Overview of Anger Management

Anger is a very strong feeling and the expression of anger is frequently experienced as scary, intimidating, or threatening.  The workplace is no longer tolerating intimidating and threatening behaviors such as angry outbursts, yelling, swearing/profanity, specific threats or as excessive negative intensity generally accompanied with criticism, toxic sarcasm, or accusations.  In the past, these intimidating and threatening behaviors were used to control employees with the belief that this would make employees work harder.  Today organizations are recognizing that being positive, giving positive feedback, empathizing, and even having fun, all increase productivity. 

It is increasingly important to be able to handle and manage the intensity of your anger so that you can choose how to respond.  Aristotle said,

“Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry
with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time
and for the right purpose, and in the right way -
that is not within everyone’s power and it is not easy.”

 This quote describes the many choices that are necessary to make for you to be able to express your anger effectively.  In order for you to be able to make these choices, you need to learn how to tolerate the intensity of your anger without expressing it until you have calmed yourself down. As Aristotle said, “this is not easy,” but to be successful today, you need to learn how to make these choices within your power. 

Frequently, people blame their anger on how someone treated them and therefore, do not have to take responsibility for their angry behavior since it was not their fault.  It is hard to take responsibility for your response to someone else’s behavior, but it is necessary.  Someone may have pushed your anger button, but it is your button. It is your responsibility to know your anger triggers and learn to NOT allow them to be triggered.  If your anger is triggered, it is your responsibility to be able to tolerate your anger until you have calmed yourself down. 

When your anger is triggered, there is a very strong, quick physical response where your muscles tighten and your breathing becomes quicker.  To tolerate the intensity of your anger without responding, you need to quickly take slow deep breaths and relax your muscles.  Progressive relaxation skills allow you to slow your breathing and relax your muscles as soon as you experience your anger trigger.  Progress relaxation takes practice so that you can immediately begin to breathe slowly and deeply and at the same time cue your muscles to relax.  When you are not able to calm yourself quickly, it takes approximately 20-30 minutes for your physical response to calm down.  Progressive relaxation is a skill and a habit.  To develop a habit you need to do the habit for 30 consecutive days and to learn a skill you need to practice.  Remember, the goal is to not respond immediately before you can choose how to respond.  Until you have developed this skill, walk around your building, down and up the stairs, go to the bathroom the long way.  Any form of aerobic exercise, such  as walking helps you breathe deeply and slowly and the activity relaxes your muscles.

Everyone has words, phrases, and nonverbal behaviors that trigger their anger.  Identifying your triggers gives it a name which is a beginning step toward knowing and detaching from your trigger.  Besides words, phrases, or nonverbal behaviors; beliefs and expectations also trigger your anger.  Frequently, people think that their beliefs, expectations, and values are the same for everyone or the way they think is the right way.   The first three worksheets help you begin to know and understand your anger triggers.  Worksheet I is used weekly so you can continue to examine your angry situations and your responses.

  • Worksheet I
    What happened…A Log…Used Throughout the 10 weeks
  • Worksheet II
    Identifying the Similarities in Your Responses and Beliefs
  • Worksheet III
    Modifying Your Thoughts, Expectations, Belief, and Assumptions about Others

Once you know the beliefs and expectations that trigger your anger, you need to begin to modify these expectations and beliefs.  Most of the time, beliefs and expectations about how others should behave are not universal and absolute.  Without changing your expectations and beliefs, your anger buttons will be pushed regularly.  Recognizing that your expectations, beliefs and values are not universal and they are just yours is the beginning of being willing to modify your beliefs and expectations that trigger your anger.  As you continue to use Worksheet I:  What happened…A Log…Used Throughout the 10 weeks,  you will begin to notice that your responses in the last three columns begin to change…your immediate thoughts, beliefs about the other’s intentions, and what you expect from others. 

Everyone has distortions in how they perceive interactions and situations.  These distortions, or as A.A. says “Stinkin Thinkin,” are patterns of thinking that contribute to not accurately perceiving interactions or situations.  It is like looking through lenses where everything is red.  If you did not know you were wearing red lenses, you would think the world was red.  When you do not know your particularly patterns of distorted thinking, you misperceive what you are experiencing.  You can identify your patterns of thinking distortions by first knowing the “Thinking Distortions” and then listen to your language as you describe interactions and situations. 

The Thinking Distortions contribute to misunderstandings and misperceptions which may trigger anger.   Everyone believes what they say is very clear so they expect other people to accurately hear what they said, their intentions, and how they meant it.  The basic rule of communication is that what was said DOES NOT EQUAL what was heard.   Not understanding this rule leads to many assumptions that are frequently not accurate.  Believing that your assumptions are facts and acting as if your assumptions are the truth creates misunderstandings and difficult conversation.  The Difficult Conversations Worksheet describes what makes a conversation difficult and the skills necessary to deal with it effectively. 
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz are: 1. Be Impeccable with Your Word;  2. Don’t Take Anything Personally;  3.  Don’t Make Assumptions;  and 4.  Always Do Your Best.  These agreements are guidelines that remind you of the skills and habits you need to be able to change your initial angry reaction to effective communication.  When your language is impeccable, your language is more descriptive; and therefore, you have fewer distortions in your perceptions and self-talk.  When you do not personalize, you realize that what other’s say is not about you; it is about their expectations and beliefs so you do not get defensive.  When you do not make assumptions, you are able to use communication skills to clarify what happened.  Therefore, you do not feel anger, but understanding.  When you believe you always do your best and you accept that your best changes, then you are not getting frustrated and angry with yourself and others.  These agreements and the related skills are summarized in the Communication Reflecting the Four Agreements handout. This handout is small and you are encouraged to put it on your refrigerator or on a bulletin board so you can look at it frequently.  The book is also useful to read when you are personalizing or making a lot of assumptions.

The Anger Management Assessment and 10 Week Individual Program was developed because anger interferes with your relationships, health, and well-being.  The change in the workplace’s tolerance for anger created an additional need for an anger management program.  Today, even if someone provoked you, you are responsible for your behavior. Someone may have pushed your anger button, but it is your button. It is your responsibility to know your anger triggers and learn to NOT allow them to be triggered.  If your anger is triggered, it is your responsibility to be able to tolerate your anger until you have calmed yourself down.

Since it is hard to take responsibility for your response to someone else’s behavior, it is frequently necessary to have assistance.  Changing anger patterns and learning new skills to manage your anger takes practice and time, just as learning a new language takes practice and time.  Learning about your anger is particularly difficult; because it is hard accept the things you don’t like about yourself.  Many people who are angry deny the intensity and impact of their anger.  This tendency makes it important to discuss your anger patterns with a Confidential Employee Assistance Professional.

The Anger Management Assessment and 10 Week Individual Program is built around 3 books. 

  • McKay,  Matthew, Ph.D. and Rogers, Peter, Ph.D.  2000.  The Anger Control Workbook.   Oakland, California:  New Harbinger Publications, Inc. (on loan or sold by our office)
  • Nay, W. Robert, Ph.D 2004.  Taking Charge of Anger.  New York, New York:  Guilford Press.(on loan or sold by our office)  
  • Ruiz, Don Miguel.  1997.  The Four Agreements.  San Rafael, California:  Amber-Allen Publishing, Inc (on loan or sold by our office)

The Anger Control Workbook has useful worksheets to help you understand your anger and master new skills.  Taking Charge of Anger has an anger assessment instrument and is more descriptive about anger, its impact and how to manage it.  The Four Agreements helps you detach from your beliefs and triggers by understanding how not to personalize and make assumptions. 

The order of the handouts above reflects each week’s topic in the Anger Assessment and 10 Week Individual Program Outline. The Goals of the Anger Management Program are:

  • To be able to handle the intensity of your anger-frustration through progressive relaxation so you can choose how to respond when your anger is triggered.
  • To know your immediate/automatic thoughts, beliefs, expectations, and thinking distortions that trigger your anger buttons.
  • To modify and change your automatic thoughts, beliefs, expectation, and thinking distortions.
  • To know your anger buttons and to NOT allow them to trigger your anger.
  • To be able to communicate your thoughts and feelings in a manner that does not push others away and they can hear what you are saying.

To achieve the above goals and learn new skills to manage your anger and communicate effectively when you start to feel anger, contact the Employee Assistance Program at 815-753-9191.

For additional information, visit www.webmd.com/mental-health/default.htm  and search for anger management.   This website also has an anger assessment.


For more information on this and other topics, please visit the WebMD website at www.webmd.com/mental-health.
Please note that Northern Illinois University is not affiliated with WebMD and provides this link and any information contained within on an as is basis.