I can’t control my temper

Dear Dr Gray,
I seem to feel angry all of the time and I am wondering if I need some kind of therapy or maybe some anger management. Most of the time I can keep a lid on it but from time to time (and this is starting to happen more often) I completely lose it, sometimes over really little things. I am worried because the problem is getting worse not better.
Jonathon (Clapham, London)

Dr Gray Replies……..

Dear Jonathon,
Anger is the emotion that we fear most and as a result, the one that we work the hardest to suppress. However, we have evolved to feel anger and evolution rarely creates without good reason. Anger, like all emotions, serves a very important function, anger alerts us to problems and motivates us to resolve them. Without anger we would be unaware of problems that could result in harm being done to either ourselves or others. The best example of this is the anger we feel when someone mistreats us or others. The optimum way of responding to anger is to tolerate it for long enough so we are able identify the problem and then, channel it to resolve that problem. However, we learn all sorts of unhelpful things about anger and its consequences that get in the way of this adaptive and necessary process leading us to suppress feelings of anger only for them to build up over time (anger like any energy needs will only dissipate if it is given a avenue for release) and spill out in inappropriate ways.
The problem is not the experience of anger, but its expression. The expression of anger exists on a continuum with aggression lying at one end, passive (aggression) at the other and assertiveness in the middle. When a person’s expression of anger falls at either end of the continuum the experience of anger fails to be adaptive. The solution therefore is not to suppress the experience of anger but to learn the skills to express it adaptively and appropriately.
Some therapy would undoubtedly be helpful but I would recommend a combination of anger management and assertiveness training, so that you can learn to tolerate your anger and deal with the problems that it is alerting you to. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has proven to be extremely useful in helping people with ‘anger problems’ and The British CBT & Counselling Service offer therapy in Clapham so should be able to help you.

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