Anger Management: Staying Calm when Anger Wants to be the Boss

Do you find yourself angry often? Do other people know how to set you off? Do you find yourself often annoyed with what other people are doing? Are there certain people in your life that know how to push your buttons? Are there certain things that are hot issues for you? Do you sometimes do and say things in anger you later regret?

If this describes you, the question to ask yourself is, “Do I control my anger or is my anger controlling me?” If your anger causes you to become a person you do not like or recognize, then keep reading. Choice Theory psychology has something to say about anger and other emotions.

Let’s take a look at the emotion of anger. It’s a common belief that anger just happens and people have no control over it at all. Choice Theory squashes this myth. Programs like anger management help people discover they can choose something other than destructive anger. If we had no control over it, anger management wouldn’t exist. But what if you could actually transmute your feeling of anger to something else and direct it in a different way? Would you want to learn about that?

Anger is not only an emotion, but also a Total Behavior. Choice Theory defines total behavior as the sum of four equal simultaneously occurring component parts—your actions, thoughts, feelings and physiology. Anger can be a brief experience of simple, involuntary behavior, as when you recognize things are not the way you want them to be. This disappointment may result in you feeling angry. This is not something you chose, but a signal that something in your life is not the way you want it to be. However, the very next thing you choose to do is, in fact, your choice. Once you recognize that, you can choose something different if you want to.

Choosing anger means there is a Total Behavior comprised of acting, thinking, feeling and physiology. The acting component of anger might be breaking something, saying hurtful things, or even physically aggressive actions. The thinking component of anger is typically something like, “This isn’t fair.” “This is wrong.” “I want it to be this way!” “Do it my way or else!” The feeling or emotion component of anger is a feeling of frustration, resentment, and righteousness. The physiology component consists of adrenalin, cortisol, and short-term muscle tension. Longer term tension can result in headaches, backaches, ulcers, autoimmune disorders, hypertension, stroke, among others. Our actions and thoughts are the only parts of the Total Behavior we can directly choose. We do not directly choose the feeling and physiology of anger.

By taking control of your anger, you can choose different actions and thoughts. Instead of choosing destructive behaviors when angry, you could instead choose something productive: going for a run, chopping wood, or doing housework. You can also choose to have different thoughts. Instead of thinking life isn’t fair, here’s a mantra you could shift to: life is what it is, and what happens to me isn’t as important as my response to it. This isn’t a problem; it’s a challenge to overcome. I have no right to control you; I need to control myself.

When you make a conscious choice to change your actions and thoughts to something incompatible with the preservation of anger, you will change the emotion or feeling of anger. These four components work together to create the Total Behavior. When you consciously change your actions and thoughts, your feelings and physiology will shift to be compatible.

This is different than “stuffing” your feelings. Stuffing feelings is more about feeling the emotion, denying it, and pushing it further down inside of you. The anger doesn’t go away, it just remains hidden until something causes it to come flooding out of you, often in great disproportion to what just happened.

The opposite of “stuffing” anger involves letting loose destructive impulses that often accompany the emotion of anger. People can indiscriminately lash out when feeling angry like wounded animals, only to do and say things they will later regret.

Choice Theory would recommend:

  1. Recognize the early signal of anger that you aren’t getting something you want.
  2. Decide if anger is what you want to be experiencing.
  3. If yes, go ahead and be angry. If not, determine what you are doing and thinking that is sustaining the angry feeling.
  4. Identify something else to do and think that will transmute the anger to a different emotion. (I often find gratitude is a great antidote for any emotion I don’t want to be experiencing.)
  5. Put the new actions and thoughts into play.

If you would like to learn more about managing your anger, check out my Managing Anger eBook at

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