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Anger Management

Anger Diary And Triggers

Harry Mills, Ph.D.

Anger Plan

hands writing on paperAnger ratings help you to become aware of your anger, but they won't help you stop being angry. In order to lessen your anger before it gets out of control, you'll want to develop an anger plan listing out things you can do to calm yourself down. For example, part of your plan might be to take a 'time-out' when you start getting upset; to temporarily remove yourself from the situation that is provoking you so as to provide yourself with a space in which to calm down. Another way to lessen anger might be to move the conversation away from what is bothering you and towards a more neutral topic. There are lots of things you can do to lessen an angry situation once you start thinking about it. The best of them help you to effectively keep yourself calm without damaging your pride. As each person has unique strengths and weaknesses, each person's list of strategies for defusing anger will be slightly different.

Anger Diary

Rage ratings help you understand just how angry you feel in certain situations, but they don't do much for predicting what situations are likely to set you off in the first place. "Prevention is the best medicine" as the saying goes. Being able to predict what situations will cause anger will be a tremendous tool in helping you keep your temper under control. You can choose to avoid these provoking situations entirely, or, if that is not possible, you can prepare yourself with ways to lower the danger of your losing control prior to entering your dangerous situations.

An anger diary or journal can be a useful tool to help you track your experiences with anger. Make daily entries into your diary that document the situations you encounter that angered you. In order to make the diary most useful, there are particular types of information you'll want to record for each provoking event:

  • What happened that gave you pain or made you feel stressed?
  • What was provocative about the situation?
  • What thoughts were going through your mind?
  • On a scale of 0-100 how angry did you feel? (Rage Rating)
  • What was the effect of your behavior on you, on others?
  • Were you already nervous, tense, and pressured about something else? If so, what?
  • How did your body respond? Did you notice your heart racing, your palms sweating?
  • Did your head hurt?
  • Did you want to flee from the pressure or perhaps throw something?
  • Did you feel like screaming or did you notice that you were slamming doors or becoming sarcastic?
  • What did you actually do?
  • How did you feel immediately after the episode?
  • Did you feel differently later in the day or the next day?
  • What were the consequences of the incident?

After recording this information for a week or so, review your diary and look for reoccurring themes or "triggers" that make you mad. Triggers often fall into one of several categories, including:

  • Other people doing or not doing what you expect them to do
  • Situational events that get in your way, such as traffic jams, computer problems, ringing telephones, etc.
  • People taking advantage of you
  • Being angry and disappointed in yourself
  • A combination of any of the above

You'll also want to look for anger-triggering thoughts that reoccur again and again. You can recognize these particular thoughts because they will generally involve one or more of the following themes:

  • The perception that you have been victimized or harmed.
  • The belief that the person who provoked you meant you deliberately harm.
  • The belief that the OTHER person was wrong, that they should have behaved differently, that they were evil or stupid to harm you.

Use your anger diary to identify instances when you felt harm was done to you, why you thought the act was done deliberately, and why you thought that it was wrong. Tracking your thought patterns will help you begin to see the common themes in your experiences. Here are some examples of trigger thoughts to get you started:

  • People do not pay enough attention to your needs; they do not care about you.
  • People demand/expect too much of you.
  • People are rude or inconsiderate.
  • People take advantage or use you.
  • People are selfish; they think only of themselves.
  • People criticize, shame, or disrespect you.
  • People are cruel or mean.
  • People are incompetent or stupid.
  • People are thoughtless and irresponsible.
  • People do not help you.
  • People are lazy and refuse to do their share.
  • People try to control or manipulate you.
  • People cause you to have to wait.

And here is a list of situations where these themes are likely to occur:

  • When stating a difference of opinion
  • While receiving and expressing negative feelings
  • While dealing with someone who refuses to cooperate
  • While speaking about something that annoys you
  • While protesting a rip-off
  • When saying "No"
  • While responding to undeserved criticism
  • When asking for cooperation
  • While proposing an idea

At the base of all trigger thoughts is the notion that people are not behaving properly and that you have every right to be angry with them. Most people find a few thoughts that frequently trigger their anger. Look for instances of situations that trigger your anger and see if you can't identify the particular set of triggering thoughts that really do it for you.

The purpose of your diary is to help you identify patterns of behavior and specific recurring elements that really "push your buttons". The more accurately you can observe your feelings and behaviors and the more detailed your anger diary, the more likely you will be able to identify anger triggers and how you react to them. Understanding the ways in which you experience anger can help you plan strategies to cope with your emotions in more productive ways.

Deactivating Your Triggers

Once you have identified some of your triggers and have begun to understand your trigger themes, you will be able to be work more constructively to control your response to those triggers. Anger-triggering thoughts occur automatically and almost instantaneously, so it will take some conscious work on your part to identify them and to substitute something more to your liking.

For example, imagine you have just been cut off while driving on the freeway. Take notice of the physiological anger signs that tell you you're upset. Take a deep breath, and try to look at the situation rationally instead of going with your first impulse to attack. Instead of automatically assuming the driver that cut you off did it deliberately (which might be your first thought), consider the possibility that the other guy did not see you. If you can consider that the provoking action was not aimed at you personally or was a mistake, it will be easier for you to tolerate.

When you feel justified in your anger, you are giving yourself permission to feel angry, whether or not it makes sense for you to feel that way. The faster you stop justifying your anger, the sooner it will begin to recede. While all anger you feel is legitimate in that it is the reality of how you feel at a particular time, this does not mean that your choosing to act on your anger feelings is always justified. Remember that being angry is quite bad for your health, and destructive towards your important relationships with others.

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