Stuart came to chat because he felt he was getting more angry more often and he didn’t like it. Tiny insignificant things would set him off and it would take him a long time to calm down and gain equilibrium. Of course it affected his relationships – both his mum and his girlfriend were over it – and Stuart didn’t want to lose either of them – so he came to get help. (Which as we know is always a good start!)
I always discuss anger as a 3 stage process and I always start with stage 3 – the ‘I am angry’ stage. There are 3 main responses to anger – aggressive, passive and assertive. Stuart wasn’t familiar with all the technical words but he certainly knew what they were as we discussed them. Let it fly, bottle it up or talk it out were his preferred descriptors. Personally I put them in this order of preference: best is assertive, worst is passive. Do you agree? So Stuart and I spent some time giving practical examples of how to be assertive when faced with anger.
But wouldn’t it be better to capture the anger before it became fully formed? Stage 2 I call the triggers. If Stuart could identify what triggers caused him to get angry and if they could be dealt with or removed then how good would that be? Emotional triggers are quite the norm and aren’t necessarily negative. When they are identified (an anger journal works well for this if the person can’t immediately identify them) then there are two options – avoid or prepare. Let me give you a personal example (not anger of course as I am so placid) – my father died when I was 8 years old and he is buried in a town called Bolton (in the UK). Whenever I go there it triggers a sad emotion in me. So I have two options. I can avoid Bolton by travelling a different route or if I must go there then I can mentally prepare myself for what I know will happen and that will enable me to manage the emotion better. So avoid or prepare.
Stage 1 I hear you ask? I use the highly technical term of ‘stuff’. My experience has shown that for the triggers to be plainly available to be pressed there is often ‘stuff’ in their life at a deeper level. Many, many times the person can immediately identify their ‘stuff’ even if they aren’t always willing to name it straight away.
So my norm is to talk through the 3 stages, work together on stage 3 and offer them the option to come back to talk through triggers and then to ask if they are up for talking about their stuff.
How do you handle angry people?