Understanding anger is better than acting it out

Sometimes anger comes from believing (consciously or unconsciously) that situations or people should be other than they are.

It is normal for us to do this, but not very helpful. Things are as they are in each moment. Blame, anger and judgement rarely change life for the better. However, understanding the underlying feelings and needs can help.

Here is a process I sometimes use with clients to try to find the possible internal causes of anger. It’s called “Anger and Your Demands”.

Start with a very specific situation in which you get angry and write down your answer to each reflection question.

  1. What triggers anger in your life? (or frustration, disappointment, anxiety)
  2. What (silent) demands are you making of Life / yourself / others? (Expectations or ‘shoulds’)
  3. What needs are you trying to meet by making this demand of Life?
  4. Is it working?
  5. What else might you do instead to support your needs?

 For example:

  1. Trigger for anger: Being stuck in heavy traffic
  2. Demand: “There should be fewer people on the roads” (Are you laughing yet!?)
  3. Needs: Ease, relaxation, space, efficiency, reliability
  4. Is this demand working? NO!
  5. What else I can do: Deep-breathe, attend to my body, tell myself it will be okay, listen to music, look around, leave home earlier next time

In a situation involving another person, our need might be to be heard and understood, or to have support, or to have more clarity. Using a feelings and needs list can help enormously with this process.

When we get to question # 5 (actions to support our needs), hopefully we start to see that we have more choices than we realised. Instead of making silent demands, we might choose to:

  • See things differently,
  • Change our thinking
  • Make requests (of oneself or others)
  • Say something to the person involved
  • Make a decision (to leave or change something)
  • Practise self-care

This process creates a shift and this shift is a radical act of self-responsibility. It can be humbling to stop blaming others for how we feel, but ultimately, hugely empowering. So try this 5-step process above next time you are feeling really angry or stuck and let us know in the comments how it helps.

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