by Stuart Sorensen – RMN
Many people have difficulty managing their angry feelings. This can lead
to difficulties in their relationships with others and can even result
in acts of aggression and physical violence. Needless to say this can
often cause many more problems than it solves, even though aggression or
violence can sometimes make us feel better in the short term.
Before we begin learning how to manage anger let’s think about what
causes it – where anger comes from. Understanding what anger is, how it
begins and the part we play in our angry feelings we’ll be much better
equipped to deal with it.
Anger is the result of two main factors. The first is to do with the
physical feelings we experience in the body – the physiology of anger.
This is exactly the same as the physiology of anxiety – it’s only our
thinking which makes the difference.
The second factor is concerned with out thoughts and expectations, the
way we think about and interpret the situation. This is the psychology
of anger. For example if we see a man hit his son and believe him to be
right in doing so we probably won’t get angry. On the other hand if we
believe that he is being unfair or cruel we may well become very angry
indeed at the thought. It isn’t what happens which makes us angry so
much as the way we think about what happens.
Many psychologists would argue that all anger begins with blame. We get
angry at something. It isn’t always easy to work out exactly what we’re
angry at but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Usually the focus of our
anger is obvious but in some cases it takes a little work to find the
exact root of our angry feelings. Most forms of counseling or
psychotherapy are helpful here.
Blame can be divided into three main categories. To put it another way
there are three main areas in which we can apply blame. These are:
1. The self
This type of blame is what we call guilt and not only leads to anger but
also depression and a range of self-destructive behaviors.
2. Other people
This type of blame can result in many forms of anger as well as a wide
range of relationship difficulties.3 The ‘system’
By the ‘system’ we mean anything bigger than ourselves, from the laws of
nature to the legal system. It can be something as simple as the weather
we get angry about, blaming the clouds for raining on us when they ought
to have made way for the sun. Remember that word ought, it’s one of a
group of words such as should or must which we call imperatives. Without
imperatives there can be no blame and without blame anger cannot exist.
This sounds like a simple explanation – too simple perhaps. Too good to
be true? Please remember that simple doesn’t mean easy. There’s nothing
‘easy’ about learning to control anger however uncomplicated the idea
may be. Anger management does become easy with practice but in the
beginning it requires hard work and commitment. The chance to learn
anger management is a very real opportunity to change your life for the
better but, like most opportunities, it comes dressed in working
A good way to begin is to ask yourself where the imperatives are.
Whenever you become angry listen to your own thoughts and look for
sentences containing words like should, must or ought. Also watch out
for injunctions like mustn’t, oughtn’t and shouldn’t. Once you identify
these judgments you’ll find the blame. Then all you need to do is stop
Yes, I know it isn’t easy to stop blaming. Most of us have been brought
up to blame ourselves, others or the system and it’s become a thinking
habit. Don’t worry – there’s a simple system we can use based upon
simple empathy and understanding.
Stop blaming others
There’s an old North American Indian saying which asks us never to judge
another until we’ve walked a mile in his moccasins. To put it another
way just bear in mind that if you’d been through what he had, been
brought up the same way he had and learned the same lessons and had the
same experiences that he had you’d probably react in exactly the same
way. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything someone does,
simply try to understand why he or she did it. Acknowledging another
person’s faults is one thing – blaming them for it is quite another.
When you catch yourself using an imperative or an injunction as an
excuse to get angry ask yourself the one question you won’t want to
answer. Ask yourself why you are wrong. Force yourself to come up with
as many reasons as you can to justify the other person’s action. As a
rule you’ll not only stop blaming them but also alter your own stance in
very many situations.
Stop blaming the system
Even if the other person’s action is completely indefensible we still
don’t need to become angry. All we need to do is accept things as they
are and then work to make them better. The world is full of people who
behave inappropriately and even cruelly – that’s just the way it is.
That’s the ‘system’ if you will. The world is as it is because the world
is as it is! You might as well blame the stars for shining at night or
blame a cat for not being an earthworm. We live in an imperfect world –
The way to stop blaming the system is to stop pretending that the world
ought to be other than it is. Who are you trying to kid? Listen for
yourself saying things like ‘things should be better’ or ‘it isn’t
fair’. Of course it isn’t fair – it’s life. Whoever said life should be
fair? Life just is. You can either accept it for what it is or ruin your
quality of life blaming and becoming angry about the system you can
never hope to change.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Stop blaming yourself
Have you ever met the perfect person – I mean really perfect. The one
person in a thousand million who hasn’t any faults; who never made a
mistake or error in judgment? Of course you haven’t because that person
doesn’t exist. We all make mistakes. That’s part of being human. Part of
the system. Making mistakes is how we learn.
If you blame yourself and become angry because you did something wrong
(made an error in judgment or anything else) then what you’re really
saying is I shouldn’t have made a mistake. Even a criminal act
intentionally committed is actually no more than an error in judgment.
You made a mistake. If you expect yourself not to make mistakes or
judgment errors you actually expect yourself to be more than human. Who
are you, God?
Once you get it into your head that you’re allowed to make mistakes
(whatever the consequences) – in fact it’s inevitable that you will –
the need for self-blame goes away. Then you can get on with the far more
serious business of living. Of course if you choose to blame yourself
for your mistakes then that’s your right and your business. Just
understand that you’re expecting yourself to be more than you ever can
be and then pulling yourself down for failing. Doesn’t make much sense
really does it?
If you do decide to work on your anger producing beliefs the list below
may be useful. It shows examples of beliefs and attitudes which lead to
blame and anger together with suggested alternatives. You may want to go
over these suggestions with your counselor or therapist as well. However
remember that not all therapists work the same way. If yours prefers to
try another approach please don’t let this handout get in the way.
Beliefs which lead to blame and anger:
The world should treat me better than this.Why? Who said so? The world
is what it is and it does what it does. I can accept reality or I can
ruin my life wishing it were different.
I shouldn’t make mistakes.I will make mistakes whether I want to or not.
That’s just the way it is. Believing that I shouldn’t and then blaming
myself when I do is just setting myself up for a fall. It’s better to
accept that mistakes happen and that I can learn and grow from them.
That’s how I develop into a better person for the future.Other people
should behave the way I want them to.
I’m not judge and jury. Other people do what they do for their own
reasons. If I disagree with their behavior so be it. I can choose either
to accept it or to take steps to make sure they don’t treat me badly.
Let’s face it most of the things other people do don’t affect anybody
else anyway. When they do I can still take action without getting bogged
down in blame and anger.
Needless to say there are countless examples of these blame-producing
thoughts. These are just to give you an idea of the sort of things to
look out for. Once you begin practicing this style of thinking you’ll
soon recognize many more. For more information talk to your counselor or