Anger is a normal, healthy emotion that everyone experiences. What we choose to do with our anger determines whether it is healthy or unhealthy. People that are easily angered may have a low level of tolerance for frustration. They find it difficult to take things in stride or to let things go easily. Generally, these people come from angry households where their lives were chaotic and disruptive and they didn’t learn effective ways to handle frustration or to communicate effectively. The good news is these skills can be learned.
The first step in controlling your anger is to find out what your triggers are and then develop strategies to keep you from escalating to the point where you damage relationships. In our groups we use an anger scale (see below) to help our clients identify the thoughts, feelings, actions and body changes that occur as they progress up the anger scale. One on the anger scale is when a person is calm, and 10 is when the person is completely out of control. As you learn to identify where you are on the scale, you can choose to take a time out (outlined below) before you reach 5. Once a person reaches number 7 on the scale, there is little chance to calm down and think rationally.
Becoming aware of the signs of anger building is essential to gaining control. Use the anger scale below to begin to understand how your anger builds and what is triggering your anger. We have provided some examples to get your started, however your signs may be slightly different.
When you find yourself climbing the anger scale, take a time out before you reach level 5.
- The first step involves identifying ways that you can take a time-out.
If you’re at home, for example, and you start to get heated, can you go to another room or go outside? Where can you go where you’ll have some time to yourself, to gather your thoughts?
If you’re at work when the anger is triggered, can you go for a walk or go to the break room? Typically, a time-out is done on a physical level, where you actually go somewhere else, like into another room or outside. For obvious reasons, it’s good to avoid potentially harmful time-outs that involve alcohol or driving.
You want to think about benign options ahead of time because when the anger rises, it’s usually harder to think clearly.
- Second, you will likely need to inform others that you will resort to this option from time to time and explain the purpose for doing so.
Communicating this ahead of time is a way of being assertive and avoiding any confusion that others might feel about your behavior. This is particularly important if you’re taking a time-out to diffuse arguments with your significant other. As you may know, it can be very upsetting if you’re arguing with somebody and they suddenly walk away without saying anything. This can actually provoke more anger on the other person’s part, out of feelings of disrespected and abandonment.
So, let your partner know that you’re going to use this strategy and that you will re-connect to finish the dialogue once you’ve cooled off. It can be good to agree upon a set time ahead of time, whenever possible. Something like, “I’m getting angrier as we talk and want to avoid a blow-out…so I need to take a time-out. Maybe we can talk again in another hour?”
It will be important to make sure both members of the couple are in agreement about the time-out process before actually trying it.
- Reduce your level of anger during the time out
During the time-out, try to find ways to calm yourself and let go of whatever triggered the anger.
Choose relaxing activities as the goal is to reduce anger.
Use the STOPP Model to evaluate what triggered you and to gain perspective and determine if you may have misinterpreted the other person.
Stop and Step Back (from the situation, in your mind) Don’t act immediately or automatically. Pause.
Take a Breath
Notice your breath as you breathe in and out.
What am I thinking and feeling? What are the words that my mind is saying? Are the thoughts accurate or inaccurate? Helpful or unhelpful? Fact or opinion?
Pull Back –Gain Perspective
Is there another way of looking at it? What advice would I give to someone else? What meaning am I giving this event? How important will this be in 6 months?
Practice what works
What is most helpful for this situation?
Think of win-win solutions to the argument.
- When you return from the time-out
Stick to your agreement to return at a specified time, if you discussed that with your partner. At that time, if you feel that you’ve calmed down considerably, then go ahead and re-engage in a problem-solving discussion.
If you find that you’re still pretty heated and can’t do this, then take ownership of your emotional state and let the other know that you’re going to need more time.
Again, keep in mind that when emotions are riding high, communication is usually not that fruitful. So, neither one of you is benefiting by forcing the other to keep hashing things out when in this state.
Adapted from https://healthypsych.com/psychology-tools-how-to-take-time-out