Introduction to Anger Management
In my capacity as an outpatient psychologist, I have worked with
people for over two decades. There are lots of major “issues” I deal
with every week. They are: mood and anxiety disorders, problems with
relationships, work problems, self-esteem issues, child behavior problems,
ADHD and/or learning disabilities, assertiveness and addictions.
While anger management is not really considered a “clinical” syndrome,
in fact, it does exacerbate the symptoms and behaviors in each of the
above areas. Some, including myself, assert that not dealing with one’s
feelings, especially anger, is asking for trouble, and leads to
One in five Americans has an anger problem. Anger is one of the
more maligned feelings. However, anger is a natural human emotion and
is nature's way of empowering us to "ward off" threats to our well-being.
It varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage.
Anger can be caused by both external and internal events. You can be
angry with a specific person (such as a coworker or supervisor) or event
(a traffic jam, a cancelled flight). Anger can be caused by a current or
historic event. Worrying or brooding about personal problems can cause
Dynamically speaking, anger is one of many feelings that occur when
something is in our way. It is not the only feeling that can emerge in
the face of resistance, but anger is the big one that mobilizes energy to
overcome the resistance to achieving an objective. Notice this does not
preclude the irrational or unreasonable, nor big or small events, personal
(internally psychological) or external. Memories of traumatic or enraging
events can also trigger angry feelings. Anger is central to the functioning
of the self-preservation and self-defense instincts.
A small percentage of authors think anger is not a primary; rather, a
secondary emotion, derived from and resting upon the foundation of the
deeper experience of fear. For example, when I am afraid, if I become
angry, fear is masked and at the same time my energy is mobilized.
I include this perspective in the interest of thoroughness; however, I,
personally, think anger is one of the primary feelings, even though it
does “get me going” to meet demands, in this case, to escape something
In the broader literature there are eight primary feelings--anger,
love, happy, sad, fear, disgust, surprise and shame. I think hurt is
also a primary feeling, different from these eight, so I talk about nine
primary feelings. I mention hurt, because when expressed it looks like
anger, although its subjective experience is different. In an Ebook
I’ve written on The Five Steps of Assertiveness, I list almost eight
hundred synonyms or phrases for the nine feeling words. I have 126 just
for anger, and this list is not exhaustive. As one client put it, “I
always thought anger was only about seeing red, losing control.” He did
not see irritation, frustration or other such feelings as being related to
The above are some general “Western” psychological perspectives about
anger. Recently, a Buddhist-derived “psychology” has emerged that also
addresses anger. (This orientation to anger actually pre-dates modern
thinking by two millennium.) Couched in the language of “mindfulness,”
Buddhist thought suggests that anger is the product of a deluded mind.
In this case the mind pays more attention to objects, be they external or
internal representations of those objects. The mind then exaggerates the
bad qualities of said objects, and then becomes aggressive; hence the
emergence of a wish to malign, hurt or destroy. Buddhism suggests this
is because the mind, being out of balance and control, does not perceive
accurately, and then distorts its own reactions, in this case negatively.
The practice of Buddhism is about changing the mind to accurately
exist in harmony with itself and nature, hence quelling negative reactions
to feelings. Radical Buddhists argue that anger serves no useful purpose
whatsoever. Having understood the nature and disadvantages of anger, we
then need to watch our mind carefully at all times in order to recognize
whenever it begins to arise.
Some therapists and authors think the problem is not anger itself;
rather, the mismanagement of anger. Mismanaged anger and/or rage are the
major cause of conflict in our personal and professional relationships.
The idea that anger is dangerous is not without merit. Angry people are
capable of great violence. However, while anger can certainly be abused,
it is more than a simple destructive force.