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Handling Anger Management Relapses

Harry Mills, Ph.D. Updated: Mar 8th 2016

While you are working to overcome your anger problem, you are likely to experience times when you relapse back into earlier anger habits and find yourself becoming inappropriately angry, aggressive and beligerent. If you do experience a relapse in your behavior, the most important thing you can do is to REFUSE to give up your gains.

Don't let a lapse turn into an excuse for quitting your anger program, or forgetting all you have learned. Instead, treat a relapse as a learning experience. Examine your lapse carefully after it is over and try to learn how it occurred, and what part of your anger plan was insufficient to prevent that lapse. Use the information you gain from this analysis to fix your anger management program so it will work better for next time.

For instance, if you encountered an anger trigger, and your strategies for handling that trigger successfully (without blowing up) didn't work, make note of that. Think about what you could do differently next time so that if you encounter that anger trigger again, you won't lapse again. If some new thing has succeeded in triggering your anger, it is time to add that new thing to your list of triggers, and to include it into your anger plan and contract. Thinking out in advance how you can anticipate and avoid problems helps you to prevent them from occurring. Remember, you have much to lose by giving up your anger program, and much to gain by continuing it. Don’t give up!


Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

12 Steps from Anger ? - JR - May 28th 2008

Well, it is possible that the person you are working with might benefit from engagement with something like Emotions Anonymous ( - not sure that even Agent Orange has come across this particular AA clone. On the other hand, maybe not. It is not so much difficult, as troubling, to consider what the application of a 12 Step program directly to an emotion such as anger is designed to achieve. On a quick glance, the 12 Steps of EA are identical to those of AA, with the single substitution of "emotions" for "alcohol" in Step 1. As with the original AA Steps, there is nothing specific in the rest of the Steps as to how exactly the "spiritual awakening" that supposedly results from following these Steps is to produce the desired result.

But what is the desired result here ? In the case of AA, one may draw the charitable inference that the desired result is that the sufferer gives up alcoholic drink. But can one annihilate an emotion ? Would this be healthy - or just another road to insanity ?

Of course, Bill Wilson - the daddy and grandaddy of all 12 Step recovery programs - declared anger to be an utterly destructive emotion for alcoholics, and exhorted them to leave it aside for people more qualified to experience it. This may be all very well for Buddhist saints - but for real people living in this problematic, suffering Samsara of ours, it seems rather a tall order. Less charitable people have put Bill W's views in the matter down as another sign that he was rather away with the fairies himself. Without a clearer explanation of how, exactly, 12-Stepping would help someone with an unmanageable anger problem, the matter would appear better left to more functional therapies. The implications of trying to "change" someone so that in the interests (presumably) of controlling unwarranted occurrances of a particular emotion, they put aside that emotion altogether seem disturbing and perhaps dangerous.

Regarding Buddhist saints, and on a lighter note - I read recently an account of a Western photographer who visited a Buddhist monastery in India. He was surprised to find nearly as many paramilitary policemen in the place as monks. When he asked one officer why they were there, the answer was, "Sir, we are here to stop the peaceful Buddhists from killing each other !". Ah yes, Enlightenment is Here and Now - but also still so Far Away ...

Best regards,


It only takes surrender and acceptance. - John M. - May 27th 2008
I've been working with a mental health client who has just gone back to an inpatient facility because of anger outbursts and threatening behavior. I found that this client did not make good progress in the outpatient program because of his denial and poor attitude. He always seemed bent on blaming others for his problems and was unwilling to take action to get support for himself in a support group. Little did he admit that he was responsible for his circumstances. His illness improved some because of medication, but there is more to treatment and recovery than just taking a magic pill. Recovery begins with surrender. Had this individual applied the principles of the 12 steps to his life and worked with a sponsor within a support group, he might have been able to avoid this trip to the psychiatric hospital.

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