Anger is part of the human experience. Every person you and I have come across has and will continue to experience anger in their lives, regardless of how much therapy or personal work they have put into their mental health and wellness.
Plenty of people come into counseling seeking anger management, which always takes me back to the Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson movie of the early 2000’s. While this movie is absolutely satirical and does not represent what anger management looks like, it made a lasting impression on me and has stayed with me all these years. In the movie, two men are working together to use unconventional methods to learn to better control their anger, only to find out one character is sabotaging the efforts in a plot to address Adam Sandler’s lack of assertiveness.. The film is relatively funny and, in true light rom-com fashion, has a happy ending.
What stands out to me in 2021 as a psychotherapist is that never in the film is anger fully embraced and explored.
Anger is not a bad or negative emotion. Again, for everyone in the back, anger is not a negative emotion! In fact, there is no such thing as a negative emotion. Anger is simply an emotion, but it is an emotion that gets a bad reputation due to the difficulty in “controlling” it.
The truth is, people often suppress anger or try to push it away to avoid addressing whatever is triggering the feeling. When emotions are suppressed and bottled up, very rarely do they just dissipate. More times than not, that anger comes out in full force when your partner loads the dishwasher wrong or you get stuck behind a slow driver in the left lane.
What would happen if we all gave ourselves permission to fully experience anger? What about this scares us?
Dr. Claudia Black published one of my favorite therapeutic workbooks, “A Hole in the SIdewalk,” and in it is something called the “hostility roadmap.” I have introduced this concept and her work to so many of my clients since finding it.
The roadmap begins by asking the questions “Is this worth my continued attention?” That’s such a big question- you’re angry, but not sure where to go from there. After this question is answered, then it becomes easier and more clear-cut what techniques to plug in to address the situation.
If it is determined that the thing you’re angry about is not worth continued attention, but you’re still angry- activate personal coping skills! Dr. Black proposes a few in the book, but really it’s about what works best for you. The meat and potatoes of the matter is actually addressing the anger rather than ignoring it.
When you’ve recognized that your anger is best coped with solo, here are some techniques that I introduce and practice with my clients:
Physical exertion! Instead of punching a wall or throwing something, use that same amount of energy in a controlled manner. Hit a pillow, run around a building, jump up and down… whatever works for you. When you’re done, take a moment to write down your thoughts or talk to someone about the anger. Connecting your physical release to an emotional release is key!
Scream. It sounds so simple, but just scream. Clearly, you want to do this one in a private place, but you’d be surprised how many people get relief from screaming.
Write out what happened from your point of view, then bring this narrative to your next session. Allow yourself to vent all the frustration onto paper, then process them with a clinician you trust.
There are many more, but those are some that can be done in the moment and that are usually easy to remember.
The trickier side is what you can do with your anger if the matter is worth your continued attention. Justifiable and appropriate anger is where most people get lost- typically it can go unaddressed or become more of a blow-up situation.
These are some recommendations to utilize when you recognize the situation is worth your continued attention:
Implement assertive skills- remember, being assertive is communicating in a kind, but firm manner
Determine your effective response to this anger. What are you upset about and what is the goal of addressing this situation?
Before addressing another person, give yourself a moment to check in with you and practice some calming strategies if needed. Acknowledge your anger, then communicate your plan for addressing the situation. This can help with avoiding losing your cool.
If you recognize that this is something you could benefit from in your personal life, set your intention to practice some emotional release strategies daily and really focus your attention on not bottling up your anger. It helps to have someone guiding you and processing the experience, so seeking out help can be hugely beneficial.
Anger management is not about the extinction of your anger, but rather having the ability to be angry without the compulsion to hide it or fear what will happen when you feel it.