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Managing Anger

Managing Anger

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Ryan never thought he had a problem with anger.

That is, until he was arrested for suspicion of misdemeanor partner assault following a turbulent break-up with his girlfriend. As part of a plea deal, Ryan agreed to enroll in an anger management program.

An athletic trainer in Portland, Ore., Ryan, 35, recently completed a 10-week program. "The group helped me become aware of my behavioral problems," says Ryan. "I decided to stop pointing my finger at others and work on myself."

##### About the Author

Barbara Schuetze is a Portland, Ore., freelance writer who specializes in health and wellness topics. She has written for most of the major health systems in Oregon and Southwest Washington, and her work has appeared in magazines, newspapers and on the Web. She has been writing professionally since 1983.

Anger on the Rise
Ryan is not alone. Millions of Americans struggle with anger issues. A National Institute of Mental Health study indicates that up to 16 million Americans, during their lifetimes, may attack others and their possessions, causing bodily injury and property damage. Uncontrolled anger also leads to verbal abuse and behavior that is hostile, threatening and demeaning to others.

Some, like Ryan, join anger management groups or seek individual counseling with anger management professionals. Others continue to suffer the consequences of out-of-control anger and risk hurting themselves and those they care about.

Good Anger, Bad Anger
According to the American Psychological Association, "Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy human emotion. But when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems at work, in your personal relationships and in the overall quality of your life."

Unfortunately, people typically don't get assistance until a considerable amount of damage has been done. When they do seek help, they're often surprised at the changes they can make once they recognize--and take responsibility for--their anger. With the right tools, they become more aware of the effect violent emotions can have on others, and learn practical skills to deal with those emotions.

Steve, 37, a mechanical engineer living in Portland, Ore., constantly flew into a rage with his ex-wife and eldest daughter--he always felt like he was losing control. "I was concerned about the negative effect my anger would have on my three daughters and sought help."

Steve completed a 12-week anger management group and now realizes that he has a choice in how he reacts when he experiences anger. "It has totally changed my relationship with my ex-wife, and I'm starting to rebuild my relationship with my eldest daughter."

What You Can Do
Clinical psychologist David Slaughter, Ph.D., is an anger management specialist in Portland. He offers individual and group anger management therapy, but not domestic violence therapy, which is a specialized treatment program.

Dr. Slaughter runs 12-week group sessions using a workbook in tandem with other handouts. The group setting offers members a chance to discuss how they handled anger issues during the week.

Tips that people in anger management treatment receive include:

  • Take responsibility for your own behavior.
  • Recognize early physiological signs of anger such as your neck getting red, an adrenaline rush, teeth gritting, fist clenching, etc.
  • Take a time-out: Tell the person you're talking to that you need a break to cool down. Step away from the situation and go on a walk--or jog or ride your bike--if possible.
  • Practice positive self-talk, telling yourself things such as, "Anger is not going to get me anywhere" and "I can't control other people; I can only control myself."

Paul Lee, a licensed clinical social worker, is co-director of the Portland Men's Resource Center, which offers 18-week anger management groups for men who have angry acting-out behavior in public settings such as at the workplace, in bars or when caught in traffic. The center also offers domestic violence intervention groups, longer programs focused on relationships and resolving anger without abuse.

"People need to feel in charge of their own anger, and control whether they allow anger to escalate or not," explains Lee. "People have choices to make about their behavior when they're angry, and need to learn that they can feel angry and not act aggressively."

Not Just for Men
Women have problems with anger, too. Liz, 30, a project manager in Portland, realized that anger episodes were hurting her relationships at work, so much so that she saw the potential for losing her job. "My anger was easily triggered," says Liz. "I would yell at co-workers and throw things off my desk." After participating in an anger management group, Liz feels more in control and has learned ways to prevent anger episodes from happening.

So before your job is in jeopardy, your relationship is on the rocks or you end up injuring someone in a domestic violence or road rage incident--take an honest look at yourself and see if you could benefit from anger management help.

Your Life Depends on It
For additional motivation, consider your physical health. "It's been well-documented that people with high hostility and anger are at risk for cardiovascular problems, in particular, and other stress-related illnesses, such as gastrointestinal problems and headaches," notes Dr. Slaughter. "In short, angry people die about five years earlier than people who are not angry." So get treatment and live longer.

Find an anger management specialist referral through your insurance provider or via an Employee Assistance Program at work.

Reprinted with permission from

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