When you are faced with a situation that provokes your anger, learn to stop and reflect before responding. Follow these steps:
- Immediately stop how you are thinking and acting at the first sign you are getting angry. If pictures help you, imagine a big red stop sign.
- Practice deep breathing and/or repeat a relaxation cue (for example, repeating the word calm or cool) to yourself if you have the opportunity.
- Reflect and try to identify the emotional trigger that has set you off. Ask yourself:
- What thoughts are going through my head?
- How am I feeling?
- What is my body doing?
- Am I responding to a real problem or to an incomplete first impression?
- What do I want from the situation I'm faced with? (If your answer is "revenge", then ask yourself if the situation is really worth getting worked up about)
- What would the likely consequences be if I act out in an aggressive, angry way?
- What are alternative ways I could respond to this situation that might help resolve it rather than make it worse?
- Choose how you want to respond. Work to come up with an assertive response rather than an aggressive one.
- Then (and only then) ... Respond
Often, in the heat of an angering situation, you can feel that things are happening too fast and that you don't have time to follow these anger management steps. This perception of pressure may itself be an illusion, supported by the intense arousal you feel as a result of your anger. You may not really have to respond quickly. You may have more time to respond then you think you have.
If you find yourself getting too hot you may be able to excuse yourself for a short 'time out' during which you go through the anger management steps outlined above. Disengage with a polite statement, such as "I'm upset now. I'll return in a few minutes and talk with you about what happened." Time out sessions are wonderful ways of interrupting your anger process. When you return to the situation you'll be refreshed and better able to approach it with a new mind and an assertive rather than aggressive approach.
If you can't take a break while under pressure, try these steps:
- Make intermittent eye contact with the person you're confronting. Don't stare, however. Staring is often perceived as aggressive. An intermediate amount of eye contact will suggest your courage and willingness to stand up for yourself.
- Use "I" statements to express your feelings or make a request. The goal is to let the other person know where you stand - not to beat them up or belittle them.
- When you're listening to what someone else has to say, listen actively. Don't "yes, but" them. When you "yes, but" someone, you turn the spotlight away from the person you are responding to and back onto yourself.
- State your needs and your common goals with the person. This can be difficult when feeling angry and defensive, but it is vital for creating an empathetic mood.
- Assess whether or not you've been heard. Did the person you're confronting hear and understand what you were saying? If so, continue your conversation. If he or she is too angry to understand what you were saying, try restating yourself in a different way. Keep in mind that the person you are talking to may also have a problem controlling their anger, and may not be able to use the same control techniques you are using. If it seems that communication is impossible, disengage until another time.
- Refuse to be pushed into a premature reaction. If you need more time, buy that time by stalling. If your choice is to either lose control, or leave the situation, then choose to leave the situation. It is better to remain in control.
Practice Makes Perfect
Thought you will get plenty of opportunities to practice your anger management techniques during the course of your life, you can also practice anger management techniques through the use of role playing exercises designed to simulate your anger triggers.
Role playing can be done alone or with a partner (or partners). Make a list of the triggers that set you off, and then come up with various situations in which you might be faced with those triggers.
If you are working alone, stand in front of a mirror and, much like a professional actor might approach the task, take on the role of yourself talking with someone who has angered you. Standing in front of the mirror allows you to observe your face and body language as you speak. Now, try to really get into the role. Imagine the person you are speaking with in detail, including how that person acts towards you as you say different things to him or her. Say the things you want to say out loud to that imagined person as though he or she was really there. Work your anger management techniques into your imagined interaction so that you get a chance to practice them. You might feel somewhat self-conscious doing this at first, but if you can get past this initial anxiety, you may find the exercise helpful and absorbing.
If you have access to a partner (a friend or a therapist) who can play the role of someone you're upset with, so much the better. It is easier to get into the role when you have a real person to direct your emotions toward. Explain the scene that pushes your buttons to your partner and then act that scene out between the two of you. Be sure and practice your anger management techniques while interacting with your partner. Try to stay in character and maintain control for as long as you can.