More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Controlling Anger - Before It Controls You (APA)
Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy, human emotion. But when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems at work, in your personal relationships, and in the overall quality of your life. And it can make you feel as though you're at the mercy of an unpredictable and powerful emotion. This brochure is meant to help you understand and control anger.

The Nature of Anger
Anger is "an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage," according to Charles Spielberger, PhD, a psychologist who specializes in the study of anger. Like other emotions, it is accompanied by physiological and biological changes; when you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, as do the levels of your energy hormones, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.

Anger can be caused by both external and internal events. You could be angry at a specific person (Such as a coworker or supervisor) or event (a traffic jam, a canceled flight), or your anger could be caused by worrying or brooding about your personal problems. Memories of traumatic or enraging events can also trigger angry feelings.

Expressing Anger
The instinctive, natural way to express anger is to respond aggressively. Anger is a natural, adaptive response to threats; it inspires powerful, often aggressive, feelings and behaviors, which allow us to fight and to defend ourselves when we are attacked. A certain amount of anger, therefore, is necessary to our survival.

On the other hand, we can't physically lash out at every person or object that irritates or annoys us; laws, social norms, and common sense place limits on how far our anger can take us.

People use a variety of both conscious and unconscious processes to deal with their angry feelings. The three main approaches are expressing, suppressing, and calming. Expressing your angry feelings in an assertive, not aggressive, manner is the healthiest way to express anger. To do this, you have to learn how to make clear what your needs are, and how to get them met, without hurting others. Being assertive doesn't mean being pushy or demanding; it means being respectful of yourself and others.

Anger can be suppressed, and then converted or redirected. This happens when you hold in your anger, stop thinking about it, and focus on something positive. The aim is to inhibit or suppress your anger and convert it into more constructive behavior. The danger in this type of response is that if it isn't allowed outward expression, your anger can turn inward, on yourself. Anger turned inward may cause hypertension, high blood pressure, or depression.

Unexpressed anger can create other problems. It can lead to pathological expressions of anger, such as passive-aggressive behavior (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on) or a personality that seems perpetually cynical and hostile. People who are constantly putting others down, criticizing everything, and making cynical comments haven't learned how to constructively express their anger. Not surprisingly, they aren't likely to have many successful relationships.

Finally, you can calm down inside. This means not just controlling your outward behavior, but also controlling your internal responses, taking steps to lower your heart rate, calm yourself down, and let the feelings subside.

As Dr. Spielberger notes, "when none of these three techniques work, that's when someone, or something, is going to get hurt."

Anger Management
The goal of anger management is to reduce both your emotional feelings and the physiological arousal that anger causes. You can't get rid of, or avoid, the things or the people that enrage you, nor can you change them, but you can learn to control your reactions.

Are You Too Angry?
There are psychological tests that measure the intensity of angry feelings, how prone to anger you are, and how well you handle it. But chances are good that if you do have a problem with anger, you already know it. If you find yourself acting in ways that seem out of control and frightening, you might need help finding better ways to deal with this emotion.

Why Are Some People More Angry Than Others?
According to Jerry Deffenbacher, PhD, a psychologist who specializes in anger management, some people really are more "hotheaded" than others are; they get angry more easily and more intensely than the average person does. There are also those who don't show their anger in loud spectacular ways but are chronically irritable and grumpy. Easily angered people don't always curse and throw things; sometimes they withdraw socially, sulk, or get physically ill.

People who are easily angered generally have what some psychologists call a low tolerance for frustration, meaning simply that they feel that they should not have to be subjected to frustration, inconvenience, or annoyance. They can't take things in stride, and they're particularly infuriated if the situation seems somehow unjust: for example, being corrected for a minor mistake.

What makes these people this way? A number of things. One cause may be genetic or physiological: There is evidence that some children are born irritable, touchy, and easily angered, and that these signs are present from a very early age. Another may be sociocultural. Anger is often regarded as negative; we're taught that it's all right to express anxiety, depression, or other emotions but not to express anger. As a result, we don't learn how to handle it or channel it constructively.

Research has also found that family background plays a role. Typically, people who are easily angered come from families that are disruptive, chaotic, and not skilled at emotional communications.

Is It Good To "Let it All Hang Out?"
Psychologists now say that this is a dangerous myth. Some people use this theory as a license to hurt others. Research has found that "letting it rip" with anger actually escalates anger and aggression and does nothing to help you (or the person you're angry with) resolve the situation.

It's best to find out what it is that triggers your anger, and then to develop strategies to keep those triggers from tipping you over the edge.

Strategies To Keep Anger At Bay

Simple relaxation tools, such as deep breathing and relaxing imagery, can help calm down angry feelings. There are books and courses that can teach you relaxation techniques, and once you learn the techniques, you can call upon them in any situation. If you are involved in a relationship where both partners are hot-tempered, it might be a good idea for both of you to learn these techniques.

Some simple steps you can try:

o Breathe deeply, from your diaphragm; breathing from your chest won't relax you. Picture your breath coming up from your "gut."
o Slowly repeat a calm word or phrase such as "relax," "take it easy." Repeat it to yourself while breathing deeply.
o Use imagery; visualize a relaxing experience, from either your memory or your imagination.
o Nonstrenuous, slow yoga-like exercises can relax your muscles and make you feel much calmer.
o Practice these techniques daily. Learn to use them automatically when you're in a tense situation.

Cognitive Restructuring
Simply put, this means changing the way you think. Angry people tend to curse, swear, or speak in highly colorful terms that reflect their inner thoughts. When you're angry, your thinking can get very exaggerated and overly dramatic. Try replacing these thoughts with more rational ones. For instance, instead of telling yourself, "oh, it's awful, it's terrible, everything's ruined," tell yourself, "it's frustrating, and it's understandable that I'm upset about it, but it's not the end of the world and getting angry is not going to fix it anyhow."

Be careful of words like "never" or "always" when talking about yourself or someone else. "This !&*%@ machine never works," or "you're always forgetting things" are not just inaccurate, they also serve to make you feel that your anger is justified and that there's no way to solve the problem. They also alienate and humiliate people who might otherwise be willing to work with you on a solution.

Remind yourself that getting angry is not going to fix anything, that it won't make you feel better (and may actually make you feel worse).

Logic defeats anger, because anger, even when it's justified, can quickly become irrational. So use cold hard logic on yourself. Remind yourself that the world is "not out to get you," you're just experiencing some of the rough spots of daily life. Do this each time you feel anger getting the best of you, and it'll help you get a more balanced perspective. Angry people tend to demand things: fairness, appreciation, agreement, willingness to do things their way. Everyone wants these things, and we are all hurt and disappointed when we don't get them, but angry people demand them, and when their demands aren't met, their disappointment becomes anger. As part of their cognitive restructuring, angry people need to become aware of their demanding nature and translate their expectations into desires. In other words, saying, "I would like" something is healthier than saying, "I demand" or "I must have" something. When you're unable to get what you want, you will experience the normal reactions, frustration, disappointment, hurt, but not anger. Some angry people use this anger as a way to avoid feeling hurt, but that doesn't mean the hurt goes away.

Problem Solving
Sometimes, our anger and frustration are caused by very real and inescapable problems in our lives. Not all anger is misplaced, and often it's a healthy, natural response to these difficulties. There is also a cultural belief that every problem has a solution, and it adds to our frustration to find out that this isn't always the case. The best attitude to bring to such a situation, then, is not to focus on finding the solution, but rather on how you handle and face the problem.

Make a plan, and check your progress along the way. Resolve to give it your best, but also not to punish yourself if an answer doesn't come right away. If you can approach it with your best intentions and efforts and make a serious attempt to face it head-on, you will be less likely to lose patience and fall into all-or-nothing thinking, even if the problem does not get solved right away.

Better Communication
Angry people tend to jump to, and act on, conclusions, and some of those conclusions can be very inaccurate. The first thing to do if you're in a heated discussion is slow down and think through your responses. Don't say the first thing that comes into your head, but slow down and think carefully about what you want to say. At the same time, listen carefully to what the other person is saying and take your time before answering.

Listen, too, to what is underlying the anger. For instance, you like a certain amount of freedom and personal space, and your "significant other" wants more connection and closeness. If he or she starts complaining about your activities, don't retaliate by painting your partner as a jailer, a warden, or an albatross around your neck.

It's natural to get defensive when you're criticized, but don't fight back. Instead, listen to what's underlying the words: the message that this person might feel neglected and unloved. It may take a lot of patient questioning on your part, and it may require some breathing space, but don't let your anger, or a partner's, let a discussion spin out of control. Keeping your cool can keep the situation from becoming a disastrous one.

Using Humor
"Silly humor" can help defuse rage in a number of ways. For one thing, it can help you get a more balanced perspective. When you get angry and call someone a name or refer to them in some imaginative phrase, stop and picture what that word would literally look like. If you're at work and you think of a coworker as a "dirtbag" or a "single-cell life form," for example, picture a large bag full of dirt (or an amoeba) sitting at your colleague's desk, talking on the phone, going to meetings. Do this whenever a name comes into your head about another person. If you can, draw a picture of what the actual thing might look like. This will take a lot of the edge off your fury; and humor can always be relied on to help unknot a tense situation.

The underlying message of highly angry people, Dr. Deffenbacher says, is "things oughta go my way!" Angry people tend to feel that they are morally right, that any blocking or changing of their plans is an unbearable indignity and that they should NOT have to suffer this way. Maybe other people do, but not them!

When you feel that urge, he suggests, picture yourself as a god or goddess, a supreme ruler, who owns the streets and stores and office space, striding alone and having your way in all situations while others defer to you. The more detail you can get into your imaginary scenes, the more chances you have to realize that maybe you are being unreasonable; you'll also realize how unimportant the things you're angry about really are. There are two cautions in using humor. First, don't try to just "laugh off" your problems; rather, use humor to help yourself face them more constructively. Second, don't give in to harsh, sarcastic humor; that's just another form of unhealthy anger expression.

What these techniques have in common is a refusal to take yourself too seriously. Anger is a serious emotion, but it's often accompanied by ideas that, if examined, can make you laugh.

Changing Your Environment
Sometimes it's our immediate surroundings that give us cause for irritation and fury. Problems and responsibilities can weigh on you and make you feel angry at the "trap" you seem to have fallen into and all the people and things that form that trap.

Give yourself a break. Make sure you have some "personal time" scheduled for times of the day that you know are particularly stressful. One example is the working mother who has a standing rule that when she comes home from work, for the first 15 minutes "nobody talks to Mom unless the house is on fire." After this brief quiet time, she feels better prepared to handle demands from her kids without blowing up at them.

Some Other Tips for Easing Up on Yourself
Timing: If you and your spouse tend to fight when you discuss things at night (perhaps you're tired, or distracted, or maybe it's just habit) try changing the times when you talk about important matters so these talks don't turn into arguments.

Avoidance: If your child's chaotic room makes you furious every time you walk by it, shut the door. Don't make yourself look at what infuriates you. Don't say, "well, my child should clean up the room so I won't have to be angry!" That's not the point. The point is to keep yourself calm.

Finding alternatives: If your daily commute through traffic leaves you in a state of rage and frustration, give yourself a project, learn or map out a different route, one that's less congested or more scenic. Or find another alternative, such as a bus or commuter train.

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Hi! I can relate...

Hi! I'm new to this forum and my husband has introduced me to this place in order to help me with my explosive anger. I know that I need help but I am too scared to talk to a professional in person because I fear losing my own children or affecting my own home daycare business negatively. I am not physically abusive, but I most definetly speak words that make me shudder minutes after they're said. I was treated badly from my family and boyfriends in the past and it seems that I need to get help now that I am passing it on to others in my path. Advice is appreciated and welcome. Thanks.

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Hi, Girl:

You've already read the article above your post, I assume. See if you can also find a copy of David Burns, The Feeling Good Handbook (Penguin, 1999) and read about the Ten Forms of Twisted Thinking and how to alter them.

Disproportionate anger is almost always smaller anger that is fueled and enhanced by negative self-talk. Learning how to identify and change the self-talk is a big step toward getiing the anger under better control.

While you're learning about that, though, the best strategy is the "cooling off period" technique -- taking slow breaths while counting to 10 or walking into another room for a moment before allowing yourself to blurt out those angry statements.
David... My mother always used to say that to me... used to make me angry! ;)

Girlygirrl: I have been in counselling for my anger too. But mine was more physical than verbal. It was, (and is, I'll admit it) like a lightning fast switch. I can be happy, then something happens and straight away I am on fire. after my feral episode, (in which i broke something, flung myself at something or generally terrified anyone that was around) I then felt HUGE amounts of guilt. My counsellor suggested a method very similar to this one:

STEP 1: Prepare for the Provocation

If possible, get yourself ready for a potential conflict. Make statements such as: "I can handle this. I know how to control my temper. This could get ugly, but I know how to handle myself. Remember to breathe. If it is not going well, calmly excuse myself and address later."

STEP 2: Confront the Provocation

While the conflict or problem is going on or after it has happened and you are going to address it, make statements such as: "Keep calm. Be cool. This is not that big of a deal. I will control the situation if I stay in control. Yelling and screaming is not going to solve anything. This person is really acting poorly, she must really be upset. I can help this person if I remain calm. I am not going to let him upset me."

STEP 3: Coping with the arousal and distress

When you start to notice your body getting upset and you may be losing your cool, make statements such as: "I can feel my heart pounding, take a few breaths. My head is pounding, take a break and talk about it later. I have reason to be annoyed, but I am going to stay in control. He can probably see that I am getting upset, but my voice and words will be calm. Even though I am steaming, I am going to try to work this problem out. I am way too upset to confront her, I will talk to her later."

STEP 4: Self-Evaluation

After the episode is over, make statements such as: "That was not so bad. I got a little peeved, but I stayed in control. I did a good job breathing. My breathing helped me. I did a good job. I can see where keeping my cool turned out better in that situation."

It sounds a little of the board, but this constant verbalisation really helps you to catch your temper, and analys it, which I believe is essential when trying to work through/change anger problems.

Let me know if you find it useful okay?


Source: Novaco, R. W. (1975). Anger control: The development and evaluation of an experimental treatment. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books; D.C. Heath.

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Wow! Raymond Novaco! I remember when that book first came out -- it was his Ph.D. thesis actually.

lord I'm old... 8-|

Thanks for posting this Robin...
you are SUCH a nerd!!! ;)
in future, I wont bother will the library, and online catalogues.... I'll tell you what I need and then you give me article authers, ok?
excellent, my degree is gonna be a peice o cake!!:p


People who are easily angered generally have what some psychologists call a low tolerance for frustration, meaning simply that they feel that they should not have to be subjected to frustration, inconvenience, or annoyance.

I must admit that I *really* didn't like the way this was phrased. I have issues with anger myself, definitely a low tolerance for frustration. I think that has a lot to do with being highly sensitive. I have a low tolerance for pain and lots of other things!

I'm not so arrogant that I believe I shouldn't be subjected to frustration, inconvenience, and annoyance. Life happens, I have no control over it.

I guess this just rubbed me wrong. Sorry. :)

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Actually, although there are some good points about Novaco's book and his approach to anger management, some of it rubbed me the wrong way too when I first read it.

But remember, this was almost 30 years ago and he was still a graduate student when he wrote it.


Ash said:
People who are easily angered generally have what some psychologists call a low tolerance for frustration, meaning simply that they feel that they should not have to be subjected to frustration, inconvenience, or annoyance.

I must admit that I *really* didn't like the way this was phrased. I have issues with anger myself, definitely a low tolerance for frustration. I think that has a lot to do with being highly sensitive. I have a low tolerance for pain and lots of other things!

I'm not so arrogant that I believe I shouldn't be subjected to frustration, inconvenience, and annoyance. Life happens, I have no control over it.

I guess this just rubbed me wrong. Sorry. :)

Hi Ash! How are you?

I have bad anger problems too, along with depression. When I saw what you read, and what you thought rubbed you the wrong way, I thought I would have to say something.

When I saw that statement, it really stood out for me. Because when you have a low tolerance for frusteration, any little thing ticks you off. Like, minor things. That happens to me alot.

I'm not so arrogant that I believe I shouldn't be subjected to frustration, inconvenience, and annoyance. Life happens, I have no control over it.

Everyone is subjected to frusteration, inconvenice, and annoyance, EVERYONE, and every day of their lives. It is a part of life. You have to change around your way of thinking. You CAN control life, you can cause a change in life and others, by the way you act (positive AND negative!). This can cause a chain reaction, and control life (to a point), in effect.

Everyday, you and I, everyone, controls our path to destiny in life. We make choices. A choice to do something is a choice not to do something else. This is called the secondary effect.

When you choose to do something, (thus leaving out all the other choices you COULD'VE choosen), you change the course of life. You can only choose one decision, out of several ones, and each decision will ultimately have secondary effects.

What Im' trying to say is, becareful how you act, and try to express your anger in a constructive way, we can only choose one road down to life; and our decisions express this.


Reading your responses, what comes to mind is, I wish I could express my anger. So often, when people talk about anger management, they talk about explosive outbursts of anger. I have the opposite problem. I turn the anger into hurt. And it only hurts me.

I want to be able to feel anger toward the person/situation that is causing it, not to turn it inward toward myself and feel hurt. Not that I want to be explosive or violent, I just want to be able to express anger in a healthy way. What can I do to turn this around?
How are you at verbalizing these emotions to yourself?
Is it the face to face confrontation that prevents you from expressing your anger? or is it more that you don't know what to say?

If it is the second you could try something along these lines: when you are angry sit down with a pen and papper and jot down in bullet point how you are feeling, what you are thinking about, and who has hurt/made you angry.
When you become good at the bullet points you can start to write paragraphs, and kind of train yourself to know what to say.



I had the same problem, hugsy. I could never express my anger outwardly. I was taught that it was not seemly to do so. So, I internalized it and turned it on myself.

What worked for me was to begin to dialogue with myself what I would say to a person with whom I was angry. Sometimes, I'd stand in front of a mirror and do this, just to watch my facial expressions. Finally, in a work situation that had me particularly miffed, I was able to go to the person who had offended me and tell him exactly how I felt about what he had done and said. Oddly enough, the sky did not fall. Lightning bolts did not strike me from on high. relationship with that particular person changed greatly, with him giving me a great deal more respect from that time forward.

That first time was really difficult. Even the next few times weren't easy. Yet, as I went along it became easier and easier to stand up for myself, and to speak out when I felt I was being treated less than respectfully. It really worked wonders for my self-esteem, and has earned me respect from those with whom I interact. I'm anything but a hothead, but I won't have my tail tread upon without letting the treader know it isn't acceptable, either. ;)

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
One of my female clients used to call that "going into b1tch mode". Since she thought about it that way, it wasn't difficult to see why she resisted going there. The interesting thing was that she could do this if she saw someone else being hurt or intimidated or treated unfairly but not for herself. Once she was able to describe expressing anger in less condemning terms and to recognize that she had as much right to be defended as other people, it became in time easier for her to be assertive. And of course learning to be assertive is one of the keys to managing and expressing anger.


Heh. I, too, have heard female assertiveness described as "bitch mode". I don't think of it that way, at all. I think of it as going into human in, I'm human too, dammit! :O


I'm not very good at verbalizing anger to other people, and sometimes even at recognizing it as anger. It used to be that I didn't realize I was angry. I knew I felt bad, but felt so hurt that I didn't know it was related to anger. Now, at least, I know that the reason I feel hurt is that something has been done that goes against me; lack of respect, or whatever, that makes me angry. And I think it's a good thing that I feel anger. It is a signal to me that I need to do something to stand up for myself. But lots of times what happens is that I don't stand up for myself and end up being angrier with myself (more than with the other person) for not doing so. I know all this is related to self esteem but I seem to be caught in a cycle. The other night, I dreamt that I was telling my boss exactly what I feel (in a calm and confident way) about something he did that made me angry. Why couldn't I say those things to him in person?

Writing is a good idea. It helps me sort out my thoughts and work things through. I have a journal that I write in sometimes, when I have strong feelings about whatever. But even there, I am hesitant to let go and truly feel the anger. Except for a few times, that is. That you can count on one hand...
Sometimes I do dialogue with myself about what I am feeling. Sometimes it helps and feels good to express (even if only to myself) that I'm angry. I can do that about most people,and not feel guilty. But with certain people, mainly family and people I'm close to, I feel very guilty that I'm thinking bad about them. Deep down I know that telling people how I feel will cause them to respect me more, and I will also respect myself more. But I'm scared. Fear is the number one thing that keeps me from doing the things I know I need to do to better my own life. Knowing this sometimes helps me get over it. But not always.
It does affect me thinking that anger is not acceptable. I grew up in a household where we weren't supposed to show anger. Always had to kiss and make up without having really felt the anger first or worked through it. So it is ingrained in me that it is not acceptable to even feel it. It's taken me a very long time to (first) realize that I feel angry, and (then) to let myself feel it. I'm still working on the feeling it part, and trying to work on the expressing it part too.

"recognize that she had as much right to be defended as other people"....this is a big part of it for me, too.

Sometimes I think that when I feel better about myself, I will be able to be assertive, but then I think the way to being assertive is to know that I am worth it. So....cycle. How do I break it?

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder


I found that the old adage "Practice makes perfect" was true; at least, for me. Once I began to express my feelings of anger and frustration in a controlled, yet assertive, manner it got easier to do so the next time something came up. I started with myself, then graduated to "that woman" in the bathroom mirror, and was finally able to try it on a real, live other guy. I don't think anybody was more surprised than I when it worked so well.

We all have to do things we don't like. I think, realizing that helped me, as well. I don't like to clean the darned house, but I have to do it or I won't be able to live in it. I found that if I thought of my new approach to anger as "cleaning my emotional house" of all those old, mistaken ideas I'd brought with me from childhood, it made it easier to do what I had to do.
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