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Understanding Anger Management and Treatment Programs

Anger management courses are designed to help people with anger problems learn to express their emotions in an appropriate manner. This sort of therapy can be incredibly helpful, but unfortunately, anger management often gets a bad reputation. We’ve all seen multitudes of movies and sitcoms that show Mafia members processing their feelings and eliciting chuckles from their therapists. It’s easy, after watching these shows, to dismiss anger management as a joke and to believe that anger isn’t terribly serious.

The truth is that anger problems are serious. For example, three days after Christmas in 2011 a man in England became convinced that the person driving in front of him was traveling too slowly. According to news reports, he became so consumed with rage that he zoomed ahead of this slow-moving car and he slammed on the brakes of his own car, forcing the car behind him to hit his car. Both cars were damaged, and the drivers in the slow car were injured. The man was sent to jail. His anger here wasn’t funny and it wasn’t benign. Perhaps anger management courses could have helped.

Anger Basics

Anger is one of the most primal and basic of human emotions. Small infants can grow extremely angry, and the very old can also become incredibly furious. It’s one of the first emotions we learn to express, and it’s one of the last things to leave us. Anger isn’t unique to humans, either. Almost any living thing can get angry. In fact, researchers at North Carolina State University and colleagues in Belgium have performed tests on anger in fruit flies. According to an article on the research published in Science Daily, even these tiny flies can become aggressive, and they’ve even been known to stand on their hind legs and box other flies about the head. Anger could actually be universal, if even insects can get mad.Anger does serve a protective function, too. When our basic rights are violated and we feel as though someone is committing an injustice, anger allows us to stand up for ourselves and fight for our own rights and our individuality. Similarly, when we see something happening to someone else that we know is unjust, anger can propel us to step in and do something about the infraction. Anger seems to give us our voice in these situations.

When people grow angry, their bodies secrete chemicals that help prepare them for battle. The body seems to know that when the brain is angry, action is soon to follow. These chemicals cause:

  • Elevated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Decreased blood flow to the intestines
  • Sharpening of the vision

These are useful changes that allow us to prepare for what is to come. They are also nearly impossible to control, since they come from deep within the brain. Often, people have no control over when these symptoms appear.

Anger Disorders

Most experts agree that anger has a useful part to play in daily life, but there are some people who develop unhealthy anger responses. These people have an anger mechanism gone wild, and they put themselves and others at risk with their anger.

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In the most serious form of anger disorder, people develop an explosive form of anger known as intermittent explosive disorder (IED). People with IED tend to develop extreme anger responses to even tiny slights. These people may seem happy and calm and then some tiny slight happens. Perhaps someone steps in front of them in line, or perhaps a woman in the next aisle is talking too loudly on her phone. Instead of being able to ignore these minor problems, people with IED may become consumed with anger. They may feel tingling in their fingertips and a ringing in their ears as their anger swells, and suddenly, they are acting out with extreme violence. They may yell, scream, throw things or physically hurt other people.

While people with IED may feel justified in expressing their anger at the time, this angry response doesn’t make the person happy. In fact, the person may be bewildered about why he or she got so angry. Some people with IED even feel extreme guilt or remorse about the things they did when they were angry, and they can spiral into depression after each episode. Most people with IED feel drained and numb once the dust clears.

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Some people with IED experience one or two of these episodes in their lives. Other people have them multiple times per year. According to a report published in NewScientist, more than seven percent of the US population has experienced IED at some point in their lives. Of those studied, four percent had three or more violent explosions of anger within the previous year. People like this with recurrent episodes of uncontrollable anger put themselves and their communities in serious danger.People who live with anger like this for long periods of time may face gastrointestinal problems due to stress, and they may develop heart problems due to their consistently high blood pressure. They may also be at increased risk for injuries due to violence, and they may face law enforcement intervention when they attack other people.

In addition, people with IED are at increased risk for other disorders such as depression or substance abuse. In a study published by the National Institute of Mental Health, 82 percent of people with IED had some other form of mental illness, although only 22.8 percent of people had received treatment. It’s possible that the anger drives them to other disorders, and it’s also possible that they use their anger as a shield to resist treatment for any problem whatsoever.

Some people develop this sort of angry response as part of another mental health issue, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. People with these disorders, however, may have other symptoms in addition to basic rage. They might hallucinate, for example, or they might become angry for no reason at all. These people might also benefit from anger management techniques, but their anger is more likely to abate when their other mental illnesses are addressed in a meaningful way. Medications, therapies and such can provide help above and beyond basic anger management skills.

Mild Forms

Not everyone has serious, violent, raging forms of anger disorders. Some people simply have an inappropriate response to anger that’s been developed over time in order to keep the person from dealing with unpleasant issues. When the person is faced with a criticism from family, friends or employers, for example, the person might respond with anger instead of listening to the complaints. It’s easier to blame others than blame ourselves, and anger makes that turnaround quite easy to accomplish. This sort of anger disorder is not benign, however, as this response tends to isolate the person with the anger disorder. The person may find himself or herself completely alone, unable to communicate without resorting to anger or sarcasm.

Some people with mild anger disorders might express their anger in ways that are threatening, but not quite violent. They might:
  • Slam doors
  • Call names
  • Point or give crude gestures
  • Criticize others
  • Tease relentlessly

Even people with mild anger disorders might feel isolated and depressed. Since they’re prone to yelling and screaming, they may find that others avoid talking to them. Their children may fear them. They may lose friendships or be passed over for promotions at work. These sorts of disappointments are also hard to take.

Other people may never express their anger at all, choosing to hold in all of their concerns in a tangle of guilt and self-loathing. They may suppress any sort of angry impulse, and be unable to express any sort of self-worth, even when they’re under attack. This can lead to depression, or in severe cases, it could even lead to suicide.

Getting Help

To find out more about anger management techniques, and to learn about the programs we offer, we urge you to call us. Anger disorders are too dangerous for the person and for the community to be ignored. We can put you in touch with solid treatment programs that can help.

There are multitudes of resources about how to control anger. Some organizations, such as the Mayo Clinic, suggest that people with extreme anger learn to count before speaking, or write down their emotions instead of screaming them at others. These might be useful tips, but they can be hard to follow for people who have severe anger problems. After all, the nature of anger disorders is that the anger is hard to control and comes on suddenly. If the person could take a step back from the situation, he or she might not even have a severe anger disorder in the first place.

In order to truly learn how to control anger, people with major disorders need help from a therapist. In a controlled setting, the person can learn how anger works, and he or she can develop a series of techniques to control the anger. Some people even practice their skills with the therapist and hone their techniques before they apply them in their own lives. This can be incredibly helpful. In addition, a therapist can tailor the techniques used to meet the needs of that particular person. This could be helpful for people who have mild forms of anger that still are serious enough to require treatment.

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