Cornerstone Family Services > Resources > Blog > Anger Management

4 Ways to Keep your Temper When You Want to Blow

Share Button

4 Ways to Keep your Temper When You Want to Blow

By Shaunti Feldhahn

While doing some research for my next book, I realized something important: when we are angry, most of us handle it wrong! Here are four ways to keep ourselves from (forgive the Marvel reference) turning into a big green rage monster when we otherwise really want to!

1. In advance, realize: “venting” only makes things worse! Most of us have bought into the idea that letting a little steam out of the kettle now prevents it from exploding later, right? And taking a few minutes to vent to or about your spouse, child or boss just feels quite satisfying when we have steam pouring out of our ears. The problem is, it turns out, it hurts instead of helping.

Neuroscientists such as Dr. Brad Bushman at Ohio State have discovered that actually expressing the anger we feel further activates an interconnected anger system in the brain and makes the kettle boil that much more. So while we can certainly express anger any time we want to, the question is whether we should if we want to keep her temper in check and preserve a relationship, a job, or our sanity.

2. Instead of “letting off steam,” remove yourself from the heat. If we’re boiling and don’t want to be, the researchers suggest the equivalent of putting the lid on tight and removing the pot from the heat. When we decide to be calm (see below), it is the equivalent of smothering the anger and denying it oxygen to burn. And when we remove or distract ourselves from whatever is making us furious, we find our anger cooling off until, in many cases, we’re simply not angry anymore.

So when your co-worker expresses frustration that the boss made everyone work late last night, instead of chiming in with the “Yeah, and guess what else?!” additional grievances, calmly say “Yep, that was frustrating. So about these quarterly numbers…” And if the other person persists, excuse yourself, go back to your cube, and force yourself to think something more healthy. Like what else you were working on. Or that dream Caribbean vacation.

(One hint for husbands or boyfriends, though: given what we discovered in our research about how women are wired, if you have to remove yourself from an emotional conflict, be sure to reassure your wife or girlfriend that you two are okay and you’ll be able to talk about it later. That gives her the reassurance of your love that she needs to give you space without simmering and venting, herself.)

3. Before you speak, pause. So how do you manage to respond “calmly” to your coworker (or spouse, or in laws…) when you’re just as mad as he or she is? Here’s the answer: force yourself to pause for a few seconds before you reply. Seriously. That allows your will to catch up with your roiling emotions, so you can decide to handle your words well. (If I reply to this now, it’s only going to make it worse. Best to ask if we can continue this conversation at 1:30.) More important, if you’re a person of faith, it also gives God a chance to touch your heart and steer your reply before you forge ahead with guns blazing, and cause casualties you’ll regret later.

So when you’re worried about your son’s progress in school and seven shades of upset that your husband didn’t agree to hire a tutor to help him, force yourself to pause and get your thoughts together before you speak. “Think before you speak” is one of the earliest lessons we teach our kids, and yet sometimes we forget it as adults. We need to relearn that skill, especially when it comes to those relationships that are most important to us.

4. Apologize. Since we will not always do it right, despite all those strategies, we also need to practice apologies each and every time they are needed. “I’m sorry, honey. I know you care about Billy, and I shouldn’t have ever implied that you didn’t. Will you forgive me?” You don’t need to necessarily agree (“Maybe this weekend, we could talk more specifically about why I think a tutor is so important, and how we can get the money to pay for it”) but you do need to apologize.

This is in part because our research with the happiest relationships found that we need to keep short accounts, be willing to make up, and always ask for forgiveness when we have wronged someone else – regardless of whether they have wronged us too. But also because if we know we’re going to have to apologize if we let our temper run away with us, we’ll be far less likely to do it next time!

Tell yourself venting will make it worse. Remove yourself from the frustrating situation or focus on something else. Pause to let your ability to make a good choice catch up with you. And apologize if you don’t. Try those simple, simple actions for just a few weeks and you’ll find yourself handling difficult feelings so well, you won’t even remember the big green rage monster any more.

If you would like help with your anger, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor or coach.

The Anger Iceberg

Share Button

The Anger Iceberg

By The Gottman Institute

[Sometimes] anger is an emotion we use to cover up feelings we don’t want to show. Learning to identify when anger isn’t really what we’re feeling is important for helping…identify and cope with their emotions.


If you would like help with anger struggles, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a coach or counselor.

Why Your Anger Builds Until You Explode

Share Button

Why Your Anger Builds Until You Explode

Profile of man screaming.By Brent Flory

Do you struggle to keep your temper in check? Do you find yourself feeling angrier throughout the day until you are ready to lose control? Is it all you can do to not take out your work frustrations on your family?

Once at basketball practice in high school, I became so incensed by a teammate’s trash talking that I picked him up in a bearhug, determined to hurt him. After about five seconds of awkwardly holding him in the air, I remembered that I had no idea how to fight, so I put him down and we moved on with practice.

Unfortunately, too many stories of people becoming furious end in great harm or tragedy, rather than the comedy of my high school experience. Whether it is road rage, shootings, or some other situation, we are all too familiar with examples of people becoming angry to the point of violence.

What is going on within us that can drive us to this point of losing control?

According to the search of psychologist Dolf Zillmann, anger is evoked when we believe our safety is in jeopardy, whether we are talking physical, emotional, or psychological safety. We can become just as angry if someone hurts our feelings or wounds our pride as we do when we feel physically threatened.

The Effects of Anger on Our Brain

1. It triggers a release of catecholamines, prepping the body with energy for the fight-or flight response.

You have a sudden influx of energy, so you are prepared to take action and combat your opponent, or run depending upon whether or not you fear them.

2. It triggers adrenocortical arousal, keeping you on edge for hours or even days.

This longer reaction keeps you ready to fight or take flight much more quickly in case the threat returns, or another shows up. This is why people who have had a difficult day are so quick to escalate and blow up if something else happens.

How Your Anger Builds

When a high-rise apartment complex is being constructed, the building gets taller as each floor is added on top of the others. Anger works in a similar fashion. According to Dr. Zillmann, anger builds upon itself. After the initial event that makes you angry, you are on edge, and every incident or thought that incites you further grows the level of your outrage.

For example:

  • At breakfast, your spouse comments that she is concerned about your weight gain, which you interpret as an intended insult.
  • As you are getting into your car, your neighbor criticizes how your lawn looks for the fourth time in the last two weeks.
  • Your manager yells at you and blames you personally for your team being late in completing the design prototype. To make matters worse, his outburst takes place in front of your team and you feel humiliated.
  • On the drive home, you keep ruminating on how your boss embarrassed you, replaying the situation through your mind over and over again.
  • After dinner, you ask your teenager about her homework, and when she gives a sarcastic response, you blow up at her.

Each incident that upsets you and comes later in this process evokes a far higher level of anger than if it had been an isolated occurrence. Just as the apartment complex reaches higher and higher, so does uncheck anger until it builds into unfiltered rage.

This building process has to be interrupted before you lose control.


5 Tactics That Empower You to Master Your Anger

Share Button

5 Tactics That Empower You to Master Your Anger

There Can Be Only One Winner Between Your Anger and You

By Brent Flory

I’m a pretty emotional guy. I also grew up watching Walker, Texas Ranger. These two seemingly random facts combine to explain how I used to mentally cope with angry people when I worked in customer service.

If I was being berated by a customer, I would appear to listen intently, nod, and imagine myself giving them Chuck Norris’ classic spinning heel kick. Then I would reenter reality, fix the problem, and move on with my day.

There was just one problem: if someone really upset me, the spinning heel kick fantasy didn’t make me feel better for long. I would spend the rest of the day thinking about that person. My daydreams would alternate between yelling back at them, coming up with the perfectly witty response, or perfecting my spinning heel kick.

Are you finding your attempts to cope with anger about as effective as mine in the past? I wrote last week about how our anger can build into uncontrollable rage. Attempting to ignore or stifle our anger doesn’t work. Fantasizing about revenge, ruminating over what happened, and fiercely expressing your anger end up increasing it instead of reducing it.

Tips On How to Cope With Anger

???????????????????????????????????????????When you shake a bottle of soda, even slowly, the pressure will build and build within it. If you take the cap off quickly, the soda will explode everywhere. We work the same way. If we try to ignore our emotions, they will build within us until we eventually explode. In respect to anger, this explosion results far too often in disaster.

When something or someone upsets you, you have to learn how to relieve the pressure gradually in healthy ways.

Here are some of the ways to cope with situations that evoke anger.

1. Identify what you are feeling as anger.

This first point may seem simplistic, but if you tend to avoid or fear your emotions, you may struggle to identify your feelings. Being able to say, “I am feeling angry right now,” is important for several reasons.

  • Knowledge is power. You have to know what you are dealing with in order to do anything about it. Understanding accurately what is happening within you is a crucial step.
  • It makes you responsible to make a change. Anger assigns blame onto others. Let me be clear, being responsible for your anger doesn’t justify how someone may have wounded you. But if you want to learn how to process your anger in a productive, healthy way, you must take responsibility for it.

2. Deal with your anger before it builds.

In the past I’ve written about how the way our bodies cope with anger is similar to the process of a skyscraper being built. When you are having a difficult day, your anger stacks on top of itself, and can get to the point where a seemingly minor transgression can send you spinning into outrage.

A key aspect of taking responsibility for your anger is choosing to not allow it to build. This means my aforementioned Walker, Texas Ranger strategy is not a healthy option. Fantasizing, ruminating, and other such techniques that keep you replaying the offending event through your mind time and time again don’t calm you down, they make you angrier.

3. Find healthier ways to feel empowered.

Yoda: But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the force, are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever it will dominate your destiny…

Luke: …Is the dark side stronger?

Yoda: No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

As Yoda points out, anger is quicker, easier, and seductive. It feels very empowering, which is a great part of its allure. Again, anger is not necessarily a bad thing. But working through anger properly is very challenging.

“Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” —Aristotle

One of the best ways to feel empowered in relationships without losing control of your anger is learning to use assertive language. Assertive language enables you to share your feelings and needs while maintaining your composure.

Assertive statements:

  • Use I statements (“I feel hurt when…”)
  • Address behaviors (“I feel hurt when you don’t take out the trash.”)
  • Are specific about what they want (“I would really appreciate it if in the future you would take out the trash when it is full.”)

Assertive language does not:

  • Use you statements (“You always…”)
  • Attack the person’s character (“You always screw everything up.”)
  • Threaten (“If you don’t grow up, I will leave you.”)
  • Criticize without giving ways to improve (“You can’t you get anything right.”)

4. Walk it off.

Going for a walk is a helpful in coping with anger in several ways. Walking allows you to:

  • Separate you from the angering situation so you can begin to cool down, emotionally and physically.
  • Create space to process how the situation is affecting you. *Consider how you should respond to the person who has upset you.

5. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

One of the most crucial skills to acquire in mastering anger is the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes. When you are wounded by someone else, your instinctive reaction is to think that they hurt you on purpose.

Instead of immediately reacting, taking a moment to pause and consider, “I wonder what they were thinking when they said that,” could be the difference between keeping and losing a meaningful relationship.

Nothing will destroy your life more quickly than uncontrolled anger. You must take responsibility for it and learn how to cope with it well. If you choose not to, it will take apart your career and family. However, with hard work and practice, you can gain mastery over it. And leave the spinning heel kicks to my favorite ‘90s TV show.

What is Anger? How is it Expressed?

Share Button

The Nature of Anger

angerAnger is “an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage,” according to Charles Spielberger, PhD, a psychologist who specializes in the study of anger. Like other emotions, it is accompanied by physiological and biological changes; when you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, as do the levels of your energy hormones, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.

Anger can be caused by both external and internal events. You could be angry at a specific person (Such as a coworker or supervisor) or event (a traffic jam, a canceled flight), or your anger could be caused by worrying or brooding about your personal problems. Memories of traumatic or enraging events can also trigger angry feelings.

Expressing Anger

The instinctive, natural way to express anger is to respond aggressively. Anger is a natural, adaptive response to threats; it inspires powerful, often aggressive, feelings and behaviors, which allow us to fight and to defend ourselves when we are attacked. A certain amount of anger, therefore, is necessary to our survival.

On the other hand, we can’t physically lash out at every person or object that irritates or annoys us; laws, social norms, and common sense place limits on how far our anger can take us.

People use a variety of both conscious and unconscious processes to deal with their angry feelings. The three main approaches are expressing, suppressing, and calming.

Expressing your angry feelings in an assertive—not aggressive—manner is the healthiest way to express anger. To do this, you have to learn how to make clear what your needs are, and how to get them met, without hurting others. Being assertive doesn’t mean being pushy or demanding; it means being respectful of yourself and others.

Anger can be suppressed, and then converted or redirected. This happens when you hold in your anger, stop thinking about it, and focus on something positive. The aim is to inhibit or suppress your anger and convert it into more constructive behavior. The danger in this type of response is that if it isn’t allowed outward expression, your anger can turn inward—on yourself. Anger turned inward may cause hypertension, high blood pressure, or depression.

Unexpressed anger can create other problems. It can lead to pathological expressions of anger, such as passive-aggressive behavior (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on) or a personality that seems perpetually cynical and hostile. People who are constantly putting others down, criticizing everything, and making cynical comments haven’t learned how to constructively express their anger. Not surprisingly, they aren’t likely to have many successful relationships.

Finally, you can calm down inside. This means not just controlling your outward behavior, but also controlling your internal responses, taking steps to lower your heart rate, calm yourself down, and let the feelings subside.

As Dr. Spielberger notes, “when none of these three techniques work, that’s when someone—or something—is going to get hurt.”

Post adapted from “What is Anger?” by the American Psychological Association

If you would like help learning to manage your anger, whether expressed or suppressed in their various forms, please contact CornerStone at 614-459-3003.