Nothing can improve your relationship more than learning how to control anger outbursts. For example, do you find yourself losing your temper with your loved ones? Do you yell at your kids more often than you’d like to admit? Or, do you get resentful towards your spouse and lash out with sarcastic remarks? You might even be swearing to high-heaven inside your mind— muttering words under your breath you’d never say aloud.
When anger festers, it doesn’t always come out as loud screaming. It can surface as vindictive digs, passive-aggressive swipes, or a full-blown tantrum.
If you’re like most women, you don’t want to feel this way. But, struggling to figure out how to control anger outbursts can be difficult. As a counselor and coach for over 20 years, I’ve helped numerous women overcome their internal angst.
Here’s the trick. The way to control anger outbursts is NOT to silence your thoughts or beat yourself up for feeling angry inside. In fact, berating yourself will only make the problem worse. Instead, the way to control anger outbursts is to:
Make anger your ally.
How do you make anger your ally? Use the following 5 steps:
5 Steps to Control Anger Outbursts
Step 1. Notice the signs of anger before it erupts.
Anger almost always has a “tell” located somewhere in your body. You might start feeling tense, like your blood pressure is rising, or you might feel it in your head, like it’s going to explode. Some of you might notice hostile words forming on the tip of your tongue or angry, critical self-talk in your mind.
When you notice those signs, your body is headed straight toward the “fight” part of the “fight / flight” response. Some part of you is registering “Danger!” And, that means your whole body is preparing to kick into gear to fight that danger off.
This is a helpful process when you are in real physical danger and need to fight for your safety. But, oftentimes the angry “fight” response kicks in when we are hurt, saddened, or frustrated by the people we love. In those cases, we need a better strategy.
Step 2. Take a time-out or get physical space.
As you notice the signs of anger, see if you can interrupt the path you are headed down BEFORE you explode on someone else. You can do this in a number of ways:
- Use a code word to communicate, such as “I need a time out.”
- Take several deep breaths to slow down the automatic fight / flight response
- Physically change the position of your body to release tension
- Let your anger out verbally in a quiet, contained space by yourself.
- Go for a run or engage your body in a way that gives the anger expression
As you interrupt the initial “fight” response, you aren’t denying yourself the emotion. Instead, you “control” the anger outburst by identifying how it shows up in your body. You can then create better options for how to respond with your loved one.
Step 3. Give voice to your anger in writing or with a third party, such as a counselor, pastor, or friend.
Anger burns like a fire and can easily be fueled. It needs to be witnessed without being further ignited. If you’re able to journal from the perspective of your anger, write out what you feel. No one else has to see. Or, ask a friend if they’ll sit with you by the fire of your anger, without adding fuel to it. Here are some examples of the difference:
Adding Fuel: “I can’t believe he did that to you. That jerk!”
Sitting with: “I’m so sorry this is happening to you.”
Adding Fuel: “Those kids are awful. Why can’t they just get it together?
Sitting with: “I get it. It’s hard. I’m here for you.”
As you bear witness to your anger and all that it contains, it will start to burn less hot and become more like a glowing ember. Depending on the severity of the injury, this process might happen fast. Or, this process might need to be repeated numerous times over months or years.
The goal of giving voice to your anger is not to stay in it, nor is it to make it go away. As you give voice to your anger in a healthy, contained way, it will start to trust you. Anger is there to protect you from danger, remember? Learning how to control anger outbursts means learning to understand the hurt your anger might be signaling.
Step 4. Connect with the vulnerable feelings underneath your anger.
As your anger softens a little, you’ll start to notice other emotions you’re feeling underneath it. Anger almost always masks a more vulnerable feeling, such as pain, exhaustion, sadness, or fear. Notice how the angry outbursts below can be re-framed to identify the root emotions. For example:
“You are ruining everything!” might be connected to a feeling of “This behavior is extremely hurtful to me.”
“Why can’t you just behave!” might be protecting fear, such as, “I’m terrified that I’m not up for this parenting challenge” or exhaustion, such as, “I am simply out of gas right now.”
“I’m fine. Just fine,” might be masking what you really feel, “I’m not fine at all. I’m actually about to break.”
In my counseling work, I’ve seen it time after time. Learning how to control anger outbursts means learning to face the deeper feelings of vulnerability. It’s those feelings – the vulnerable ones – that hold the keys to your success. Keeping them down or ignoring them is the road to nowhere, and I don’t want you to make this mistake.
Step 5. Speak assertively on behalf of what you need.
Once you have taken the first four steps, you will be more equipped to speak up bravely on behalf of what you need. Instead of having an angry outburst, you can speak up assertively.
Assertiveness is a way of advocating for yourself by stating what you feel and what you need. It’s not about blaming and bullying others. And, it’s not about pretending you’re fine. It’s one of the most important communication skills you can learn.
See the chart below for examples of what it can look like to speak up assertively on behalf of your anger:
Learning how to control anger outbursts is a process you can learn. As you understand the root cause of your anger, you’ll gain clarity and courage. You’ll have a better sense of what’s really going on underneath an angry outburst.
As you understand yourself and grow in self-awareness, you’ll gain confidence. Then, you’ll learn to speak up assertively for what you need.
Imagine how good it will feel when anger is no longer the boss of you.
For further reading:
The Hidden Reason Why Negative Emotions are Helpful
Join the conversation. Leave a comment below:
Do you agree it’s possible to make anger your ally? Which of the 5 steps above seem the easiest or trickiest for you to address when you feel upset?
Got a question for Alison?
Click here to send your question. Please keep your message brief.
Due to the number of questions received each week, not all messages can be answered.
I’ve noticed that anger is the one emotion that wants to take “the whole show”…it wants to bleed into everything.
Alison Cook says
Yes, so true. That’s why it is so important to set healthy boundaries with it – to understand where it’s coming from, without letting it take over.
How do you learn to control your own anger especially when under frequent pressure deadlines (team deadlines, too) or when things are going wrong? I grew up with an verbally abusive, controlling, angry father. To this day, he still has regular anger outbursts that I no longer go and visit for longer than a weekend. He also came from a rough childhood. As a child, I used to stand up against him. Anger in my life is the third generation and I want it to stop. I am in therapy working on it.
Alison Cook says
Thank you for writing, Anoeschka. I recommend trauma-informed therapy for anyone who is struggling with anger as a result of abuse or childhood trauma. There are many ways to work with anger from a trauma informed perspective, including EMDR, IFS, and others. Try Softer, by Aundi Kolbler and The Body Keeps the Score, are great resources for a deeper understanding of childhood trauma and its impact. Our book, Boundaries for Your Soul is a Christian adaptation of the IFS model of therapy. You can find a list of resources and therapists on my website here: https://www.dralisoncook.com/resources/
Just wanted to thank you so much for writing this. I am going to print this and keep rereading this so I can adapt this into my life and also teach my children how to make anger their ally. Instead of shaming anger.
Alison Cook says
Thanks, Kathryn. I’m so glad you found it helpful.
Thank you for the help
I have at times hard for me to control myself when dealing with new Technology or if you’re trying to request help from say a third-party about something, and they just seem to keep repeating the same thing and not listening to you. Then when I go to my spouse for help, It’s the trigger words and statements said that start the fuel. Knowing that those things start the anger and then it snowballs from there.