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Taming the beast in us

by Dr Leow Chee Seng, Senior Consultant and Fellow of British Institute of

While there are many ways to address anger issues, learning to recognise and
acknowledge the underlying reasons can go a long towards curtailing your angry


veryone gets angry at one time or another.
Anger is a common emotion experienced
by all humans as a natural response to a threat or
problem-solving, assertiveness, tactical withdrawal
and maladaptive responses – such as social
withdrawal, self-harm, verbal and physical
a challenge – provoking the impulse to protect, aggression – is commonly identified by counsellors
defend or attack. during anger management therapy.

Still, anger can also become problematic and can Aetiology

be a major symptom of underlying personal issues The major causes of anger control problems for
– which eventually needs to be addressed. And it any individual are likely to be an interaction of
needs to be tackled fast if anger is experienced both internal and external factors. Hence,
with such a frequency or intensity and there’s poor it’s important to look into its aetiology – the
impulse control. discussion of causes, origins, evolution and
implications of this phenomena.
Let’s start by really understanding just what anger is
– an emotional state influenced by our cognitions,
behaviour and physiology. Internal factors underlying anger triggers can
usually be traced back childhood experiences. These
Cognitions refer to anger the emotion, the response include a family history of violence or aggression,
relates to personalising it – like “He purposely upset bullying, experience of physical and emotional
me” – and catastrophising with ultimatums like “I abuse or neglect and even sexual abuse.
will never promote you”. In short, anger arises when
a person perceives that core values have been There are also external factors to be considered –
violated. and these include aggression, frustration and peer-
influenced factors. Equally important to note are
The starting point to addressing this personal environmental factors like noise; overcrowding and
issue is to learn adaptive responses – or behavioural poor living conditions – which are usually categorised
responses towards anger. Possible solutions like as external influential dynamics.

12 SEPT/OCT 2010 • OH!


Some people are fortunate enough to learn healthy Inadequacy refers to embarrassment and humiliation.
anger management skills during their childhood. As Fear is always related to being nervous, scared
adults, they have access to these skills, which come and terrified. Lastly, gladness that is able to reinforce
naturally. our good actions can be categorized as content,
relieved, satisfied, happy and joyous.
Those who didn’t learn to develop methods to
use angry feelings effectively have to devise new By identifying the underlying emotions and
behaviours, repeatedly try them – and with successes, feelings, we will then be able to control our anger
continue to practise them. Relaxation is the basic tenet responses. Often harsh, punitive, angry feelings are
of anger management. continually heightened by inaccurate judgments
Anger relates to emotion. It is important to become which tend to dehumanise the person at whom they
comfortable with feelings in general and then with are aimed.
anger specifically. When you feel angry, you need
to assert yourself as the physiological response Common self-judgmental statements like “I am no
is triggered in the autonomic nervous system by good” and “I am stupid” will make a person feel angry
adrenaline. Adrenaline increases the heart rate, towards himself. This is the same emotional response
sweating and flushing. as you have been angry with someone.

You need to replace misinformation about anger, Understand why you had even come up with the
identify the uses of anger and replace unclear labels ‘names’ you called that person. These ‘names’ could
– so you can clearly identify the difference between be actual verbalisation of thoughts where the
anger and other emotions. judgment is extremely dehumanising. When you
have identified such a tendency in your behaviour,
If you have difficulty experiencing the fear and anxiety you have to stop it immediately.
that anger defends, or if you tend to blame outside
sources for either your anger or your fear, you may try In anger management sessions, I always remind
to replace the personal misinformation about anger. clients no treatment intervention for anger will work
For example, should you be angry with someone for unless he/she is able to recognise it as a problem in the
making you work late when the response is really first place – and indeed, it is their problem.
because you’re afraid of going home in the dark?
In my opinion, motivational work is often a
We have to learn to take responsibility towards the prerequisite to successful engagement in anger
source of anger and finally, we should learn how to control treatments. Clients who deny they have
face up to our own fears. any problem with anger control, who have no
motivation to change or have very significant
Besides, we have to further re-educate ourselves by impulse control problems need to be guided
seriously dissecting the taboos which imply “badness” carefully – or their anger will simply make them
– and figure out for ourselves if the uneasy feelings dismiss any realisation of their problem.
triggered are based on false beliefs.
Once this critical realisation is achieved, they might
Natural advantages
benefit from pre-treatment preparation such as
Be aware that every feeling or emotion we experience
building a therapeutic relationship, enhancing
is good. Each has a specific purpose that enhances
self-esteem, competency and control recognition,
your ability to cope with life, as well as to ensure the
personal anger awareness and basic anger and
survival of the human race.
aggression monitoring.
In general, there are six feelings that relate to
emotion. Sadness is associated to feeling unhappy Note that this a process which will take time to be
or being mournful. Loneliness can be described as effective and will require significant self-discipline
feeling rejected or unwanted. Guilt is always labelled to be inculcated successfully. So, if you have
as something to be ashamed about and linked to destructive thoughts about yourself or someone
needing to be remorseful. else, seek professional advice now! OH!

JUL/AUG 2010 • OH! 13