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A Guided Exercise for Anger Management: Where Does My Anger Come From?

Follow along with Dr. Traci as she guides you through this anger management exercise. It's important to understand where our anger comes from in order to better manage it.

What does your anger look like? If I could witness you angry what would I be looking at? Write down and describe what happens in your mind and body when you’re angry. Although we can all experience anger differently, some common examples of what happens in our mind include: racing thoughts, catastrophizing, all or nothing thinking, confusion, impaired attention and concentration, etc… Some common symptoms in our body include: racing heart rate, increased blood pressure, change in temperature, sweat or chills, stomach distress, flushed or red skin color, etc..

What are the consequences to your anger? This could include getting in trouble, problems with relationships and work, stress-related medical problems, property damage, violence towards self or others, etc…

What are the benefits to your anger? Believe it or not we don’t maintain any behavior that doesn’t have some sort of gain for us. Although the gain is usually unconscious and can run deep psychologically, it’s there… somewhere. Human beings don’t do anything that doesn’t give them some sort of benefit. For example, it’s somewhat common for survivors of sexual abuse to have excessive weight gain for the unconscious benefit of thinking the extra weight makes them an unattractive potential victim in the future. They go through life struggling to lose weight, never realizing that the problem is not their weight. The problem is their history of trauma that needs to be healed first.

Our anger can have similar unconscious benefits. Think about what your anger actually does for you. Think about when your anger started. How could it have benefited you back then. It’s possible you may not be benefiting currently from your anger. Once that benefit starts to turn against us is usually what leads us to seek change so think about when your anger started and what could’ve reinforced it to continue. It could be a way to establish power or control over someone. It could be an easy way to shut down conversations or prevent people from challenging you. It could be a defense mechanism to protect ourselves from keeping people out or pushing people away. It could be for attention. For some, especially children, negative attention is better than no attention at all.

Is this perceived benefit still happening? Is it still working for you or is it now working against you?

Changing our behavior is difficult but not impossible. It takes commitment and persistence so we need to have a strong motivation for change in order to make it a permanent change and part of our new normal.

So the question is:

Are the current consequences enough for you to change your behavior?

If this isn’t enough ask yourself:

How could my life be better if I was able to control my anger?

Now let’s look at how you may have learned to react in an angry manner. For most of us, anger is a learned response. We learn it from someone else close to us, usually as children. This is most likely from a parent or caregiver but it could be anyone that can influence us. As children we are like little sponges taking in stimuli from all of our senses and processing it. We’re learning how to communicate with people, how to handle stress, how to problem solve, and basically how to function in the world. We model the behavior of others and the behaviors we either see the most often or the ones that make the greatest impression gets socked away for safe keeping until we’re ready to use it. This is why maladaptive behavior tends to run in families from generation to generation until someone breaks the cycle and leans a new way of functioning.

Now remember at the beginning the first thing I asked you to do is to describe your anger. Go back and look at what you wrote.

Is there anyone else close to you or who was around you growing up that displays a similar type of behavior?

It doesn’t have to be the exact behaviors… just similar behaviors. If you know of someone go ahead and write down their name. If you can’t think of anyone off hand take a moment and mindfully scan your life in chronological order and think about who you may have been influenced by- parent, stepparent, maybe someone a parent was dating, grandparent, sibling, friend, teacher, neighbor. It could even be someone from TV, movie or video game. Take your time and think it through. Answer the next few questions about this person. If you can’t come up with anyone that may have influenced your anger identify anyone you see as being an “angry person.”

What do you think of this person?

How did you feel when this person got angry?

When you get angry could you be causing other people to feel like you did when you saw that person get angry?

Can you see any similarities between their anger and yours?

How do you think other people feel when you get angry?

It’s often difficult to see what our own behavior looks like until we see it in someone else. It’s also easy to minimize our behavior when comparing it to other people by making excuses, “But I had a good reason. I’m not as bad as they are.” If you’re making excuses for your behavior you’re not seeing what other people see and you’re not helping yourself.

Hopefully you’ve been able to identify why you get so angry, where it comes from and how it’s affecting you and the people around you. With this information you can see that you’re actually not an angry person. You weren’t born angry. You were taught to be angry. Now that doesn’t mean you can go blame others for how you act as an adult. As a child, yes! Blame away! But as an adult we have to take responsibility for our own behavior regardless of how we were raised. It’s usually easier to get control of the anger when we have a better understanding of the relationship we have with it.

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For more self-help talks, guided exercises and meditations check out these resources:

Dr. Traci Moreno on Insight Timer-

Free Spirit's YouTube Channel-

Spiritual Psychology Support Group Hosted by Dr Traci and Pasquale-

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