look forward to. Unfortunately, the reality can be somewhat different.
In situations such as these, it is imperative to take control by avoiding excessive alcohol intake, having minimal contact with the individual and when you do, remaining polite. The last thing other family members want to see is a war, especially when children are present. Focus your energy on the other relatives and children present. If you have a desire to resolve the problem it should not be done on such occasions. Instead, get together at a different time and always choose a neutral place to meet e.g. café, coffee shop.
Time-out involves removing oneself from the environment that seems to frustrate and irritate you; it may involve simple things such as going to the next room, having a walk outside or just taking some personal time for yourself each day. Furthermore, taking a vacation and being able to get away helps a person to reflect on one’s actions and may give them a different perspective on the problem. If it is not possible to travel alone, make a conscious decision to at least spend some time alone on holiday. Space and time can be very therapeutic.
13. Being Grateful
Sometimes the process of being grateful and not taking what we have for granted can help extinguish the anger that resides in us. Making a habit of being appreciative, paying compliments and showing love and affection to those around us, becomes a way of life that’s not only good karma but a sign that the person is at peace with themselves. ‘Practice makes perfect’ applies in this context and through it, we and everyone around us become happier.
Make time to listen to the voice in your head – it’s not a sign of madness! We all talk to ourselves in our head and though we may not be aware of it, we typically have a running commentary of self-talk most of the time. Catch what’s being said and work on developing rational self-talk, especially as your anger rises. Also, injecting humorous thoughts can be a way of diffusing anger.
15. Visualization Techniques
These will vary from person to person, but some people find it a useful tool for letting things go and not choosing anger when confronted by unreasonable people or actions. Violent or aggressive imagery should always be avoided.
For example, consider people as apples in a bucket. Out of ten apples, 5 will be lovely and healthy, 3 are average in appearance and 2 are rotten to the core. Instead of feeling angry at the rotten apples, feel sorry for them. In this context it means not responding with anger or aggression to unpleasant situations and unreasonable people. Accept that is what they are but you choose not to become tainted.
Don’t take it upon yourself to be judge and jury in every negative situation. Some people deal with it by believing in Karma and ‘what goes around comes around’, whilst some religious people find additional comfort in the belief that retribution for unreasonable acts will come on judgment day!
In addition, many people find visualizing a potentially confrontational scenario very helpful. Role-play in your mind, rehearse a response and focus on staying in control. Speak calmly and maintain a slower pace of speech. Then, when the time arises in real life, put into practice what you have visualized.
Part 4 of how to control anger – coping skills for anger will address the following points:
- Prayer and meditation
- Sport and exercise
- Breath control and deep relaxation