ERIC Identifier: ED482766
Publication Date: 2003-12-00
Author: Hogan, Eileen K.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Student Services
Anger Management 1: An Overview for Counselors. ERIC
Anger. Everybody experiences it and everybody expresses it. It is a
natural and healthyhuman emotion when managed effectively. But it can be
a source of various physical, mental, emotional, social, or legal problems
when not managed effectively. It is often a problem in one of these areas
that brings a client in for counseling, either on a voluntary or a mandated
basis. As a counselor, there are numerous and varied options for intervention.
And there are numerous and varied aspects to consider before selecting
an appropriate intervention.
There are many different views from which to consider the construct
of anger. Dahlen
and Deffenbacher (2001) identify three main ingredients to anger. First,
there is an
anger-eliciting stimulus, typically an easily-identifiable external
source (e.g., somebody
did something to me) or internal source (e.g., emotional wounds). Second,
there is a
pre-anger state, which includes one's cognitive, emotional, and physical
state at the
time of provocation; one's enduring psychological characteristics;
and one's cultural
messages about anger and about expressing anger. Third, there is one's
the anger-eliciting stimulus and one's ability to cope with the stimulus.
All three of these
ingredients interact to create a state of being angry.
Dahlen and Deffenbacher (2001) also identify four related domains in
exists. First, in the emotional and experiential domain, anger is a
feeling state ranging in
intensity from mild annoyance to rage and fury. Second, in the physiological
anger is associated with adrenal release, increased muscle tension,
and activation of
the sympathetic nervous system.
Third, in the cognitive domain, anger is associated with biased information
Fourth, in the behavior domain, anger can be either functional (e.g.,
setting limits) or dysfunctional (e.g., being aggressive, withdrawing,
using alcohol and
Rhoades (n.d.) provides additional ways to understand anger. What is
the source and
expression of the anger? Is it intense and situation-specific or chronic
What is the extent of the anger? Does it easily and quickly evolve
into deep feelings of
resentment? Is it coupled with intense aggression or explosiveness?
Has it become
uncontrollable? What is the anger hiding? Is it a cover-up for fear,
being used as a
shield to keep other people at a distance so they are unable to see
The expression of anger can take many forms. Some common means of expressing
anger include venting, resisting, seeking revenge, expressing dislike,
source of anger, and seeking help (Marion, 1997). However, in many
are taught that while expressing anxiety, depression or other emotions
expressing anger is not (Controlling anger before it controls you,
n.d.). As a result, many people never learn how to handle their own or
others' anger effectively or to channel it constructively.
Gorkin (2000) distinguishes between the intention and the usefulness
expressions. In terms of intention, the expression of anger can be
spontaneous. The purposeful expression of anger is intentional, has
a significant degree
of consideration or calculation, and yields a high degree of self-control.
spontaneous expression of anger is immediate, has little premeditation,
and yields little
to moderate self-control.
Constructive expression of anger affirms and acknowledges one's integrity
boundaries without intention to threaten another person. Destructive
anger defensively projects and rigidly fortifies one's vulnerable identity
These distinctions provide for four basic expressions of anger. Purposeful
constructive expression leads to assertion. Purposeful and destructive
to hostility. Spontaneous and constructive expression leads to passion
And spontaneous and destructive expression leads to rage, violence,
hitting. With respect to rage, one can be outraged, by a seemingly
clear and external
(sometimes criminal) target, or one can be "in-raged" (Gorkin, 2000),
by a reaction tostill unresolved internal hurts and humiliations (vs. actual, immediate
Although much of the work in anger management focuses on helping people
understand what triggers their anger and on learning a healthier response,
expression, of that anger, the debate continues regarding the healthiest
express anger. Interestingly, some sources (e.g., Schwartz, 1990) indicate
repressing anger can be adaptive for coping with certain emotions.
Other sources (e.g.,
Controlling anger before it controls you, n.d.) document that suppressing
anger can lead to headaches, hypertension, high blood pressure, depression,
emotional disturbances, gastrointestinal disorders, respiratory disorders,
skin disorders, genitourinary disorders, arthritis, disabilities of the
nervous system, circulatory disorders, and even suicide. It is important
to learn to identify whether or not a client's reactions to and expressions
of anger are a problem.
How does a client know when his or her anger is more of a problem than
a help? Few
formal assessments exist to quantifiably measure the level of one's
there are numerous qualitative indicators to review with clients to
understand the extent
of their concerns about their anger and anger management strategies.
* Is the anger chronic, long-lasting, too intense, or too frequent (Rhoades,
* Does the anger disrupt the client's thinking, affect the client's
n.d.), or affect the client's school or work performance?
* Does the client exhibit frequent loss of temper at slight provocations,
passive-aggressive behavior, a cynical or hostile personality, chronic
* Has the client begun to display low self-esteem, sulking, or brooding?
* Is the client withdrawing socially from family and friends?
* Is the client getting physically sick or doing damage to one's own
or others' bodies or
* Is the client experiencing physical symptoms such as increased heart
blood pressure, or increased adrenaline flow (Controlling anger before
it controls you,
Although some of these symptoms may be indicative of other issues, they
are also often related to unresolved anger. The bottom line is that when
a person becomes a victim to his or her anger, the anger is a problem.
According to Wellness Reproductions (1991), there are three main methods
with anger. First, there is "stuffing" one's anger, a process in which
a person may or
may not admit his or her anger to self or others and in which one avoids
confrontations. A person may stuff his or her anger out of fear of
hurting someone, fear
of rejection, fear of damaging relationships or fear of losing control.
Often, a person who stuffs anger is unable to cope with strong, intense
emotions and thinks that anger is inappropriate orunacceptable. Stuffing
one's anger typically results in impaired
relationships and compromised physical and mental health.
Second, there is escalating one's anger, a process in which a person
and shame. The purpose is to demonstrate power and strength while avoiding
expression of underlying emotions. A person who escalates his or her
anger is often
afraid of getting close to other people and lacks effective communication
skills. Escalating one's anger typically yields short-term results, impaired
compromised physical and mental health. Sometimes, escalating one's
anger also leads
to physical destruction of property or to abusive situations, thus
adding the potential for
Third, there is managing one's anger, a process in which a person is
open, honest, and
direct and in which one mobilizes oneself in a positive direction.
The focus is on the
specific behavior that triggered the anger and on the present (past
issues are not
brought into the current issue). A person who manages his or her anger
and white thinking (e.g., never, always, etc.), uses effective communication
share feelings and needs, checks for possible compromises, and assesses
what is at
stake by choosing to stay angry versus dealing with the anger. Managing
results in an increased energy level, effective communication skills,
relationships, improved physical and mental health, and boosted self-esteem.
It is this process of managing one's anger that is the primary goal
of counseling people
to effectively deal with anger. The goal is not to eliminate anger.
Anger is a natural and
healthy emotion. After a client acknowledges he or she is angry, a
counselor can help
the client learn how to reduce the emotional and physiological arousal
causes and learn to control its effects on people and the environment.
To be moreeffective, practitioners should attempt to understand the extent and
expression of the
anger, the specific problems resulting from the anger, the function
the anger serves, the
underlying source of the anger, and the domain the problems occur in
physiological, or cognitive) before choosing interventions for the
strategies and skills as well as some additional considerations in
helping clients manage
anger are reviewed in Anger Management 2: Counseling Strategies and
Controlling anger before it controls you (n.d.). Retrieved July 23,
2003 from National
Mental Health Association Web site: http://www.nmha.org/infoctr/factsheets/44.cfm
Dahlen, E. R. & Deffenbacher, J. L. (2001). Anger management. In
W. J. Lyddon. & J.
V. Jones, Jr. (Eds.), Empirically supported cognitive therapies: Current
applications (pp. 163-181). New York: Springer Publishing Company.
Gorkin, M. (2000, August 17). The four faces of anger. Retrieved July
23, 2003 from
Marion, M. (1997). Guiding young children's understanding and management
Young Children, 52(7), p. 62-67.
Rhoades, G. F. (n.d.) Anger management online conference transcript.
23, 2003 from www.healthyplace.com/Communities/Abuse/Site/transcripts/anger
Schwartz, G. E. (1990). Psychobiology of repression and health: A systems
In J. L. Singer (Ed.), Repression and dissociation: Implications for
psychopathology, and health. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Wellness Reproductions. (1991). Anger management. Retrieved July 23,