Anger management is important in addiction recovery
Anger is a natural, healthy emotion. It’s neither good nor bad. It is our way of expressing that we’re feeling upset or threatened. However, if expressed in a rash manner, our message gets distorted. While it is perfectly normal to feel angry when we feel mistreated or wronged, the problem arises when our expression of the emotion harms us or others.
Some people think that venting their anger is healthy. Their anger may be coming from their perspective that people around them are too sensitive, that their anger is justified so it’s okay to express it, or that they must show their aggression to get respect. But the truth is far from that. Anger almost always has a negative impact on how others view them and negatively impacts their relationship. It also clouds the angry person’s judgement and gets in the way of their success.
Negative effects of anger
Chronic anger that flares up frequently can have serious consequences for you:
Physical health: Anger makes you constantly operate at high levels of stress, and you become more vulnerable to heart disease, diabetes, a weakened immune system, insomnia, and high blood pressure.
Mental health. Chronic anger consumes a significant amount of mental energy and clouds your thinking, making it harder to focus or enjoy the good things of life. It can also lead to stress, anxiety, and other mental health problems.
Career. In a workplace environment, constructive criticism, creative differences, and healthy debate are commonplace and leads to better work outcomes. But lashing out alienates your colleagues, supervisors, or clients only alienates you, and you lose respect in their eyes.
Relationships. Anger can cause deep scars in the people you love most and get in the way of friendships and work relationships. For recovering persons, it can jeopardise their efforts at rebuilding broken relationships. Others find it impossible to trust you, or speak honestly or be comfortable in your company. Anger is especially harmful to children.
Managing Anger in Addiction Recovery
While anyone can have anger management issues, it is essential for persons in addiction recovery to learn to deal with their anger. Anger may be directed at oneself, at some other people, organisations (such as law enforcement), or society as a whole. Without learning to process anger healthily, a person with an addiction cannot move forward in their recovery.
The most crucial reason that recovering persons must learn to address anger during recovery is that it is strongly linked to relapse. Whether you harbour anger inside or lash out at others, it can create roadblocks in your recovery journey if it is not dealt with appropriately. Unprocessed anger can cause additional legal problems, more serious physical health problems, and hamper the recovery process.
What’s Behind Your Anger?
Anger is merely a symptom of deeper emotions. Fear, pain, guilt, shame and low self-esteem are usually the triggers of problematic anger. During early recovery, the individual faces the demons within — linked with past behaviours and thinking patterns. Unpleasant memories arise, evoking feelings of guilt and shame. There are also fears: of the future, of how people will judge you, of abandonment, of stepping onto the unchartered territory of sobriety.
During the recovery process, especially the 12 Steps, the individual explores and revisits these painful emotions and processes them with a therapist or sponsor’s help. Understanding the root causes of anger is the first step to addressing anger constructively.
Myths and facts about anger
Myth: I shouldn’t “hold in” my anger. It’s healthier to vent it out.
Fact: While it’s true that suppressing anger is unhealthy, venting is not a better option. Anger is not something you have to “let out” in an aggressive way. Angry outbursts only reinforce your anger and make matters worse.
Myth: Anger and intimidation help me earn respect and get what I want.
Fact: Bullying doesn’t earn you respect. At most, people may follow your directions (for a while) only because they’re afraid of your aggression. Others will be more willing if you listen to their viewpoint and communicate your needs more respectfully.
Myth: I can’t help myself — anger cannot be controlled.
Fact: You may not be able to control the situation you’re in or how it makes you feel, but you can control how you express your emotions. You can communicate your anger without being verbally or physically abusive or aggressive. Even if someone is pushing your buttons, you always have a choice about how to respond. Remember the Serenity Prayer?
Tips to Manage your Anger
The popular belief is that anger management is about learning to suppress your anger. But never expressing anger is not a healthy practice. Anger will come out regardless of how hard you try to clamp it down. The fundamental goal of anger management isn’t to suppress anger but rather to understand the trigger behind it. That way, you can address the root cause of anger. And it would help if you learned to express it healthily without losing control or causing harm. When you do that, you’ll feel better about yourself. You’ll also be more likely to get your needs met, be better able to manage conflict in your life, and improve your relationships.
Like any skill, learning the art of anger management takes work — as you practise this skill in early recovery, it will get easier. And then the more you practice, the easier it will get. And it will be more than worth it. As you learn to manage your anger and express it appropriately, it will help you build better relationships, achieve your goals, and lead a healthier, more fulfilling life.
Tip 1: Explore what’s the trigger behind your anger
If you look back, you may realise that you have often gotten into an argument over something silly? Big fights often happen over minor issues, like a dish left out or being a few minutes late. If you look deeper, you’ll discover that there’s a more significant issue behind it. If you find your irritation and anger rapidly rising, ask yourself, “What am I really angry about?” Identifying the real source of frustration will help you communicate your anger better, take constructive action, and work towards a resolution.
Maybe your anger masks inner feelings such as embarrassment, insecurity, hurt, shame, or guilt? Suppose your knee-jerk response in a situation is anger. In that case, your temper is probably an attempt at covering up your unresolved feelings. This is especially likely if you grew up in a family where expressing feelings was strongly discouraged. As an adult, you may have a hard time acknowledging and expressing emotions other than anger.
Anger can also mask anxiety. When you perceive a threat, either real or imagined, your body activates the “fight or flight” response. In the “fight” response, it may come out as an angry outburst or aggressive behaviour. To modify your response, you need to find out what’s causing you to feel anxious or scared.
Anger problems can also stem from what you saw and learned as a child. If you watched others in your family scream, hit each other, or throw things, you might believe this is how anger is supposed to be expressed.
Anger may even be a symptom of another underlying mental health problem, such as depression, trauma or anxiety.
Clues that there’s more to your anger than meets the eye:
You have a hard time compromising. Is it hard for you to understand other people’s points of view and even harder to concede a point? Suppose you grew up in a family where anger was out of control. In that case, you might remember how the angry person got their way by being the loudest and most demanding. Compromising might bring up scary feelings of failure and vulnerability.
You view different opinions as a personal challenge. Do you believe that your way is always right and get angry when others disagree? Suppose you have a solid need to be in control or fragile ego. In that case, you may interpret other perspectives as a challenge to your authority, rather than simply a different way of looking at things.
You have trouble expressing emotions other than anger. Do you pride yourself on being tough and in control? Do you feel that emotions like fear, guilt, or shame don’t apply to you? Everyone has those emotions, so that you may be using anger as a cover for them. Suppose you are uncomfortable with different emotions, disconnected, or stuck on an angry one-note response to situations. In that case, it’s essential to get back in touch with your feelings.
Tip 2: Be aware of your anger warning signs
Look back at times when you exploded in anger. You’ll observe that there are, in fact, physical warning signs in your body. Becoming aware of your personal signs that your temper is starting to rise will help you to take steps to manage your anger before it gets out of control. Check if any of these warning signs happen to you:
• Knots in your stomach
• Clenching of hands or jaw
• Feeling clammy or flushed
• Faster breathing
• Pacing or needing to walk around
• Having trouble concentrating
• Pounding heartbeat
• Tensing your shoulders
Tip 3: Identify your triggers
Stressful events don’t excuse anger, but understanding how these events impact you can help you take control of your environment and avoid unnecessary aggravation. Look at your regular routine and try to identify activities, times of day, people, places, or situations that trigger irritable or angry feelings.
Are Your Negative Thought Patterns Triggering Your Anger?
You may believe that external factors — the insensitivity of other people, for example, or frustrating situations — are causing your anger. But anger problems have less to do with what happens to you than how you interpret them and respond to them.
Common negative thinking patterns that trigger and fuel anger include:
Overgeneralising. Thoughts like “You ALWAYS interrupt me. You NEVER listen to me. EVERYONE disrespects me. I NEVER get the credit I deserve. Obsessing over “shoulds” and “musts.” Having a rigid view of the way a situation should or must go and getting angry when, in reality, it doesn’t.
Mind reading and jumping to conclusions. Presuming you “know” what the other person is thinking or feeling — that they want to intentionally upset you, ignore your wishes, or disrespect you.
Collecting straws. Looking for things that upset you while overlooking anything positive. Then, let these minor irritations pile up until you reach the “final straw” and explode, often over some relatively minor issue.
Blaming. Whenever anything unpleasant happens, or something goes wrong, it’s always someone else’s fault. You tend to blame others for your problems rather than taking responsibility for your own life.
When you identify the thought patterns that feed your anger, you can learn to reframe how you think about things. Ask yourself: What’s the evidence that your thinking is correct? Is there a more positive, realistic way of looking at a situation? What would I say to a friend who was thinking like this?
Tip 4: Learn ways to cool down quickly
Once you begin to recognise the warning signs that your temper by predicting your triggers, you can act quickly to deal with your anger before it spins out of control. Here are some techniques that work:
Tune in to your physical reactions. It may appear counterintuitive, but try and focus on the physical sensations of anger. Tune into the way your body feels while anger is building up. Tuning into the way your body reacts when you’re angry often lessens the emotional intensity of your anger.
Take some deep breaths. Deep, slow breathing helps in alleviating rising tension. Breathe deeply from your abdomen, getting as much air as possible into your lungs.
Get moving. A brisk, short walk is a great idea. Physical activity releases pent-up energy so you can revisit the situation with a cooler head.
Give yourself a reality check. When you start getting upset about something, take a moment to think about the situation. Ask yourself:
• How important is it in the grand scheme of things?
• Is it worth getting angry about?
• Is it worth ruining the rest of my day?
• Is my response appropriate to the situation?
• Is there anything I can do about it?
• Is taking action worth my time?
Tip 5: Find healthier ways to express your anger
If you’ve decided that the situation warrants you to get angry and there’s something you can do to make it better, it is essential to express your feelings in a healthy, non-aggressive way. Try and positively resolve the conflict — it will only strengthen your relationship rather than damage it.
Prioritise your relationship. Maintaining and strengthening a relationship is more important than “winning” an argument. Respect the other person’s viewpoint.
Focus on the present. Don’t recall past grievances and use them to spoil the ongoing debate. Try and resolve the present problem instead of building a case.
Be willing to forgive. You cannot resolve conflicts if you’re unwilling or unable to forgive. Resist the urge to punish — it will only add more stress which is not healthy for recovering persons. In recovery, letting go is an essential tool. Know when to let something go. If you can’t agree, agree to disagree. Remember, it takes two people to keep an argument going. If a conflict is going nowhere, you can choose to disengage and move on.
Tip 6: Self-care
Taking care of your overall mental and physical well-being can help you stay calm.
Manage stress. If you are frequently stressed, you will find it more challenging to control your anger. Try practising relaxation techniques such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, or deep breathing. You’ll feel calmer and more in control of your emotions.
Talk to someone you trust. Nothing eases stress more effectively than chatting face-to-face with a friend or loved one. For recovering persons, talking with a fellow member or sponsor eases the mind. You may not get all the answers you are seeking, but you’ll be in a better frame of mind and less likely to flare up.
Get adequate sleep. Lack of sleep can aggravate negative thoughts and make you feel agitated and short-tempered. Seven to nine hours of good quality sleep daily is good for your well-being.
Exercise regularly. At least 30 minutes of physical activity helps you burn-off tension and ease stress. After exercise, you feel more relaxed throughout the day.
Tip 7: Use humour to relieve tension
When a situation gets tense, humour and playfulness can help to lighten the mood, smooth over differences, reframe problems, and keep things in perspective. When you feel yourself getting angry in a situation, try using a little light-hearted humour. It also enables you to get your point across without getting the other person’s defences up or hurting their feelings.
Keep in mind that you laugh with the other person, not at them. Avoid sarcasm. You can also laugh at yourself using self-deprecating humour. Everybody We love peoples who can gently poke fun at their own failings. After all, we’re all flawed, and we all make mistakes.
Tip 8: Recognise if you need professional help
If your anger is still spiralling out of control despite putting these previous anger management techniques into practise, you may need more help.
Talk to a therapist about your anger issues. The professional may help you to explore the reasons behind your anger and process those hidden triggers. The therapist may also refer you to group therapy or anger management classes.