Controlling Anger – Taming the Tiger in You

Controlling anger isn’t something tigers have to think about. These are incredibly beautiful creatures. They represent concepts of pure wildness, untamed beauty, strength and power. Tigers have a reputation for being unpredictable and incredibly dangerous. Keeping a tiger as a pet is definitely inadvisable. It is their wildness that we admire most. A tiger doesn’t need to apologise for being a tiger.

Unlike tigers, we sometimes need to be able to control our anger. Anger is sometimes a perfectly natural response to a situation. Like all emotions it is a signal that something needs to change, and there is something new to learn.

However sometimes we experience inappropriate levels of anger. Then is time to consider ways to manage our emotions better.

As human beings we like to think of ourselves as more sophisticated – master of our emotions, civilised, and masters of ourselves. So what happens when we get angry? What happens when we lash out or lose our temper, maybe even go over the top and cause hurt and sadness in others we care about?

Controlling anger is a complex subject. The causes of inappropriate or chronic anger are many, and the solutions vary. At the same time there are a few small changes that we can make to make it easier to deal with angry outbursts in future.

1. What is the emotion?

When you first start feeling angry, if you can, try to notice what exactly you are feeling. Are you angry, or are you hurt? Could it even be sadness or fear?

Part of this is simply about awareness and paying attention to your feelings rather than suppressing them.

Anger is often a powerful mask for other emotions too. This isn’t about repressing the feelings, just understanding better what is going on. And yes, it could still be plain old anger!

2. Choose a better word

Having said that, the word ‘anger’ or ‘angry’ is quite a powerful one. Just saying or thinking that you are ‘angry’ is enough to increase the intensity and build yourself up for an outburst.

Having a better vocabulary for your emotions can give you more flexibility in your behaviour.

Here are a few alternative words on the spectrum of the emotion of anger:

Furious, seething, mad, fuming, enraged, cross, annoyed, irritated, bothered, peeved, exasperated, irked, piqued, displeased, ticked off, bothered, ratty.

Can you see how the choice of word could be important here? If you feel angry, are you fuming, or are you just a bit exasperated? Choosing the most accurate word, or even deliberately choosing a word slightly lower in intensity, can really help keep things in perspective.

3. Is there a pattern?

A favourite word in the anger management world is ‘trigger’. And yes, there can be specific things that set you off. Often specific situations may remind you of situations in the past where you felt angry, and ‘trigger’ a similar emotional response.

I am a little cautious about the language of ‘triggering’, because I think some people see a ‘trigger’ as an excuse to be angry. In that sense, being aware of a trigger may actually make you more likely to have an outburst. If there are set things that tend to make you see red, then maybe ask yourself what it is about that experience that makes you feel angry?

The trigger is an example of something more subtle that is going on. Ask yourself ‘why’ the trigger makes you angry and you uncover a belief about yourself or the world. Beliefs that constantly trigger excessive negative emotion are probably not serving us, and a belief can be changed.

Look for patterns in your behaviour. There may be practical things that you can pay attention to for controlling anger more effectively. It may be that you are worse when you are tired. Alcohol may tend to make you more negative and emotional. It could even be low blood sugar.

4. Don’t vent

There is a school of thought that expressing anger gets the emotion out and makes you feel better.

There may be an element of truth in this over a short period, but on the whole ranting about how angry something makes you is probably going to make you hold on to it more.

I am involved in facebook groups where anger is a theme, and many people vent on that group. Those who do so tend to remain in the group and continue to vent. It doesn’t seem to do them a lot of good and it certainly doesn’t benefit those reading it.

I strongly recommend that if you are on a Facebook group where people express their anger, you consider coming off it and find something more positive to help you.

5. Learn more

There is always more that we can learn about ourselves. When ever you find yourself lashing out, or getting unreasonably angry, learn from it. As I am fond of saying, there is no failure, only feedback. Every experience is a learning experience.

Sit down and write down what happened. Start from the point where you felt fine and tell the story of what happened. As I said, this is not about venting, it is about analysing the experience. This is where patterns may come to the fore. It is where you can more accurately describe the level and nature of the emotion you were feeling.

The other side of learning more is to find out more about controlling anger. Watch videos, read books and articles. Understanding what is going on is a big step towards overcoming the issue itself.

I doubt tigers are truly erratic. The reason tigers seem unpredictable in their behaviour is more likely to be a lack of our understanding of what makes them what they are.

Robert Sanders is a therapist and life coach, supporting people in their present and helping them create their future.