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How to Manage Your Anger – Part 1

(The Basics of Cognitive Restructuring and Anger Management, Part 1 of 3)

Gary L. Flegal, Ph.D.

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Anger is one of the normal emotions that human beings experience. Anger is also one of our most dynamic and forceful emotions, and, as such, has the potential to move us powerfully. Emotions are not good or bad; they are simply a part of the human experience. What we do with our emotions determines whether they are labeled positive or negative.

Since anger is part of the normal range of human emotions, our goal is not to eradicate it, but to manage it. Anger is almost always a reaction to fear. Consider that anger can motivate someone to run faster to score a touchdown, to work at curing deadly diseases, or to work at improving social conditions for millions of unfortunate people. However, anger can also explode into fury that hurts others (and ourselves). These behaviors motivate us to examine anger management training.

Anger and stress are so prevalent in our society today that, sooner or later, someone who is angry will arrive in one of your social groups — at work, or even in your family at home. This anger will, most likely, have little or nothing to do with you or your group, but it will certainly have a big impact on your group’s dynamics once the person arrives.

It's Dangerous to hold onto Anger.

Click on this picture for a download on Anger in the Office
called “Desk Rage!”

Hostility and anger are precursors to violence, and we only have to take a brief look at the news each day to know that violence is on the rise. This blog addresses two of our major concerns related to violence — namely, Where does it come from? and What can we do about it?

It would be downright brash to believe that anyone has a handle on all of the causes of violence in our society. But it is reasonable to look at several characteristics that are commonly present in people who commit violent acts, so we will begin with those.

At one time in our evolutionary past, anger was important for survival. It prepared us to fight and defeat the target of our anger or fear. This is basic in understanding what has come to be labeled the “fight or flight” response. Fight or flight, also called the “stress response,” was vital to our survival because it prepared us for action. It isn’t surprising that anger, given its primal origins, often results in action. When we feel angry, there is a strong impulse to act angry. And this can lead to violence.

Because our society is no longer a nomadic, hunter/gatherer society, our ability to act out physically is no longer the basis for our survival and is therefore often inappropriate. Overt violent behavior is easy to recognize. But how do we recognize the seeds of this behavior — hostility and anger — so that we can train ourselves and others to react with more socially appropriate behaviors?

Because anger is primarily fear-based, this become the focus for both coping and prevention. And this begins with learning to recognize our own distorted thinking patterns that result during times of anger. It also means understanding that we can change our thinking patterns once we recognize them as distorted.

Cognitive Restructuring Therapy

Consider that no one is born with an established thinking pattern. The things that make us angry are things that we learn as we grow and mature. If this was not so, then everyone would automatically become angry when put in the same set of circumstances. We know that this is not the case. Different people become angry in relation to different conditions. Since different difficulties influence us each in different ways, it is obvious that we are not born with a set way of responding, but rather, learn our responses as we grow and develop. Anything that is learned can be unlearned or changed. This is the basis for what is currently referred to as cognitive restructuring therapy. Cognitive restructuring is relatively simply to understand and to apply, and it has shown great success in its application to the field of anger management.

Cognitive restructuring recognizes that our thoughts precede our feelings and actions. If we are feeling angry, it is the result of angry thoughts. Therefore, if we can change our thoughts, we can change how we feel. The key to this begins with learning to recognize emotionally distorted thoughts when we have them. This takes practice. It is also difficult (maybe impossible) to teach to someone who is in the midst of being angry, so if you are working with someone, choose a time when he or she is calm if at all possible.

(continued in Part 2, where The Deadly M.O.A.N.S are discussed as a tool to help identify the seeds of anger . . .)

Copyright © 2012 by Gary L. Flegal, Ph.D.

Dr. Gary Flegal is a Behavioral Medicine and Health Specialist with a doctorate in “Health Education and Human Performance” from Michigan State University. He is an exciting and accomplished presenter and keynote speaker, presenting seminars for groups and companies on location and at conventions. His advanced training in stress management came to him while working in affiliation with the original Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard under the direction of Herbert Benson, M.D. and his staff. In addition to corporate presentations, Dr. Flegal keeps a busy schedule working with individual clients for a variety of stress-related issues, including anger management, quitting smoking, learning to relax and manage stress, and learning self-hypnosis.

Dr. Flegal’s other passion is magic. He has been a professional magician for over 30 years and continues practicing his art at every opportunity. These two passions work together beautifully as he illustrates stress management concepts with fun, visual, and “magical” demonstrations in his stress management workshops and seminars. It also allows him to share stress management with his magic audiences wherever he goes because “Laughter is the Best Medicine!” Gary also possesses Master level training in Reiki, a hands-on healing therapy. Gary Flegal is also a Certified Consulting Hypnotist, certified by the National Guild of Hypnotists.

Dr. Flegal’s specialties include stress management, anger management, positive behavior change, insomnia, smoking cessation, and exercise physiology. For individual appointments, speaking engagements, or more information, contact Gary at Professional Stress Management Services in Nashville, Tennessee, at (615)812-7280 or through his Web site:



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Posts by Dr. Gary Flegal

October 2012


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Stress can cause severe health problems if not managed properly. In extreme cases stress can lead to physical symptoms which can even cause death. While stress management techniques have been shown to have a positive effect on reducing stress, the information on this website is for guidance only. Readers should seek the advice of suitably qualified health professionals if they have any concerns over stress-related illnesses or if stress is causing significant or persistent unhappiness. Health professionals should also be consulted before any major change in diet or levels of exercise.
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