Program 6



  1. What is Anger?
  2. What Causes Anger?
  3. Why are You Not Constantly Angry?
  4. Building a Model to Explain Anger
  5. Why Don’t Others Feel Angry Too?
  6. Why Don’t We All Get Angry About the Same Thing?
  7. Why am I Sometimes More Prone to Anger?
  8. Is Anger Always Wrong?
  9. Trigger
  10. Appraisal
  11. Beliefs
  12. Anger Experiences
  13. Inhibitions
  14. Reaction
  15. Outcomes
  16. Mood
  17. Gaining Control of Your Anger
  18. Conclusion

                  1. What is Anger?

Anger occurs when:

You are obstructed from an important goal.

Personal rules important to you are violated.

Your self-esteem seems threatened in some way.

You may retaliate directly or indirectly, displace your anger onto someone or something else, or you may withdraw from the situation. Prolonged anger increases the risk of coronary heart disease and other physical disorders and affects relationships, work performance and social life. Expressing your anger only reinforces it.  

You need to understand that it is not other people that make you angry. It is your thinking about a situation and not the situation, which causes anger. We may get angry in circumstances when something of importance to us is harmed or is under threat of harm. Anger is linked to feelings of frustration. People or things are not as we wish them to be.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Frustration.

Feelings of anger increase when low and may be directed at yourself or other people. You may become excessively angry and explode or you may conceal your anger. You may or may not be aware that your anger is associated with shame.

Consider whether you are over exaggerating the harm done or could be done. Learn how to manage your anger, rather than letting it control you or blocking it out. Anyone can become angry – that is easy.

‘But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not easy’. [Aristotle]

The majority of us have experienced anger and irritability, both of which have a variety of forms. Anger can be justified and it is only when we overreact that our faults may be pointed out. To be irritable suggests that it is unjustified and people are frequently open to criticism for being irritable. Sometimes we lose our outlook on what is justified and later are appalled by what we have done.

Anger is different from hostility (a set of negative attitudes about others) and aggression (physical action intended to harm others).  Anger and hostility can lead to aggression. Anger prone clients tend to be more aggressive than those for whom anger is not a problem. We learn when to become angry and how to behave when angry, but anger is also innately programmed.

Anger can vary from low to high intensity levels. At low intensity levels, anger can be labelled as: irritated, bothered, annoyed. Moderate intensity levels can be identified by words such as: angered, aggravated, mad. Strong intensity levels can be described as: crazed, livid, enraged.

Anger comprises:

Cognitive distortions (e.g. demeaning thoughts about the person causing you to be angry).

Arousal (e.g. sweating).

Behavioural changes (e.g. clenched fists).

Verbal anger labels (e.g. ‘I feel enraged!’).

Anger becomes a problem when it is frequent, intense and enduring. Clients with Anger Disorder experience anger more frequently, more intensely and for greater duration than the rest of us. Anger is detrimental to your health whether it is let out or controlled, unless it is expressed assertively or reduced in intensity using Anger Management techniques. Health problems such as a high cholesterol level, coronary heart disease, strokes and cancer are all some of the illnesses associated with maladaptive anger.

Research shows that angry people die earlier!

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  1. What Causes Anger?

Note the types of things that make you angry, for use as you proceed with overcoming your anger.

There are three classes of things that make people angry:

Irritants – such as people coughing and sneezing.

Costs – things that people do that have a cost for us (e.g. the financial cost of a car accident).

Transgressions – the breaking of a rule that you expect other people to keep and follow.

Some things that cause anger may be due to more than one of the above categories at the same time.

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3. Why are You Not Constantly Angry?

Our inhibitions are the basic rules we make for ourselves. They are like self-control mechanisms that prevent us from going over the limit. This ability to control our anger is crucial. Note that overly angry people react out of proportion to the circumstances causing the reaction. Inhibitions do not necessarily prevent you from getting angry but frequently ensure that you maintain sufficient control.

Typically there are two sorts of inhibitions. Internal inhibitions are thoughts and moral rules we set ourselves. External inhibitions are an acknowledgement of the results which would ensue if you were to overreact.

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     4. Building a Model to Explain Anger

TRIGGER: What sets off our anger.

APPRAISAL: How we view an event.

ANGER EXPERIENCES: The results of the trigger; inner awareness of anger (e.g. thoughts, images).

INHIBITIONS: That which prevents us from losing control and becoming over angry (e.g. moral values, sense of justice, human nature).

REACTION: From totally controlling our anger to letting it wreak havoc.

OUTCOMES: Effects of anger.

When angry it is best to slowly let your anger dissipate.

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                  5. Why Don’t Others Feel Angry Too?

We all view things differently. It is how we view an event that causes it to be a trigger for our anger.

TRIGGER => APPRAISAL (this is our perception of the trigger; we can determine whether we will get angry and to what extent) => ANGER EXPERIENCES => INHIBITIONS => REACTION => OUTCOMES

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                  6. Why Don’t We All Get Angry About the Same Things?

We appraise and judge events differently because of our beliefs which have developed over the years. Our beliefs are the basis of our inhibitions.


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                  7. Why am I Sometimes More Prone to Anger?

The variations in our moods affect whether or not we react with anger when frustrated.


Factors which influence our moods include: illness, lack of routine, not enough exercise, poor diet, consumption of drugs, alcohol and stimulants, insufficient sleep, life stresses, and social factors such as bereavement, arguments, separation, and divorce. These factors can be altered so that we are less likely to get angry and are more stable in our moods.

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      8. Is Anger Always Wrong?

Anger is alright in that we all get angry on occasion – it is a part of life. However, anger is not as influential as positive behaviour. Anger does tend to discourage unwanted behaviour but is best employed in small amounts. Irritability appears to be purposeless and unjustified. Too much anger is counter-productive.

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     9. Trigger

Anger triggers are most frequently negative actions of others, but positive stimuli can also trigger anger sometimes.

Common triggers are of three types:

Verbal (e.g. personal insults).

Motor (e.g. being hit).

Visual (e.g. seeing your child deliberately break something costly).

Mundane triggers (e.g. neglect, infidelity) are more common triggers of anger than acts of aggression or violence; the former can lead to the latter. It is crucial to be aware of what sets off your anger. This will enable you to remove the trigger if possible or take other action.

Keep a diary to help you recognize what triggers your anger. Write down the triggers – include day, date, and time. Note your response – what did you do? You need to become an expert on what triggers your anger. Is it particular, such as the neighbours having a loud party or is it spread widely such as your children being careless? Is it internal such as being tired or external such as an inappropriately slow driver?

Try to get rid of your triggers if you can but if not continue, to learn how to deal with the situation when a trigger cannot be removed.

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10. Appraisal

When you get angry and others do not it is because you have made different appraisals and judgments about the circumstances. Errors made in appraisals and judgments include:

Selective perception (noticing just one part of the whole situation); mind-reading (thinking you know someone’s thoughts when you do not); awfulizing (when you do not get your wishes you see the situation as ‘awful’); using emotive language (describing events in ways that are likely to get you worked up – using strong words); and overgeneralizing (making global conclusions from one or more events).

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Modifying Maladaptive Thinking.

Think of an example of each of the above from your own behaviour. Analyze the situations, noting the errors you are making.

Improve your appraisals and judgments by:

Recognizing and setting the error right.

Considering how a knowledgeable friend would advise you about the event.

Reframing the event by looking for the good features or seeing it from an entirely alternative viewpoint.

Explore the benefits and costs (pros and cons) of your appraisal then see if you can find a more cost-effective way of appraising the situation. What would benefit you the most and cost you the least?

Examine the events that trigger your anger, using the above ways of improving your appraisals and judgments, to get more helpful appraisals and judgments. Next, you need to fix your new more cost-effective appraisal by behaving that way. Record the results to encourage you with your progress.

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     11. Beliefs

Consider the model for analyzing anger. Your behaviour in certain circumstances due to the way you appraise and judge those circumstances is affected by your beliefs. Try to replace your unhelpful beliefs with more helpful ones, for example: ‘Things are awful when they are not as I wish them to be’ - change to: ‘Even if things are not as I wish they were it is not the end of the world’.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Modifying Maladaptive Thinking.

Thinking the alternative belief is not enough – you need to act out the new belief.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Behavioural Principles.

Review and record both, situations where you have successfully acted on your new beliefs and those where you may have given in to some of your unhelpful beliefs. In the latter case review the situation as it should have gone rather than how it did go. Write down your unhelpful beliefs and for each one the more helpful belief.

Think about a recent event where your unhelpful beliefs have caused you to appraise the event badly and react with anger. In your mind try to re-enact how you would have viewed the event and acted if you had been using your more helpful beliefs.

Practise seeing all circumstances through your new beliefs or see them as a role model would view them. Next, try to behave according to your new beliefs. Review your successes and failures as told above and soon you should have very few of the latter.

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     12. Anger Experiences

You need to understand that ‘self-change’ is crucial to manage your anger, and perhaps in addition ‘other-change’. Accept that first and foremost, it is you who is responsible for your anger and not others. When you cannot hit out at the source of your anger it can be displaced onto someone or something else. Anger is addictive, normally it will leak away but can build up into an outburst.

Recreational anger gives you a ‘buzz’ from thinking lengthily about your anger and how you want to act upon it. Whether on the verge of an outburst or in a state of recreational anger you should give yourself time to regain a balanced perspective of the situation. Do not let your anger dictate what to do and occupy yourself with anything else that is safe. You should ask yourself what a role model would do in your position.

Next time you get angry, figure out what your anger tells you to do and what your calm self would do. Start by working on events that make you only slightly angry and eventually you will be able to hear your calm self even when very angry. Remember that we usually want to follow our calm selves than be dictated to by our anger.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Forgiveness.

For further coping strategies:

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Competitiveness and Perfectionism, Frustration, Procrastination and Persistence.  

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     13. Inhibitions

Inhibitions are of two types: moral/internal and practical/external inhibitions as given in:

Why are You Not Constantly Angry?

A very low level of anger provides feedback by letting people know that their behaviour is not agreeable to you, and is productive of socialization rather than competitiveness. Anything above this level is counter-productive.

You need to limit your anger to the point of stopping before it starts, by bringing your inhibitions to mind and behaving in line with them. To do this, try the Traffic Lights Technique. Write down your inhibitions as this will come in useful later.

Traffic Lights Technique:

Practise spotting when you become angry (red light). Allow your anger to dissipate as rapidly as possible to a low level (amber light). Only at this stage should you decide the way forward. Next, act out your decision as to the way you should proceed (green light).

Review your successes.

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     14. Reaction

Avoidance/Escape – these behaviours may be initially appropriate in risky situations to prevent exacerbation of harm. However, long-term coping strategies need to be developed.

You can get yourself to bring about a desirable reaction in three ways:

Traffic Lights Technique.

Using a role model to set you a good example of how to react when angry and allowing these reactions to become a part of you.

Reviewing your successes and failures, especially the former, in reacting to your anger. Rehearse a better response to the one you made and avoid simply re-living the event.

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     15. Outcomes

These are the short-term and long-term consequences of anger (e.g. initially people may comply with your angry demands but eventually you will lose their respect).

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     16. Mood

Your mood affects almost every area of your life. Irregularities in your mood lead to feeling irritable with no obvious trigger. When this is the case almost anything can set off your anger. The main factors influencing your mood and how you can attain a stable good mood are considered below.

Your body wants to eat and sleep regularly so you need to form a good circadian rhythm or daily routine. Make a list of your rising time, mealtimes, bedtime and try to keep to within 30 minutes of these times either way. Record the actual times you eat and sleep, in a diary.

Exercise is good for you and it need not be strenuous – do not undertake strenuous exercise without consulting your doctor. Wear comfortable shoes and think of exercise as important. Exercising will increase your energy. Try exercising earlier in the day if you are usually too tired in the evening. You should get as much exercise as you want. Keep a diary of how much exercise you are getting. This can be part of your routine (e.g. walking between places) or planned exercise (e.g. going for a swim).

Eat a balanced diet and make sure you chew your food well to digest it properly. Drink plenty of water. You should eat mostly fruits and vegetables; least of high fat foods such as cake and chocolate; a moderate amount of foods such as bread, rice and potatoes and high protein foods such as meat and fish with less of the latter category than the former.

Cut down on your stimulant intake to about three cups of tea or coffee a day. Go easy on nicotine and other recreational drugs. Try to get down to your recommended alcohol intake.  Reduce your alcohol intake to no more than 21 units a week for a man and 14 units a week for a woman. If you need help to do this your doctor may be able to suggest someone or you could contact Alcoholics Anonymous (contact number available from local phone book) – you do not need to be drinking excessively to enlist their help.

Rise and eat regularly, and get into the routine of getting a good night’s sleep. Get sufficient physical and mental exercise in the day and be less active before you go to bed so that you do so more relaxed. Make sure you are adequately full and have a regular bedtime. Try to go to bed happy and comfortable without disturbances such as external noise.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice: Nutrition, Exercise, Managing Your Time and Sleep Management.

If your bad mood is due to illness then try to get well. When this is not possible endeavour to blame your illness rather than other people. For those whose bad mood is caused by depression:

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Troublesome Emotions, Program 8: Overcoming Anxiety, Program 12: Overcoming Depression, and Program 15: Overcoming Grief And Bereavement.

Reduce the effects of stress in your life by:

Examining the pressures you are under and removing one or two of these stresses.

Learning to deal with the stresses more effectively – identify your stresses and ask others how they cope with those stresses then make a plan of action and implement it.

Viewing your stresses in a different way and acting on this new view.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Problem-Solving, Controlled Breathing and Relaxation Techniques, Program 22: Overcoming Stress and Program 23: Overcoming Stress At Work.

Nurture and consolidate your intimate, work, and outside of work and intimacy relationships (e.g. friends and neighbours). Beware of distributing disturbances in one area to the other two areas.

See Program 13: Overcoming Destructive Relationships.

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     17. Gaining Control of Your Anger

Anger Management involves:

Becoming aware of your anger and being motivated to change.

Learning to respond with less anger to provocation.

If change in a problem situation is unlikely – it is necessary to accept, adapt or adjust to reality.

Maintain change and have a Relapse Prevention Plan.

Anger stems from interpersonal conflicts with familiar others, and can lead to medical problems if left unmanaged. Others tend to dislike angry people – this can lead to avoidance and eventually isolation. There is a general dissatisfaction with life (i.e. work, family, social opportunities), and lower pain tolerance. Negative thinking and low self-esteem are prevalent in angry clients. Substance misuse is common with Anger Disorder. Angry feelings can result in verbal and/or physical assaults on others. Needless risk-taking and serious crimes may ensue from anger.

Consider the short-term and long-term consequences of your anger in the situations problematic for you.

Try Time Projection: How would the recipient of your anger (spouse, child, or friend) feel after five, ten or fifteen years of enduring your anger?

Catharsis – ‘letting your anger go’ needs to be done in a controlled manner, to be of benefit to your emotional health; anger needs to be reduced and expressed in a way acceptable to the recipient.

Learn coping strategies to deal with your anger. Brooding on angry thoughts turns on our ‘fight, flight, freeze or faint’ response of the body to perceived threat, making us feel more aroused; the chemicals released can do damage if they are not put to use.

Negative self-beliefs may prevent you from examining your anger and putting it to use assertively. Some examples are: ‘Others are more powerful and I will never succeed in arguing against them’, ‘I am wicked and unlovable when angry’, ‘My parents taught me that anger is bad’.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Modifying Maladaptive Thinking.

Think about the last time you were angry and write down some of your thoughts. Examine these to see if you are using any of the types of negative thoughts (e.g. all-or-nothing thinking).

Notice the danger signs if you tend to get excessively angry and tell yourself to keep your distance. Return to the issue when you feel more settled. Consider what was going through your mind and what the early feelings were – did the anger build up and could you recognize the danger signals?

If you get very angry, stop any action and count to ten slowly, taking deep breaths. You need to draw your attention away from the cause of your anger. You could try leaving the room. In this way you maintain your calm and will have adequate control of yourself.

To avoid anger, deal with negative beliefs by making flashcards with your negative beliefs on one side and on the other, challenge them with helpful alternatives. What are the pros and cons of altering your beliefs?

An exercise to release your anger and still maintain control, for those afraid of expressing their anger, is to kneel by your bed and hit it with a rolled up newspaper, speaking or shouting your thoughts about your anger. Allow yourself to cry if you wish when your thoughts have diminished. Then lie on your bed and think to yourself that your anger is over and use calming imagery to soothe yourself. Note that you have been able to control your anger and need not fear it. When you feel more settled, write down what you said or shouted when you were angry. Examine your thoughts for extremes that need to be challenged.

It is necessary to deal with your anger effectively rather than suppressing it or being enraged.

                  Keep Notes About Your Anger:

Note when and why you are angry; your thoughts and behaviour when angry; rate how strong your anger is using the scale 0-10 (0 is irritated and 10 is enraged). Make honest, daily anger notes for a fortnight or more, dating each entry – this will enable you to see what things need to be improved.

Answer the following questions in your notebook:

How frequently do I get angry? Do others know when I am angry? Does my anger help me to cope? Is my anger preventing recovery? What do I achieve from being angry? Can I obtain these things in other ways? Do I express anger in ways others expressed anger in my childhood or differently? How do the ways I handle anger compare for before and after my trauma (if applicable)? Do I feel relief from getting angry? Are there alternatives to getting angry yet achieving the same sense of relief? Could I consider forgiveness as opposed to revenge, or a compromise between the two?

Dealing with Bodily Sensations:

Consider the physical sensations that tell you that you are becoming angry (e.g. do you become tense and sweat?) Control your physical sensations due to anger, by using Controlled Breathing and Relaxation Techniques.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Controlled Breathing and Relaxation Techniques.

Specific Anger Management Techniques:

You could vent your anger by:

Talking to another person about your anger.

Writing about your anger.

Speaking your anger on to a tape recording.

Drawing your anger.

Talking to God about your anger.

The ‘Time-Out’ Technique:

Discuss with your partner and others concerned beforehand that as part of learning to control your anger, you will take a ‘Time-Out’ next time you are angry. This means that you will leave to be alone for no more or less than an hour, when you feel your anger rising. During this time you should not drink or drive. Use any technique that will help you to calm down and not overreact when you return (e.g. controlled breathing or physical exertion). Explain to those concerned that you are not rejecting them nor should they worry about you when you need to be alone to calm down. Request their support in your efforts at anger management.

The ‘Thermometer’ Technique:

Visualize a large thermometer with red mercury to represent your temper. Allow yourself to see the graduation marks. When you are calm there is just enough mercury for effective interaction with others. As you become agitated the temperature will rise – you will be aware of bodily sensations such as quickened breathing and flaring nostrils. All thermometers have marks at the top for a ‘danger zone’ and you need to bring the mercury down before you get into this zone where you will lose control over your thinking so will be unable to act appropriately.

Use controlled breathing, the ‘Time-Out’ Technique or any other means to get the mercury to fall to a safe level where you are in control of your anger. When you reach room temperature level you can deal with the situation in a rational manner. You need to use this technique regularly for effective results.

The ‘Assertive Communication’ Technique:

Clarify what you want to discuss that is upsetting you.

Communicate your feelings using ‘I’ statements (e.g. ‘I am frustrated…’)

Specify the action you want to happen.

State any stipulations or consequences.

Thank the other person for listening.

Try rehearsing the ‘Assertive Communication’ Technique before an encounter.

If you are doing yourself physical harm (e.g. cutting or self-mutilating), you are not coping and should seek the help of a professional.

You need to expose yourself to a hierarchy of problem situations to gain control of your anger.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Eye-Movement Technique (EMT), Mood Induction Procedure, Rational Emotive Imagery (REI), Imago Graded Exposure and In Vivo Graded Exposure.

Build a good support network.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Social Skills Training, Communication Training and Negotiation Training.

Develop a positive body image.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Criticism, Countering Self-Criticism, Improving Your Self-Image and Combating Self-Harm and Coping with the Need for Approval.

Build your confidence.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Assertiveness Training, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), Building Confidence I, Building Confidence II, Building Confidence III, Building Confidence IV and Program 16: Overcoming Low Self-Esteem.

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     18. Conclusion

Constantly bear in mind the model for analyzing irritability and anger. Use the model to solve your irritability and anger problem.


See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Relapse Prevention.  

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