Anger is a universal, natural and understandable emotion. Anger is an unpleasant feeling often experienced when you perceive an event as unfair or undeserved; after you think you have been mistreated; or when you are involved in a disagreement. Anger can result in a desire to strike back at the assumed cause of this unpleasant feeling. Angry thoughts trigger more angry feelings. Anger has physical signs such as a flushed face, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, sweating, and the release of stress hormones. It often includes behaviors that are culturally influenced such as yelling, clenching fists or pouting. Anger can involve protecting self-interest or defending causes or principles such as honor. Anger often appears with feelings of depression and anxiety (Schiraldi, & Hallmark Kerr, 2002).
The average adult gets angry once a day and irritated about three times a day (Schiraldi, & Hallmark Kerr, 2002). Considering the frequency of the experience of anger and the fact that unmanaged anger is a cause of relapse, one can see why learning about anger management is so important to reducing your risk of relapse. Anger is a common response to:
- Other people when they hurt us or don’t do what we expect of them
- Situations like traffic jams, a computer glitch or losing something
- Ourselves when we fail to meet personal goals, don’t acknowledge our limitations or use negative self talk (Schiraldi, & Hallmark Kerr, 2002).
Certain thinking habits clearly intensify anger. One example is thinking that all offenses are deliberate. Everything negative that happens is a deliberate jab at me. The most common explanation for the frequency and intensity of anger is that many people simply have not learned the skills of anger management, and the physiological reasons behind anger (Schiraldi, & Hallmark Kerr, 2002).
Anger can be a physical response of the body to inadequate rest, inadequate recreation, poor physical or mental health, poor nutrition, and the influence of alcohol or drugs. This is one of the reasons taking care of the basics as outlined in Chapter 3 is so important. Occasional anger causes no lasting harm. Chronic anger keeps the body in a constant state of emergency and may contribute to digestive disorders, hypertension, heart disease, infections, headaches, and more. People may use anger as a defense against; guilt, hurt or loss, feeling helpless or trapped, anxiety or fear, feeling bad, feeling wrong or unworthy, or feeling empty and frustrated (McKay, M., Rogers, & McKay, J., 1989). Everyone has sometimes used anger to defend against painful feelings.
Problems occur when using anger as a response becomes a habit and when the frequency and the intensity of anger begin to negatively affect health and relationships. The person who has low self-esteem and feels worthless may blow up at the slightest provocation rather than face self doubt. The person who has difficulty acknowledging fear may attack and blame rather than face their discomfort. The person whose judgment is clouded by drugs or alcohol turns to anger more frequently. Think about your experiences of anger and answer the following questions:
Now, try to answer the questions again, this time specifically for when you were angry and intoxicated with drugs or alcohol. Then compare your answers to questions 1 to 4 with questions 5 to 8.
Discuss your anger response with a trusted non-using family member or friend. See if your answers to the above eight questions match theirs. Take the time to learn more about anger and decide if gaining the necessary skills to manage anger will be one of your priority goals. Check out specific anger management resources to assess and improve your skills. Try effective and easy to use evidence based workbooks like “The Anger Control Workbook, Simple, innovative techniques for managing anger and developing healthier ways of relating,” by Mathew McKay & Peter Rogers. It is well worth developing increased anger management skills to reduce stress and to become more effective in relationships, even if anger is not a major problem for you. Always seek professional help if anger is a particularly troubling issue for you and if your anger response involves any level of physical violence.