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Anger Management For Dummies®

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Anger is part of life — no less than memory, happiness, and compassion. Anger says more about you — your temperament, how you view the world, how balanced your life is, and how easily you forgive others — than it does about other people. You don’t have to be a victim of your own anger; you can actually choose how you respond when the world doesn’t treat you the way you want it to.

In fact, you have just as much choice about how you express your anger as you do about what color shirt you wear, what you eat for breakfast, or what time you go jogging this afternoon. Although it often feels like you don’t have a choice about feeling angry, you do. You also have a choice about how much of yesterday’s anger you carry into the future and how much anger you’re likely to experience tomorrow.

No one is exempt from problematic anger. Anger is a very democratic emotion; it causes problems for men and women, kids and the elderly, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, people of all colors and ethnic backgrounds, believers and nonbelievers. Tens of millions of human beings needlessly suffer from excessive anger — anger that literally poisons your life — each and every day of their lives.

Anger isn’t something that can or should be cured. But you have to manage it well — at home, at work, and in your most intimate relationships — if you want to benefit from it. Anger Management For Dummies, 2nd Edition, tells you how to manage your anger by focusing on the positive, how to get a good night’s sleep, how to change your perspective on life, why carefully controlled expression of anger is better for you than venting, how to transform conflicts into challenges, and much more. Anger management has moved far beyond the simplistic (albeit well-intentioned) advice of years past to count to ten or take a couple of deep breaths every time you get angry, and that’s good news!

About This Book

How do you know when you have too much anger? Do you determine that for yourself, or do you let other people make that call? If you’re not physically aggressive — physically hurting other people or poking holes in walls — does that mean you’re not angry? Does it really help to vent, to get things off your chest, or are you better off keeping your mouth shut to keep the peace? Can angry people really change, or do they have to go through life suffering because that’s just the way they are? And what should you do if you’re on the wrong end of someone else’s anger? These are all important questions that Anger Management For Dummies, 2nd Edition, answers for you.

When we wrote this book, we had four basic goals in mind:

You may want to focus on the area in which you’re having the most trouble controlling your temper — at work, for example. Or you may want to head straight for a chapter on jump-starting anger management. We’re not even going to suggest that you read the whole book — that’s up to you. Be like our Golden Doodle and go where your nose (or in this case, your eyes!) lead you. You’ll get where you need to be.

Note: Sidebars in this book contain interesting information, but they aren’t essential reading. If you’re someone who likes to cut to the chase, go ahead and skip the sidebars.

Foolish Assumptions

We made a few assumptions about you when we wrote this book:

Icons Used in This Book

Icons are those little pictures in the margins throughout this book, and they’re there to draw your attention to certain kinds of information:

remember This icon alerts you to important ideas and concepts that you’ll want to remember and that you can use even when you don’t have Anger Management For Dummies, 2nd Edition, in hand.

technicalstuff Every once in a while, there’s an interesting bit of information that we share with you. You can read these paragraphs if you want, but the information they contain isn’t essential to your understanding of the topic at hand.

tip The Tip icon suggests practical how-to strategies for managing anger.

warning This icon appears when we think a cautionary note is in order or when you need to seek professional help.

Beyond the Book

In addition to the material in the print or e-book you’re reading right now, Anger Management For Dummies, 2nd Edition, also comes with some access-anywhere goodies on the web. No matter how much you gain from what you read, check out the free Cheat Sheet for additional ideas and tools. Go to for

We also provide six concise online articles associated with Parts II through VII. Those articles give you interesting ideas for how to think about and handle anger. Check them out at

tip Consider printing the Cheat Sheet and other online articles and posting them on your bulletin board, cubical wall, or refrigerator for a quick reference to anger-management strategies.

Where to Go from Here

You don’t have to read this book from start to finish — that is, you don’t have to read the whole book from Chapter 1 through the end to benefit from it. Each part and chapter is meant to stand alone in its discussion of anger management. Feel free to choose a topic that interests you, and dive in.

warning Whether you read Anger Management For Dummies, 2nd Edition, in its entirety or not, if you still find that you’re struggling with anger, we suggest you seriously consider getting the help of a professional. Anger management is a niche market, and you need to find someone who is both a licensed professional and has credentials (for example, PhD, MD, MSW, MA) and expertise in this area.

tip Even if you benefit from this book, many people find that anger-management classes help, too. You get the extra benefit of having other people share their stories and hear yours. Class members usually give useful feedback to each other as well.

Part I

Getting Started with Anger Management


webextra Visit for great For Dummies content online.

In this part …

check.png Get familiar with the emotion called anger and the nature of anger’s physical sensations, thoughts, and feelings.

check.png Discover your anger triggers and figure out when anger most likely occurs in your life. Understand how your individual anger pattern plays out.

check.png Decide whether you truly want to change the way you manage anger. See both the costs and benefits of changing or not (yes, there are costs). Then explore the stages of change. Determine which stage you’re in and find out what to expect.

Chapter 1

Understanding Anger

In This Chapter

arrow Identifying anger and where it comes from

arrow Examining the myths about anger

arrow Understanding how emotions work

arrow Finding help when you need it

What do children from Bogota, Columbia, college students in Oxford, England, corporate executives in New York City, mothers from India, and preliterate tribesmen in Borneo and New Guinea have in common? They all recognize an angry face when they see it. Anger, as well as joy, fear, sadness, disgust, contempt, and surprise are universal emotions. All cultures around the globe experience these emotions as an integral part of day-to-day life — and these emotions can lead to both blessings and curses.

remember Anger forms part of the survival mechanism of human beings. When faced with a threat — not unlike other animals — humans either run away, freeze, or attack. Anger fuels attacks. Angry people experience a surge of energy that helps them repel adversaries.

But anger can also have the opposite effect and lead to an untimely demise. Too much anger can cause heart attacks, precipitate disabling work injuries, ruin relationships, and lead to a variety of unintended negative consequences. Anger truly is a double-edged sword.

Defining Anger

If you’re like most people, you know what anger is, or at least you think you do. For example, maybe your gut tells you that a friend of yours feels angry. So you ask him if indeed he feels angry, and he responds, “No, not at all.” Of course, your gut could be wrong, and your friend really isn’t angry. But usually your intuition will serve you well in such instances. You can tell by your friend’s tone of voice, posture, and body language.

Anger is an emotion that involves certain types of thoughts that focus on other people’s intent to hurt you, unfairness, threats to your self-esteem, and frustrations. Anger expresses itself in the body (for example, muscle tension, loud voice, and restlessness) and behaviors (such as threatening actions, pacing, and clenching). Anger is a strong emotion that attempts to express displeasure and disapproval.

Anger Really Is About Choices and Perceptions

Humans are the only animals we know of that have a choice about how they view the world. Cats, dogs, squirrels, hamsters, goldfish — they’re all creatures of instinct, which means they respond in predictable ways that are prewired into their nervous systems. Instincts are universal — scratch a Golden Doodle’s tummy and he’ll instantly begin shaking his hind leg. All Golden Doodles do it, and they don’t have a choice in the matter.

remember The miraculous thing about being human is that you’re not ruled by instinct. Not only do you have choices about how you respond to the world around you (for example, when someone mistreats you), but even before that, you also have a choice about how you perceive or think about that person’s actions.

Do you think she did that on purpose? Was it an accident, or did he do it deliberately? Is the mistreatment specifically directed at you alone? Do you view this as a catastrophe — a life-altering event? Is this something that you think shouldn’t have happened? These questions are all ones your mind considers, albeit unconsciously, before you have a chance to react — or, better yet, respond to provocation. Consider the following:

tip Many people with anger problems have troubled childhoods. Their anger during childhood usually made sense at the time as a way of coping with the difficulties they faced. However, they bring their anger into the present when it usually doesn’t work very well. You can acquire new, more effective ways of coping, but it takes patience and work.

Dispelling Common Anger Myths

Before you can manage your own anger, you need to be aware of what anger is and isn’t. Unfortunately, myths about anger abound. Here are some of the myths we want to dispel right from the get-go:

Understanding the Role of Emotions in Your Life

Emotion can be thought of as a compound word. The e stands for “energy” and the motion means exactly what it says — “movement.” Emotions move you to act in ways that defend you from threat, lead to social attachments and procreation, cause you to engage in pleasurable pursuits, encourage you to reattach after some type of meaningful loss, and push you to explore your environment. Without emotion, life would stand still.

remember Emotions are, by their very nature, meant to be brief, transient experiences. Typically, they come and go throughout the day — moving you in various directions, as evidenced by changes in your behavior. Not acting on an emotion like anger is unnatural and, in some instances, can be unhealthy. Emotions reflect changes in physiology — elevations in blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar, and muscle tension — that are usually harmless because they’re short-lived (that is, if you express them in a reasonable way). Emotions that aren’t expressed remain trapped within your body, causing a sustained state of physiological tension — and that can be deadly.

Suggesting that anger is either expressed or unexpressed is actually untrue. All anger is expressed — the question is how. You probably think that you’re expressing your anger when you do so in a way that other people can see, hear, or feel. Otherwise, you figure, you’re not expressing it. But the reality is that all anger is expressed — some of it in ways that aren’t observable right away. For example, you may not look or sound angry, but your anger may be expressing itself in your cardiovascular system (through high blood pressure or migraine headaches), your gastrointestinal system (through irritable bowel syndrome [IBS] or a spastic colon), or your musculoskeletal system (through TMJ or tension headaches).

Or anger may express itself in negative attitudes — pessimism, cynicism, hopelessness, bitterness, and stubbornness — or some form of avoidance behavior (giving people the silent treatment), oppositional behavior (“I don’t think so!”), or passive-aggressive behavior (“I’m sorry — did you want something?”). Anger may also sour your mood and leave you feeling down or depressed. You suddenly lose the enthusiasm you had previously.

Dr. Paul Ekman developed a list of seven primary emotions seen in all cultures around the world. Table 1-1 lists these emotions and some of the ways they express themselves.

Table 1-1 The Seven Primary Emotions


How It’s Expressed


The eyelids droop; corners of mouth turn down; people withdraw from others; thoughts focus on negative, pessimistic issues, losses, and inferior self-views; body temperature rises; and heart rate increases.


Corners of the eyes wrinkle; smiles and corners of the mouth turn up; thoughts dwell on positive enjoyment; laughter.


Eyes widen and become rounder; the mouth opens; expression occurs and recedes rapidly in response to an unexpected event; thoughts focus on the unexpected aspects of what occurred and why.


The nose wrinkles; the upper lip curls; also a rapid response to something that looks, smells, or tastes unpleasant; thoughts focus on avoiding or removing oneself from the disgusting object.


The muscles in the cheek pull back, which results in a “half” smile or sneer; the head often tilts a bit back; thoughts focus on the inferiority of others.


The eyes open wide; lips stretch out; heart rate increases; body temperature drops; thoughts dwell on how to deal with danger — whether to fight, flee, or freeze; posture slumps.


The eyes glare and narrow; lips press together; body temperature and heart rate increase; posture puffs up; thoughts focus on issues such as unfairness, revenge, injustice, attacking, and getting even.

Getting the Help You Need

remember Everybody needs support — nobody can go through life completely alone. When you’re embarking on a major change in your life, the help of other people is especially important. And managing your anger is a major life change.

Support comes in many forms. To manage your anger effectively, you need all the following kinds of support:

warning We suggest that you refrain from exploring medications for your anger-management problems unless your difficulties are extreme and you haven’t gotten very far with self-help and professional assistance. Most of the medications for anger issues are quite powerful and have serious side effects. If you do choose this option, make sure you go to an expert at prescribing medications for mental health issues.

Chapter 2

Finding Your Anger Profile

In This Chapter

arrow Understanding the adaptive possibilities of anger

arrow Spotting your anger buttons

arrow Identifying how, when, and where you express anger

arrow Seeing problems that accompany anger

How do you know when you have an anger problem? Some people say that any time you get angry, that’s a problem. Others disagree, arguing that anger is never a problem as long as it communicates that something is wrong in your life.

Cheryl, Stan, and Amber all work for an engineering firm. They have annual reviews scheduled for this week. All three experience some anger but express it very differently.

Perhaps you can tell that Amber manages her anger effectively, whereas Cheryl and Stan have problems with anger. In this chapter, we take the mystery out of trying to decide who does and doesn’t have too much anger. We help you determine whether you have anger that needs managing. We explain how people express anger in different ways and review a few problems that all too often accompany anger. But before reviewing the nature of anger problems, we show you how anger isn’t always a bad thing.