Few emotional problems are as destructive as unhealthy anger. Fortunately, cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, can be very helpful if your anger is hard to control.
Anger is one of the basic human emotions. It’s universal – everyone feels angry at times. Anger is often labeled as a “bad” emotion. But the truth is it isn’t – it can actually be helpful to feel angry! For example, when someone acts against you or you experience injustice, anger can help motivate you to stand up for yourself or to fight back.
If anger is helpful, why do we hear about “anger management” problems? Anger becomes a problem when it gets out of control. One example of this is unhealthy anger expression. Anger expression refers to the ways we act and how we express ourselves when we feel angry. Unhealthy anger expression includes acting aggressively, using unkind or inappropriate language, raising your voice, or engaging in violent behavior. Anger can also be a problem if it has an outsized impact on your relationships.
Fortunately, anger management problems are treatable. Read on to learn about how cognitive-behavioral therapy can help.
What Causes Anger Management Problems?
Even when anger expression isn’t a problem, feelings of anger can still be hard to deal with. What can contribute to this?
Ruminating or stewing over upsetting experiences
The more you dwell on something angering, the more intense and persistent that feeling of anger tends to become. Even complaining or venting about frustrations in life can make feelings of anger stick around. Intense anger that lingers for a long time can contribute to anger expression problems.
Rigid or unforgiving beliefs
If you have rigid views or “rules” around the way things should be, it becomes natural to feel angry when life doesn’t match your expectations or requirements. The more rigid your expectations are, the more opportunities there are for anger to arise.
Problems regulating emotion
For some people, coping with any strong feeling can be difficult. So, when feelings of anger arise, the natural urge to fight back or take action can easily turn into unhealthy anger expression.
What Does CBT for Anger Management Problems Look Like?
It is possible to learn healthy ways of coping with anger and to manage anger expression effectively. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help with these difficulties using several practical strategies:
Identifying anger feelings more easily
Anger easily becomes a problem when you don’t realize how much it’s building up or how it’s impacting you. In CBT, you learn how to more quickly recognize the signs that your anger is increasing. This can involve noticing the bodily sensations you experience when you’re angry, and describing your anger using a rating scale.
Identifying and changing unhelpful thinking
CBT teaches you how to re-examine and adjust unhelpful thinking, including rigid beliefs that contribute to anger problems.
Reducing rumination and unhelpful venting
Making changes in behavior can help improve how we feel. Actions like ruminating, stewing over upsetting things, or repeated venting make anger increase. CBT shows you how to break out of these behavioral loops. One skill taught to reduce rumination is mindfulness (more on this below).
Improving or learning distress tolerance skills
Many emotions feel unpleasant, and anger is no exception! CBT uses various tools to help you learn to get through feelings of anger without it ruining your mood or evolving into unhealthy anger expression. Some examples include diaphragmatic breathing, and skills from dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) such as the TIPP skills, ACCEPTS skills, and IMPROVE the moment.
As mentioned above, improving anger problems depends a lot on being able to see anger in real time. Mindfulness training can help you become more present-focused, and notice the ways anger might move you to think or act that are helpful. This allows you to let the experience be as it is and to cope in a healthier way.
Anger management problems don’t have to have control over you. Please contact us if your anger feels out of control or you think CBT for anger problems could be helpful for you.