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The phases of the anger cycle shown in Figure 7 are explained below. As a reminder, the links in the chain that feed your anger consist of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This explanation of the anger cycle contains more details than we can easily show in Figure 7. You will need this extra information in order to fill out your own anger cycle later on.
Become An Anger Act-Out Cycle
In this phase of your anger cycle, everything appears to be going smoothly. We call this "Pretends To Be Normal" because in reality, your life is not normal. The anger problem you have still exists and is in some way running your life. In the Pretends To Be Normal phase, the anger is not actively a problem but it lies just below the surface. You can get into your anger cycle and explode with a triggering event even when your life appears to be running smoothly and there are no obvious or important problems.
Trigger. The trigger is the event or situation that sets off your anger cycle. Often you are triggered when someone says or does something that bothers you. In a split second your mind races to past events and "old tapes" (also called self-talk) that lead to your anger. You may focus on these past negative events or situations. Triggers are high-risk factors for anger outbursts.
The Build-Up Phase
is the part of your cycle where you allow your anger to build. You may even feed
your anger in order to help it build quicker. During this phase you have the opportunity
to intervene in your anger and work at changing it to be positive anger. Positive
anger will help you take action against the problem. Negative anger will contribute
to further problems and keep you locked into your hurtful anger cycle.
Thoughts. After an event triggers your anger cycle you begin to experience specific thoughts that are a part of your anger cycle. These thoughts (tapes) are old messages and ways of thinking you may have learned in childhood from family members or other adults who themselves have had anger problems. For example, these "old tapes" may be thinking errors such as "Women are all the same-they just use men," or "Nobody cares-people are out to screw me over," or "I can't trust anyone."
Feelings. Thoughts and behaviors are often linked to specific emotions such as fear, anxiety, anger, guilt, depression, frustration, shame, sadness, fury, rejection, insecurity, inadequacy, helplessness, hopelessness, rage, and so on.
Anger arousal is the body sensations that come with your anger. These body sensations or feelings are cues associated with anger-that is, they help you become aware that you are getting angry. For example: tension, stiffness, muscle aches, tightness, heart pounding or racing, rapid breathing, high blood pressure, feeling hot or flushed, upset stomach, and so on.
Behaviors can come before or after thoughts and feelings. When you are in your cycle, you generally behave in certain ways (often out of habit) that set up situations so you can act out your anger, for example: using alcohol and other drugs, or hanging around others who will feed your anger. Three kinds of behaviors that contribute to the Build-Up Phase of your anger cycle are addictive behaviors, fantasy, and planning.
Addictive Behaviors. Many people who have anger problems also have problems with drugs. They drink a lot of alcohol and/or use other drugs to escape reality, to build up their courage, to cope with pain, or to avoid problems. Others use masturbation, overeating, or overworking to avoid problems and escape from unpleasant situations.
Fantasy. Many people who are angry get into a fantasy or a kind of daydream about what they will do, to others, to themselves, to other people's property, and so on. The fantasy is a way of planning or premeditating your anger act by seeing in your mind the way you want to act out.
Planning is setting up the anger act/anger outburst to occur. Examples might include: 1) going to specific places, such as bars or taverns; 2) certain behaviors, such as looking to buy drugs, drinking, mentally rehearsing how you are going to tell someone off or beat someone up, and so on. Many people with anger problems try to convince themselves and others that their anger outbursts 'just happened." They describe their actions as "impulsive" (happening at the spur of the moment). This is a kind of denial or excuse-making-----whatever you do to act out your anger is really planned impulsiveness. Anger doesn't "just happen." Before you hit or yell at somebody, you make a decision (even if it is a quick decision) to do it. When you take the time (however short) to think about making a decision, you are not being impulsive.
This is the anger act (outburst). The anger outburst is the release of built-up anger, expressed in a variety of ways: verbal abuse of others, physical abuse of others or destruction of property, or self-abuse.
Verbal. You express your anger verbally by calling others names, yelling, screaming, arguing, provoking people, making fun of how others look, making negative or sexually suggestive comments about their companions, etc.
Physical. Your anger is expressed through destroying property/objects, or injuring the person such as hitting, punching, biting, kicking, battering, sexual abuse, rape, incest, etc.
Self-abuse. Suicide attempts, alcohol/drug abuse, other self-abusive or self-destructive behaviors are ways you act your anger out towards yourself. Self-abuse is just as destructive as acting out your anger towards someone else.
After acting out your anger you may feel remorse for
what you have done or feel bad about your actions. If you have destroyed property,
hurt somebody, hurt yourself, etc., right afterwards you may feel sorry about
(regret) what you did. After acting out, it is common to feel 1) guilt about what
you have done, 2) shame about who you are, and 3) embarrassment over your actions
(thinking of your anger as stupid, etc.). Often you start using your defense mechanisms,
including justification, rationalization, denial, minimization, and so on.
Next you may experience
a mood of false resolve. In this mode you tell yourself, "I will never do
this again," or, "I will control my anger and not let it get out of
hand again." The false resolve usually moves you back into the Pretends To
Be Normal Phase.
Reflection Exercise #7
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