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What is problem Anger?
Anger can take lots of different forms and is normal human emotion. There’s nothing wrong with being angry in itself and in some circumstances we can see it as justified. It is when we overreact to anger, responding in a way that is out of proportion to the situation, that it can cause problems. Anger expressed either externally or internally can be destructive in our relationships with others and ourselves.
People who have problem anger generally have difficulty with experiencing frequent and intense feelings of anger which they find difficult to control. Problem anger is also associated with the knock on effect of difficulty controlling anger. This includes breakdown of relationships, other mood problems (anxiety and depression), and negative impact on physical health. Common signs of problem anger can include:
- Feeling tense, on-edge and having difficulty relaxing
- Becoming easily and frequently angered and having difficulty letting go of this feeling
- Breaking things and/or becoming violent when you feel angry
- Difficulties in relations with friends, family and work colleagues
- Anger which is disproportionate to the situation or trigger
- Experiencing other mood problems such as feelings down or excessively worried/anxious
- Excessive alcohol use
What keeps problem anger going?
The cognitive behavioural approach to understanding anger problems pinpoints the following factors as maintaining problem anger.
- Unhelpful, rigid beliefs and rules for ourselves and others and about how the world should work generally. We can think of anger being trigger when one of these internal rules is broken.
- Overly demanding thinking. Anger is associated with words like should, must and ought
- Lack of inhibition. Inhibitions are internal rules which tell us that it not appropriate to get angry with certain people or in certain situations. If we don’t have these It’s like a car without a brake
- Inability to express the feelings beneath anger. Anger is a primary or surface emotion and often relates to other emotions beneath such as hurt, loss, shame, guilt and a sense of powerless/helplessness.
- Other emotions problems such as anxiety, depression and self-esteem issues can often be at the heart of anger problems.
- Difficulty controlling feelings of anger. Sometimes due to experiences and upbringing people fail to learn strategies for controlling their anger.
How can CBT help?
CBT for anger tends to focus on the maintaining factors mentioned above:
- Recognising triggers and understanding the cycle of unhelpful cognitive and behavioural responses to anger
- Identifying and challenging unhelpful rules and thinking associated with anger
- Developing skills for managing the physical response of anger
- Developing more assertive ways of dealing with relationship difficulties
- Developing ways of understanding and expressing underlying feelings associated with anger
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