Interventions for Anger

You know anger isn't helpful, but it still takes over.  You would like to trust yourself to intervene with anger in a skillful way so that it is not controlling your behavior.  Let's look at a basic understanding of anger and then three strategies for intervention.

Anger is a sign that you are pushing against what's happening because, in the moment, you perceive an overwhelming threat and don't trust yourself to handle what's happening directly.  Specifically, anger usually involves one or more of the following

  1. Attachment to standards, expectations, or ideas that things should be a certain way

  2. Unexamined and unresolved wounding/trauma from the past that triggers a misperception of threat in the moment

  3. Holding an enemy image of another

  4. Disallowing, ignoring, or lacking access to grief, hurt, or fear

  5. Addiction to the immediacy of anger (power / adrenalin rush, getting a response from others)

  6. Confusion or ignorance about the costs of acting out of anger

  7. A lack of agency, empowerment, and skills that then keeps one dependent on power over strategies (fueled by anger) to meet needs 

  8. Avoiding a sense of fragility and shame

  9. Poor boundaries:  Repeated abandonment of one's needs in order to accommodate others takes away resource and adds irritability that builds into anger

  10. Anger has become a well worn habit


Any time you are feeling angry it's helpful to ask yourself three questions:

  1. What am I telling myself?

  2. What else could be true?

  3. What universal needs/values are up for me?

Naming what you are telling yourself, is a step towards mindfulness.
Asking what else could be true interrupts the narrow focus of reactivity and invites an expansive perspective.  Connecting with universal needs helps you access groundedness.  

These inteventions could be done in any order.  Sometimes it is easier to guess your needs first, especially if you have a needs list.  Once you name a need see if you can frame it without the "should" thoughts.  So rather than "My partner should respect me", you internally say, "My need for respect isn't met.  I am wanting to know my partner cares about my needs and respects me."  This is your springboard to connect with more vulnerable feelings underneath the anger and resentment.  It might sound like this, "When I imagine my partner doesn't care about my needs I feel sad and hurt and long for respect and consideration."

The more vulnerable feelings under anger are almost always some form of fear, hurt, or grief.  When you can let yourself experience and express these feelings and connect them to your needs, you will have more access to skillful action.  This step of dropping into more vulnerable feelings can be very difficult.  Anger is often experienced as slightly pleasant and so can be difficult to let go of in favor of the discomfort that you might have around feeling fear, hurt, or grief.  The long term rewards, however, are great.  Vulnerability may not be comfortable at first, but it gives you access to insight, skill, compassion, and wisdom.  Without access to these things you will continue to engage in unskillful behaviors that lead to greater suffering for yourself and others.

Take a moment now to reflect on the last time you felt angry.  Use the three questions listed above to reflect on that situation.

click here for a list of feelings and universal needs