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Setting Boundaries Appropriately: Anger Management

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 26th 2016

There are a variety of motivations that drive aggressive behavior. Some people act aggressively because they have an anger problem. They periodically become overwhelmed and act out violently. Their aggression is emotionally driven. They are not necessarily such aggressively behaving people when they are feeling calmer. However, they may also be angry much of the time. When anger issues dominate the aggressive presentation, the best prescription is typically some variation on the theme of anger management.

Anger Management interventions typically involves the teaching of a coordinated set of behavior, thought and mood change techniques designed to make it less likely that aggressive people will continue to act out in aggressive ways. These techniques include:

  • self-monitoring
  • cognitive restructuring
  • relapse prevention
  • assertiveness training
  • self-soothing

Chronically angry people are typically not aware of how chronically angry they are, so the first order of business is to get them self-monitoring their anger levels, and watch for signs and symptoms of anger such as clenched teeth and fists, angry thoughts, and upset feelings. Teaching angry people to pay close attention to their anger helps them to realize that they don't just explode into anger from a calm baseline, but rather are generally pretty much already upset before they explode.

Relapse prevention techniques are taught to help angry people identify the 'triggers" that set off their anger (the people, places and things that get them going in violent directions), and then avoid those triggers.

Cognitive restructuring techniques are taught to help angry people better examine and critique the core beliefs and automatic thoughts underlying their angry feelings. Generally angry people are self-righteous people; they are angry for a reason; they have been wronged, and have a right to retribution and an entitlement to special treatment because of how they have been wronged. Though there may be basis for some of these beliefs, many of them will prove to be distorted or overgeneralized or otherwise just wrong when they are closely examined. When the belief driving the emotion is modified, the emotion tends to go away.

Assertiveness training concepts are provided to angry people so as to help them understand that: 1) they do not have a right to trample upon other's personal boundaries, and 2) that acting assertively rather than aggressively will often get them more of what they want from other people, because in so doing, they will respect those other people who will then be more motivated to help them.

Self soothing exercises are taught for obvious reasons; to help angry people reduce their upset angry emotions, both in acute cases and generally in terms of background levels.

We should note that change programs like anger management don't work unless people are motivated to engage them. It typically takes some serious social consequence (like being locked into a jail cell) to jolt angry aggressive people into being motivated to alter their behavior. It is somewhat unlikely, but not impossible, that you (or someone you live with) will be willing to work an anger management program with a therapist or in a self-help modality without some negative consequences being present that participation will help avoid.

Anger management is a complex topic that cannot be adequately dealt with here in this alloted space. For more information, we encourage you to visit our Anger Management topic center.


Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Good base article - Angry Inside - Dec 24th 2006
This provided some insight into why on Christmas Eve I just made my woman upset about and incident that happened two days ago concerning family members. I was angry then and didn't say anything, when I should have presented my feelings in a calm and assertive manner.

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