• Sean Cuthbert

Anger management

Updated: Oct 13, 2018

A primary focus in the presentation for counselling for many men is their experience of anger. "I don't want to be angry" or "My wife tells me my anger is a problem" is often the explicit or implied message that many clients give early on in treatment. This might be a message coming from them, or they are getting from the people close to them. Many clients referred through the criminal justice system are actually directed to community programs that sell themselves as "anger management". Technically speaking, I would dispute that anger is ever a problem. Anger is a natural emotion that we all feel on a daily basis. Like all emotions, anger gives us information about who or what is important to us, and what is getting in the way of this. What is often a problem is the behavioural response to anger, and how when this response starts to manifest in a way that hurts others (through the use of verbal or physical abuse) or themselves (through habitual flooding ones system with cortisol thereby having an adverse effect on blood pressure). There are plethora of approaches to anger in counselling, but a lot of them look primarily at "angry thoughts", teaching cognitive skills like "thought challenging" which sideslines the focus on the primary aspect of an anger response - the physical. Anger manifests itself physiologically before it does cognitively (i.e., you sense anger before you think anger), so being able to notice the physical correlates of anger as it arises and the impulse to act out, and then take reparative action to calm yourself (assuming the situation calls for it) so your frontal lobes can come online and you can think through a less destructive response is a key skill to develop. So consider what are the physical signs that you are becoming angry?

I've heard clients describe a multitude of ways they notice anger in their bodies: fists clenching, becoming flushed, prickly sensations, numbness, sudden sweats, muscle tension and tightness, clenched fists, activation in the chest, feeling nauseated - the list goes on. The earlier you can become aware that something has triggered anger, the more likely it is that you can activate some basic physiological calming skills to bring you back to emotional equilibrium. But the noticing of your particular experience of anger is the first step. Without that piece, it's unlikely that the behavioural response to anger will be managed.

© 2020 created by Sean Cuthbert, Clinical Psychologist