Coping with Anger


Anger problems are common among people with dual disorders. Much friction can be caused in a relationship if you ignore your anger or act on it in ways that hurt others physically or emotionally. Anger problems can interfere with recovery if you don’t cope with these feelings in positive ways.

Anger can also empower you if dealt with in a positive way. It can motivate you to set or reach goals or work hard to accomplish things in your life.

It is not your feelings of anger that causes problems but how you think about and express it that determines how anger affects your life. Some people try to ignore their anger and let it build up. They stew on the inside and become upset or depressed. They express anger indirectly by dragging their feet, forgetting important dates of people they feel anger toward, criticizing others behind their backs, or avoiding people they are mad at.

Other people let their anger out much too quickly and impulsively. They lash out at others and yell, cuss, scream, or act in other hostile ways. Some become violent, get into fights, or destroy objects or property. Violence is a significant problem for people with a substance abuse or psychiatric disorder.

The questions that follow will help assess your anger and how you express it.

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10, how much of a problem is your anger or how you cope with it or express it. 1-Somewhat of a problem  3-Moderate Problem  5-Serious Problem  7-Very serious  10-severe/life threatening.
  2. My anger usually shows in the following ways (i.e., I get sad, frustrated, pace, and feel nervous, etc.),
  3. I usually deal with anger by (i.e., holding it inside, letting it out immediately, talking it out, lashing out at others, fighting, etc.).
  4. I learned the following from my parents about anger or how to express it:
  5. My anger affects my physical or mental health in the following ways:
  6. My anger affects my relationships in the following ways:
  7. My anger affects my use of alcohol or other drugs by:
  8. I am still very angry at the following people:
  9. I can use my anger in a positive way by:

Setting a Goal

My goal in relation to how I cope with my anger is:

Steps I will take to reach this goal are:

Potential benefits of reaching my goal are:

Strategies for Managing Your Anger

  •  Recognize your angry feelings.

Pay attention to body cues, thoughts, and behaviors that tell you that you are angry. Use your anger cues to admit you are angry. Don’t deny, hide, minimize, or ignore your anger.

  • Figure out why you are angry.

When you feel angry figure out where it is coming from. Does it relate to something another person did or said to you? Does it relate to an event, experience, or situation? Or, is your anger caused by the way you think about things?

  • Decide if you really should feel angry.

Are you an angry person who seems to get mad too often or for no good reason? When angry, ask yourself if the facts of the situation warrant an angry reaction on your part. Or, ask yourself if your anger is the result of a character defect (i.e., you get mad frequently for little things).

  • Identify the effects of your anger and your methods of coping with anger.

How does your anger and your methods of coping with it affect your physical, mental, or spiritual health? How are your relationships with family members, friends, or others affected?

  • Use different strategies to deal with anger

These include cognitive (your beliefs about anger and the internal messages you give yourself), behavioral (how you act), and verbal (what you say to other people) strategies. Having a variety of strategies puts you in a good position to cope with anger in a wide range of situations.

  • Cognitive strategies for anger management include:
  • Evaluating your beliefs about anger and changing those beliefs that cause you problems. For example, if you believe you should “let it out” every time you get angry, you may find this isn’t always the best policy and that this belief should be modified. Or, if you believe you should never get mad, you might have to change this belief and give yourself permission to feel anger.
  • Catching yourself when you are angry and changing your angry thoughts.
  • Determining if your anger is really justified given the situation. This requires not jumping to conclusions and getting all of the facts of the situation first.
  • Using positive self-talk or slogans (for example, “this too shall pass,” “keep your cool and stay in control,” etc.)
  • Using fantasy. Imagine yourself coping in a positive way.
  • Evaluating the risks and benefits of expressing your anger or holding it inside.
  • Reminding yourself of negative effects of ignoring anger and holding it inside.
  • Reminding yourself of negative effects of expressing anger toward others in hurtful ways.
  • Identifying the benefits of handling anger in a positive way.
  • Taking a few minutes at the end of the day to see if you are harboring any anger from the events of the day.
  • Verbal strategies for anger include:
  • Sharing your feelings with whom you are angry.
  • Discussing the situation or problem that contributed to your anger directly with whom you are angry.
  • Sharing your angry feeling with a friend, family member, therapist, AA, NA, or CA sponsor. Many find it helpful to discuss anger at support group meetings.
  • Discussing the situation or problem that contributed to your anger with a neutral person to get their opinion on the situation.
  • Apologizing or making amends to others who were hurt as a result of how you expressed your anger.
  • Behavior strategies for anger management include:
  • Directing angry energy toward physical activity such as walking, exercising, or sports.
  • Directing feelings of anger toward some type of work.
  • Expressing your anger with creative media such as painting, drawing, and other forms of arts and crafts.
  • Writing about your feelings in a journal or anger log.




Exploring Anger



Do you think you have a problem with anger? Yes or No?

*If the answer is ‘yes,’ you may want to go directly to the next section. If unsure, take note of anything below that you relate to-these are typical signs of an anger problem.

  • You “blow up” at others.
  • You often criticize others.
  • You feel angry but can’t express it.
  • You have impulses to harm others.
  • You “never feel angry”.
  • You hate yourself.
  • You often isolate.
  • You feel bitter.
  • You have impulses to harm yourself.
  • Others have said you have an anger problem.


It is important to know that anger is not bad or wrong. Rather, it is information that can be used either to help or to harm your recovery. It can be used constructively to help you heal, to be honest with others, to face your pain. Or it can be used destructively to act out against yourself or others, to give up, to become bitter. Anger itself is not a problem-it’s all in what you do with it.

Constructive Anger: Anger that Heals

“Constructive anger” means anger that is…

  • Moderate or lower (e.g., up to 5 on a 0-10 scale, where 0 = no anger and 10 = intense anger).
  • Explored to understand yourself or others.
  • Conscious (you are aware of it).
  • Handled well (e.g., not acted out in dangerous behavior).
  • Respectful of your own and others’ needs.

For example, if you go out on a date and the other person acts selfish, you may rightly feel angry. If you listen to your anger, you can use it as a sign to protect yourself; perhaps you can talk to the person about what bothers you, or you can calmly end the date early. You can feel good about using your anger constructively.

There are great benefits to constructive anger. It can help protect you from danger…convey insights about yourself and others…give you real power.

Destructive Anger: Anger that Harms

“Destructive anger” means anger that is…

  • Acted out in dangerous behavior (hurting yourself or others).
  • Too intense and/or frequent (e.g., often above 5 on a 0-10 scale).
  • “Underground” (quietly seething or feeling bitter).
  • Unconscious (This type of anger will eventually come up into consciousness and can be very intense anger)

There are great costs to destructive anger. It can destroy your relationships…cause physical harm…weaken you…become an addiction.

Destructive anger can be directed toward yourself and/or directed toward others. Both represent a lack of balance between your own and others’ needs. For some people, both are present.

Destructive anger toward self (e.g., self-harm, suicidal feelings): Putting others’ needs too much ahead of yours.

Destructive anger towards others (e.g., verbal abuse, assault): Putting your needs too much ahead of others’.

With destructive anger toward yourself, you may not be aware of anger. For example, if you physically hurt yourself you may not notice anger at the time. However, such acting out does indeed represent anger-typically anger toward others that you have difficulty “owning”.

How do you tend to handle anger? Constructively / Destructively / both. Toward self / Toward Others / Both


Anger is normal in recovery from PTSD and substance abuse. If you have been through the terrible experiences of trauma and substance abuse, anger is inevitable. You may feel angry at people who hurt you, at the world, at God, at yourself, at life, at treaters (doctors etc), at family, at strangers. Your anger is valid and real. In recovery, the goal is to use your anger as a way to learn about yourself and grow. The task is to face your anger without letting it destroy you or others.

Behind all anger are unmet needs. Anger is a signal that something is wrong. It may mean that your not taking enough care of yourself, or that you have a lot of sadness to work through, or that you are in a harmful relationship. Listening to your anger and caring for the underlying needs can resolve anger.

Constructive anger can be learned. It is never too late, no matter how long you’ve had a problem with anger. Mainly it requires really listening to others’ feedback about your anger, “owning” your feelings rather than acting them out, expressing anger in healthy ways, and learning to tolerate the painful feelings behind the anger.

Destructive anger can become an addiction. Can you see similarities between destructive anger and substance abuse? For example, the more you engage in it, the more it increases. Also, with destructive anger you may feel “high” on it in the moment. Have you “hit bottom” with destructive anger-has it caused serious problems in your life?

Venting anger does not work. An old-style view of anger was the idea of venting-that the solution to anger is to “get it out” (e.g., punch a pillow, write an angry letter, throw rocks at a tree). However, these actually tend to increase rather than decrease anger. Currently, it is understood that anger needs to be handled constructively, not simply vented.

Destructive anger never works in the long term. You may get results in the short term. People may do what you want; you may feel powerful in the moment. It is only later that you can see that these are an illusion. Destructive anger spins you out of control and weakens your bonds with others.

Healthy VS Unhealthy Feelings



Thoughts and attitudes have an impact on the way you feel. Your emotions result more from the way you view things than from what happens to you. That simple idea can help you change the way you think and feel. In today’s lecture, you’ll learn more about the nuts and bolts of doing this.

However, before we go too far with this, we need to back track just a bit. When should we change our negative feelings? Are all negative feelings bad? Are some negative feelings normal and healthy? Should we try to be happy all the time?

I believe that some negative feelings are healthy and some negative feelings are unhealthy. For every negative emotion, there’s a healthy and an unhealthy version. Healthy sadness is not the same as clinical depression. Healthy fear is not the same as neurotic guilt. Healthy, constructive anger is not the same as unhealthy, destructive anger. And so fourth.

For example, if a loved one dies, it’s healthy to grieve and to share your feelings with friends and family members. Your sadness in the expression of the love that you felt for that person, and the feelings of loss will naturally disappear after a period of time. Clinical depression is very different.

What are some of the differences between healthy sadness and depression? I have listed them below. Think about this question a little bit before you look. What’s your perception?

(Note: The paperwork that i received in class came with a table to obviously separate the comparing example. So, I had to tweak the format a little bit. The first sentence in each example is the healthy version of the emotion being discussed. The second sentence is the unhealthy version of the emotion being discussed.)

Characteristics of Healthy Sadness VS Characteristics of Depression

  1. You are sad but don’t feel a loss of self-esteem. VS You feel a loss of self-esteem
  2. Your negative feelings are an appropriate reaction to an upsetting event VS Your negative feelings are far out of proportion to the event that triggered your bad mood.
  3. Your feelings go away after a period of time. VS Your feelings may go on and on endlessly.
  4. Although you feel sad, you do not feel discouraged about the future. VS You feel demoralized and convinced that things will never get better.
  5. You continue to be productively involved with life. VS You give up on life and lose interest in your friends and career.
  6. Your negative thoughts are realistic. VS Your negative thoughts are exaggerated and distorted, even though they seem valid.

What are some of the characteristics of healthy, constructive anger? How does it differ from destructive, unhealthy anger? I have listed characteristics of both below. Again, think about the differences before you look. What’s your perception?

Characteristics of Healthy, Constructive Anger VS Characteristics of Unhealthy, Destructive Anger

  1. You express your feelings in a tactful way VS you deny your feelings and pout (passive aggressive) or lash out and attack the other person (active aggression).
  2. You try to see the world through the other person’s eyes, even if you disagree. VS You argue defensively and insist there’s no validity in what the other person is saying.
  3. You convey a spirit of respect for the other person, even though you may feel quite angry with him or her. VS You believe the other person is despicable and deserving of punishment. You appear condescending or disrespectful.
  4. You do something productive and try to solve the problem. VS You give up and see yourself as a helpless victim.
  5. You try to learn from the situation so you will be wiser in the future. VS You don’t learn anything new. You feel that your view of the situation is absolutely valid.
  6. You eventually let go of the anger and feel happy again. VS Your anger becomes addictive. You won’t let go of it.
  7. You examine your own behavior to see how you may have contributed to the problem. VS You blame the other person and see yourself as an innocent victim.
  8. You believe that you and the other person both have valid ideas and feelings that deserve to be understood. VS You insist that you are entirely right and the other person is entirely wrong. You feel convinced that truth and justice are on your side.
  9. Your commitment to the other person increases. Your goal is to feel closer to him or her. VS You avoid or reject the other person. You write him or her off.
  10. You look for a solution where you can both win and nobody has to lose. VS You feel like you’re in a battle or a competition. If one person wins, you feel that the other person will be a loser.

We all have circumstances where we react in the wrong way when we are angry. No one is perfect. However, it is always a good idea to be open minded and willing to improve the way we handle situations to decrease our anger and to increase the quality of the relationships we have with others.

It is common for some people to be sad in a healthy way. However, the population of people with depression is extremely high. If we can pin point the unhealthy feeling we have, we then have a great chance to get some help and to change the way we feel. The feelings of depression are awful and they are very hard to live with.

Remember this: No one deserves to or has to live miserably. We have the power to change the way we think and feel if we want that bad enough and are open to suggestions. It is essential to always remain teachable. It is impossible to be happy all the time. But there is a remarkable strength in knowing how to identify our feelings and being able to go through them and deal with them so we can come out on the other side.