Anger Management Programs - Learn to Recognize Anger’s Early Warning Signs

by James A. Baker
(December, 2009. Recovery Today)


anger managementI have had an anger problem for many years. It has affected my relationship with my husband and my daughter in serious ways. Thankfully, my husband is still with me and my daughter recently moved home again, but I am very worried that they will eventually give up on me. I have been in counseling several times, and we talk about things that have happened to me in my life, but it doesn’t help much with my anger. Honest, I can be feeling pretty good, but all it takes is one little word or look or negative situation and I go off like a roman candle. How can I control my anger if I can’t even see it coming?

Hot-Head in Houston

Anger Management Programs - Learn to Recognize Anger’s Early Warning Signs

Dear Hot-Head:
Contrary to whatever you have been telling others (and telling yourself), anger doesn’t just “happen,” as in; “I was just sitting here, doing a crossword puzzle and minding my own business, when WHOOSH! I was totally overwhelmed by this rage that came out of nowhere and I was compelled to jump up out of my chair and begin yelling at the first person I could find.” How lame is that story? Yet most people with anger issues offer some variation of that story to justify their anger events. They insist that they didn’t see it coming and it was all over them so fast they couldn’t control it. Listen, even the Incredible Hulk - possibly the most famous angry character in the history of angry characters - was able to recognize the warning signs indicating his anger might be about to erupt in potentially nasty ways. And so can you.
Anger is NOT an instantaneous event, the kind that might occur when you put a match to a can of gasoline. Your body actually goes through a fairly predictable - and recognizable - process as it gears up to fight or fly, and you can learn to recognize it with just a little practice. These warning signs occur in three specific ways.

Typical Indicators that Anger is Beginning to Build

Intrusive Thought Patterns

Anger Management Programs - Learn to Recognize Anger’s Early Warning Signs

  • I can’t believe they did it to me again.
  • This isn’t fair. I am not going to put up with it
  • I have to do something fast, or I will look like an idiot.
  • That guy almost ran me off the road. I’ll show him.
  • If she doesn’t shut her mouth right now, she is going to really regret it.

Physical Sensations

  • Heart starts pounding
  • Breathing becomes faster and shallower
  • Suddenly feeling hot or chilled
  • Face feels flushed
  • Head or neck pain
  • Stomach distress

Anger Management Programs - Learn to Recognize Anger’s Early Warning Signs


Physical Reactions

  • Grinding teeth
  • Pacing or fidgeting
  • Muscle tension in arms, back, neck, or shoulders
  • Clenching jaw and/or fists

You can mark this down in stone: Before your anger reaches the flashpoint where you do or say something that could hurt others and cause problems for you, too, you will always experience at least some of the symptoms on these lists. If you can condition yourself to become aware of these early warning signs, you will make the first small but important step toward successfully managing your anger.

Looking in the Mirror

Anger Management Programs - Learn to Recognize Anger’s Early Warning Signs

Now that you have a little bit of background, think about your own early warning signs. As you look back now on the patterns that your anger usually follows, do you recognize any symptoms that are present before your anger actually erupts?
Think about one or two of the most recent anger events you experienced. Get out a piece of paper and write out the symptoms you remember.
Thoughts I was having right before I exploded:
Physical sensations I remember having right before I exploded:
Physical reactions I realize I was doing right before I exploded:

Anger Management Programs - Learn to Recognize Anger’s Early Warning Signs

Do you really want to learn how to keep your anger from getting out of control? Then you must learn how to pay attention to the messages your body is sending to you. There are plenty of additional strategies you can use to control your anger and express it in more constructive ways. However, none of them will do any good until you quit making excuses and start paying attention to the warning signs that your body and your thoughts are sending to you. Learn to read yourself, and you will be one step closer to saving your relationships with your family.

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