Self-Help Information: Anger
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Do you find yourself feeling angry much of the
time? Do you blow up over small slights or inconveniences? Do others
consider you a "hot head" or tell you that you scare them sometimes? All of
us have had times when we’ve lost our temper or gotten angrier than the
situation warrants. For some, however, being angry with everyone and
everything is a constant attitude that impacts life. They may not even be
aware of how it affects them or the others around them until it comes to a
head in an angry confrontation or they find themselves losing relationships
with people they care about because of their anger.
Anger can turn ugly when the behavior
produced becomes aggressive. Anger can be responded to in many ways, but
individuals who have not learned adequate ways to cope with their anger may
respond in a verbally or physically aggressive manner.
Anger is not all bad. Anger, like all
emotions, has a function or a purpose. For example, the purpose of fear is
to help keep us safe and the purpose of love is to bond with other people.
The purpose of anger is to let ourselves and others know that something is
wrong. When we feel hurt or betrayed by another, we feel anger. When we are
unable to reach our goals, we feel anger. When we perceive injustice, we
feel anger. Anger motivates us to try and change our world. Anger both
communicates to others and ourselves and motivates our actions. When we feel
we (or others) have been wronged, we are energized and primed for action.
Our anger can help us stand up for ourselves and let others know our
The Two-Step Process of Emotion
To understand anger, it is helpful to understand emotions in
general. McKay, Rogers and McKay describe anger and other feelings as a
two-part process requiring some sort of arousal plus a triggering thought or
interpretation that determines the emotion felt.
Arousal + Interpretation = Emotion
For example, if someone steps on my toe I will feel pain and
arousal. My heart will start beating fast with the experience of physical
pain. Those reactions are automatic and I have little control over my
initial physical response. The emotion I experience, however, is not
automatic and will be influenced by my interpretation of the event. If I
perceive that it was an accident and the person feels badly, I may feel
compassion for the person, even though I am in physical pain. If I perceive
that the individual stepped on my toe on purpose, I may feel angry and that
it shouldn’t have happened. Thus, it is our interpretation of events that
are the key to our experience of emotion, not the events themselves. Someone
who is angry much of the time interprets many events and situations in ways
that are more likely to produce angry feelings than other feelings.
There are many ways we interpret situations that are likely to produce
the feeling of anger. If I am overly sensitive to rejection, I may interpret
meaningless interactions as a sign that someone is rejecting me. If I have a
strict code of conduct, I may become angry whenever anyone else does not
meet my standards. I may interpret others attempts to win a game as a sign
that they are putting me down. Individuals who feel anger frequently tend to
interpret many events in anger producing ways. If you find yourself angry
frequently, you may want to examine your interpretations.
Tips to Help Decrease Your Anger
Prior to experiencing anger:
Identify issues and situations that are likely to get you angry.
What are your buttons, those things that you are most sensitive to?
Can you change the situation or decrease your exposure to it?
Imagine how you might react differently the next time the
situation arises. How would you like to respond differently? Ask
others how they would respond. Develop a plan of how you would like
to respond next time.
When you find yourself feeling angry, do the following:
Take a break. Give yourself a chance to cool down and evaluate
what is going on.
Analyze the situation. What is the anger telling you? Is this a time
when the anger is letting you know something needs to change? If so,
consider possible ways to respond and determine which is most likely to
have the desired effect.
Examine your feelings. Is there another feeling beneath the anger?
Sometimes we experience anger when we are afraid, feel threatened, or
Examine your stressors. Are you feeling under stress that may
contribute to your feelings of anger? Are you tired or hungry?
Examine your interpretation of the event. What are alternate
interpretations for the event? Might someone have acted unintentionally?
Are other needs competing with your own? What expectations are you
bringing to the situation?
Examine the importance of the event. Is this matter worth your
continued attention or is it unimportant?
After going through the above steps, consider possible responses to
Change your behavior so you are not in the situation again.
Talk with the person involved to let them know your feelings.
Drop it and go on to something else.
Do something to decrease your arousal such as relaxation or
Recommended Books to Read
When Anger Hurts: Quieting the Storm Within. Matthew McKay, Peter D.
Rogers, & Judith McKay, Oakland, CA: New Harbinger, 1989.
The Angry Self: A Comprehensive Approach to Anger Management.
Miriam M. Gottlieb, PhD, 1999.
The Dance of Anger. Harriet Goldhor Lerner, PhD, 1985.
Angry All the Time: An Emergency Guide to Anger
Control. Ron Potter-Efron, Oakland CA: New
Need Additional Help?
Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine
Counseling and Wellness Services offer free individual counseling for these
and related issues for veterinary students (WSU Veterinary Students ONLY).
For more information or to schedule an appointment call or e-mail:
Donna J. Scott, PhD
The information contained in these self help
documents is not to be used as a substitute for professional care. Neither
the authors, Washington State University nor the College of Veterinary
Medicine assume liability for injury incurred by following the information
presented in these self-help documents