Research Director and Professor
Counselling Psychology Department
Trinity Western University, BC, Canada
"I am very angry. God knows that I try, but
I can't help it - I have every reason to be mad." If this sentiment
sounds familiar, it is because all of us have experienced similar
inner struggles with respect to anger.
- Wouldn't you be angry, if what you have built
with sweat and blood is snatched away from you by force and handed
it over to someone else?
- Wouldn't you be furious, when your trusted
friend stabs you in the back and turns against you?
- Wouldn't you be filled with righteous indignation,
when religious leaders abuse their subordinates spiritually and
psychologically, all in God's name?
- Wouldn't you be filled with rage and pain,
if your house was destroyed and your family killed by bombing?
- Wouldn't you be mad, if you were arrested
and imprisoned for interrogation for no other reason than your
- Wouldn't you be fuming, if your country was
occupied, and your freedom and rights were taken away from you?
- Wouldn't you be furious, if you were dismissed
in spite of your many years of contribution, whereas your incompetent
and lazy co-worker was promoted simply because he was related
to the boss?
There are enough legitimate reasons to make
people burn with righteous anger all the time: Abuse of power. Corruption.
Hypocrisy. Poverty. Deprivation. Inequality. Injustice. Senseless
war. Violence. Atrocities. Terrorism. Oppression. Humiliation. Betrayal.
Of course, people can also get angry over trivial
matters: A thoughtless remark. Being slighted. Failing to get proper
respect. Misunderstanding. Petty jealousy. Sometimes even the slightest
provocation can set off an outburst.
In short, we are a nation of angry people and
we are becoming an increasingly angry society. We live in a world
filled with enough anger and hate to blow it into pieces. Everyone
seems to be angry with someone for some reason. Many have acted
out their anger. Terrorist bombing is simply the extreme expression
How do you react in each of the above scenarios?
How do you cope with angry feelings?
Anger-in and anger-out
These are the two natural ways of coping with
anger: but both methods have their drawbacks. The insecure, mild-mannered
Dave Buznik (Adam Sander) in Anger
Management is the implosive "anger-in" type. His anger management
guru Dr. Buddy Ruydaell (Jack Nicholson) is the explosive "anger-out"
type. Both need anger management because they represent the extreme
When anger is turned inward, it will be disguised
as self-loathing, passive aggression, and sarcasm. In rare cases,
implosion may result in suicide. When we ruminate over unhappy events
and brood over past hurts, we become susceptible to depression.
Another danger of bottling up is that our inner tumult may gradually
build up until it eventually erupts like a volcano.
When we let our anger out and direct it to others,
we may feel good temporarily. But releasing anger inappropriately
may also get us into trouble. Frequent temper tantrums may result
in getting fired, while fistfights and assaults may land us in jail.
Office rage, road rage, vandalism, and random violence are examples
of anger out of control.
Like any other emotions, anger is also accompanied
with physiological changes, such as an increase in heart rate and
blood pressure. Therefore, frequent and intense anger may contribute
to a variety of illnesses, such as, hypertension, heart attack,
ulcer and cancer.
What do we do about the prevalent problem of
anger, which threatens not only our personal health but also the
quality of our community?
Anger management appears to be the answer because
it helps us do a better job in coping with anger. Often courts prescribe
anger management as part of sentencing for thousands of abusive
spouses, violent people, and aggressive teens.
Anger management workshops have become a cottage
industry for counsellors, therapists and psychologists. Anger management
therapists come from different theoretical orientations. However,
most of them rely on cognitive-behavioural techniques.
However helpful, anger management cannot solve
all our anger problems for three obvious reasons:
- You cannot mandate every angry person to
attend an anger management workshop.
- There are not enough anger management therapists
to go around, if all the angry people ask for help.
- Traditional anger management is simply not
very effective in certain situations, such as systemic and persistent
Is anger controllable?
The basic idea behind anger management is that
if you don't control anger, it will
control you. Thus, the emphasis is on control - on our ability
to manage anger and regulate its frequency, intensity and expression.
From this perspective, problems of anger and aggression are regarded
as anger-control problems.
But anger is a natural and normal reaction to
negative situations that inflict pain or frustration. Therefore,
angry feelings and reactions are difficult to control.
Experimental studies have shown that if you
deliver an aversive stimulus to animals, they will respond aggressively.
We also have the same instinct to fight back when others cause us
pain. However, in a civilized society, we cannot lash out every
time we feel frustrated and angry. Hence, the need for control.
There are four basic ways of anger-control:
people and situations that are likely to trigger anger.
you angry feelings.
your anger in a measured and appropriate manner.
and regulate the intensity of your anger by calming it.
Anger management techniques
Most of the anger management techniques are
designed to achieve one or more of the above four types of control.
Here are some of the commonly known anger-control techniques:
- Relaxation - Breathing exercise, muscle relaxation,
- Cognitive reframing - Changing the way we
think about the situation
- Humor - Seeing the humorous side of a bad
- Talking to someone - Talking about your problem
- Redirecting your anger - Hitting a pillow
or throwing darts
- Changing your situation - Changing your job
or moving to a different place
- Assertive training - Learning to assert yourself
and communicate your feelings
- Problem-solving - Trying to resolve the problem
that makes you angry
The British Association of Anger Management
proposes that the formula to control anger is Recognition + Understanding.
In other words, anger-control begins in our head; if we recognize
the trigger and symptoms and understanding what is happening to
us, we are then better able to cope with anger.
Limitations of anger management
There are limitations to anger management techniques,
because they place too much burden on the individual. Often, anger
requires an interpersonal or systemic solution.
When people are trapped in a dysfunctional family,
it takes more than self-control to resolve the anger problem. In
such systems, people may actually reinforce each other's angry feelings
and aggressive behaviours. All members involved in anger-saturated
relationships need to change.
When they live under a brutal and oppressive
regime, life is an endless series of problems, frustration and pain,
from which there is no escape. The ever-present system of injustice
and abuse is enough to make many citizens angry. Anger-control techniques
are helpful to a certain extent, but ultimately regime-change is
needed to remove the source of anger.
In oppressive, dysfunctional systems, anger
management can become a form of "social control" that teaches people
to be better "prisoners" and willing "victims". Therefore, we need
an alternative approach that can harness anger and empower people
to use this powerful emotion for positive systemic change.
From the perspective of anger transformation,
anger is a powerful emotional energy that needs to be harnessed
and channeled to positive goals. The focus is not on anger-control,
but on the psychological processes of transforming anger into positive
There are four basic processes of transformation:
1. Creative transformation
- Angry feelings are transformed into something new, such as artistic
works, scientific inventions, and the creation of new products.
When imagination is fueled and powered by anger, anything could
The creative process provides both an outlet
and a goal for one's pent-up emotions. Some of the most memorable
poems and music have been created out of the depth of suffering
and anger. Some of the best ideas have been born in the crucible
of despair and frustration.
Don't get angry, don't get even, but get ahead,
because success is the best revenge. Anger can be beneficial,
because it frees us from illusion, confronts us with the real
enemy, and gives us a laser-sharp vision of what needs to be achieved.
Often, just a glimpse of the impossible dream
is enough to lift one's spirit. To be able to capture the heavenly
vision for posterity will fill one's heart with joy and hope.
2. Social transformation
- Rage is transformed into social reform through activism and
political struggles. Social interest and acts of altruism can
indirectly reduce one's angry feelings.
Often, social transformation is a group effort,
as oppressed individuals are galvanized and organized to fight
for justice and freedom. When they no longer want to be model
"prisoners", they band together to overthrow the oppressor and
break down the "prison walls" of fear, doubts and apathy so that
they can make a difference in this world.
Resignation, cynicism, and bitterness can
fester and destroy a person. But smothering anger can also spark
the spirit of reformation to fight against injustice, oppression
transformation - Bitter despair is transformed into wisdom,
serenity and a higher purpose through enlightened acceptance,
detachment and self-transcendence. Personal hurts often fade away
when viewed against the backdrop of inevitability and immensity
of human suffering. To affirm the goodness of life in the midst
of misfortunes can also make pain more bearable.
Anger can awaken the defiant human spirit
and propel one to heroic efforts in serving a cause greater than
oneself. To be able to discover or recover a passion for living
can set one free from the bondage of self-pity and self-destruction.
transformation - Pain is transformed into transcendental
experiences through spiritual exercises, such as prayer, meditation,
forgiveness and reconciliation. We perceive that we are no longer
alone in our efforts to control anger, because we can solicit
divine help according to our beliefs and faith traditions.
When spirituality is an important part of
our lives, and faith is one of our core values, we are more likely
to succeed in transcending our plight and enter into a blessed
realm in which anger gives way to praise. The development of spiritual
maturity may lead to a state of total surrender to divine guidance.
Different from other anger management techniques, spiritual transformation
needs to take place in the person first, before it can be practiced
Two contrasting approaches to coping with
Do you see the differences between anger management
and anger transformation? Try to work through the scenarios listed
in the introduction and see which approach is more effective for
Imagine you are having a conversation with someone
who has just completed a six-week long anger management workshop.
"Are you still angry?"
"You bet I am!"
"Don't you find anger management training helpful?"
"Not really. Some of the techniques are quite helpful in some situations,
but overall, anger management has not been very useful to someone
like me in my situation."
"Tell me something about yourself and your situation."
"Well, I am just a very intense person, and I feel very passionate
about certain things. It never fails to incense me, when I see injustice
or hypocrisy. Unfortunately, I happen to work in an organization
where injustice and hypocrisy are its trademark."
"But why don't you quit and find another job?"
"I did try, but in my field, there are very few openings these days.
I just have to learn to put up with a lot of crabs everyday and
try not to blow up, because I have to support a large family. It
has been very hard on me. I still feel like screaming or punching
up some one."
What else can you say to help this poor fellow?
Based on what have learned about anger transformation, what type
of transformation would be most helpful?
One of my students Bill Angus incorporates existential-spiritual
elements with cognitive-behavioural techniques in his Anger Management
Workbook. His appeal to meaning and spirituality focuses on affirmation
of what is good and pursuit of positive goals. Information on his
Workbook is available at this website (http://www.psychtest.com/anger/index.html).
Another of my student Diane Currie has developed
a Poetic Workshop, called "Becoming a Radical Poet: Transforming
Anger into Freedom". This workshop explicitly addresses anger as
a potentially energizing emotion that can be healed and transformed
through creative poetry making.
Between two worlds
All of us live between two worlds - idealism
versus realism, heaven versus earth, City of God versus City of
Man, love principle versus power principle. No matter how we conceptualize
this duality, we find ourselves caught between the pulls of two
Anger management only addresses issues of life-in-the-world.
It deals with the practical concerns of daily living. It is concerned
with survival and adaptation to reality without any attempt to change
it. Anger management can be achieved by mastering a set of cognitive-behavioral
Anger transformation addresses issues of the
ideal life. It deals with what makes life meaningful and worthwhile.
It is concerned with the quest for beauty, truth and goodness. Anger
transformation can be achieved only through the dialectic and dynamic
process of maintaining a precarious balance two worlds.
We need both anger management and anger transformation
to live in the present world without losing hope for a better world.
Ultimately, long-term success in anger management depends on anger
Good Friday and Easter Sunday
This morning at the Good Friday service, in
a comfortable auditorium, along with a thousand others, I joined
in singing songs of celebration, and looked at the crucified Jesus
on a giant screen. There was a surreal feeling to the whole service
and I was lost in thoughts.
Falsely accused, wrongly convicted, and barbarically
executed, the crucified Christ represents all people who are persecuted,
oppressed, and victimized. The cruel Cross symbolizes all that is
wrong in this present world.
The forces that contributed to the horror of
the Cross are still with us: the self-righteous religious leaders
and their blind followers, the ambitious political leaders and their
hatchet men, and the ruthless "power" games of deception, manipulation
and control. No wonder the world is full of angry and hurting people.
But the glory of Easter Sunday transforms the
Cross into a symbol of convergence of duality - Heaven and Earth,
life and death, and righteousness and evil. The risen Jesus represents
not only the overcoming of anger, hate and death, but also the returning
of the hero to the world in order to transform it.
Thus, Good Friday and Easter Sunday symbolize
two fundamental realities. Crucifixion without resurrection represents
a closed system of suffering, death and anger. But resurrection
turns it into a mystical open system, which is being renewed by
the power of forgiveness, redemption, and love. Herein lies the
secret of an ultimate cure for anger.