Dealing With Anger in addiction

Dealing With Anger

One of the challenges to being in recovery is reteaching yourself how to handle powerful emotions like anger. This is a normal part of the process. Patients may have turned to substances when faced with overwhelming thoughts and feelings in the past. Now, managing emotions on their own can feel painful.

Learning anger management strategies can help control your daily stress and prevent a relapse.

What is Anger?

It’s important to remember that anger is a normal human response, and you can’t stop yourself from feeling it. Anger is your body’s natural defense telling you that something is wrong.

The problem with anger is that many people respond to the emotion with violence or aggressive behaviors like yelling. This can be damaging to a person’s life and relationships. People in recovery may feel so guilty afterward that they turn to substances for relief.

It’s important to remember that you can’t control what other people do. You can only control what you do. Sometimes people will say or do things that upset you, and there is nothing you can do about that. But following some simple strategies can help you be successful at managing your response.

Why Are You Angry?

While this may seem like a simple question, people blinded by rage often fail to ask it. They only respond to the overwhelming emotion and end up making destructive choices. Typically, anger triggers fall into two categories:

  • Unmet expectations
  • Fear

If you feel overwhelmed by anger, take a step back and ask yourself, what expectations do I have of others that aren’t being met in this situation?

Anger frequently arises when people have different expectations of each other. If you can identify your expectations of the other person, you may find that what you expected of them is unfair. You may also find that they were unaware of your expectations.

Take some time away from the situation to reflect. Then, when you are both calm, find a nonthreatening way to talk about your expectations. Explain that it is essential to your recovery process to properly communicate so that you can have strong, healthy relationships.

What Are You Afraid Of?

Anger is often fear turned inward. It may feel uncomfortable at first to admit that you are scared. But, often, people in recovery develop anger as a defense mechanism for being afraid.

Many times, angry people are not actually mad at the person or situation that is the target of their anger. They’re afraid of something else. Identifying what you are afraid of can help you bypass the surface problem and communicate your concern in a much more sympathetic way than a destructive display of anger.

Managing Fight-or-Flight

When people get angry or scared, the body responds by producing large amounts of adrenaline. This explains why they can do things like lift a car to rescue a small child or run long distances to escape an attacker.

But fight-or-flight is a chemical reaction and doesn’t know the difference between a mugger and an insensitive coworker. This is where coping strategies are important. Following some simple coping strategies can help you avoid giving into inappropriate behavior.

Remove yourself from the problem

When you are angry, the most important thing is not to make it worse. Sometimes people who have difficulty controlling their anger think that they must respond to the other party so as not to appear weak. Or that by not responding, they are allowing others to talk to them disrespectfully.

In reality, the opposite is true. Strong people and those with a healthy sense of self don’t need the opinions of others to tell them that they are respectable.

They also know that giving in to their anger, or getting into arguments with others, makes them part of the problem. Removing yourself from the situation quietly and calmly prevents you from losing control.

Take a cool-down walkTake a cool-down walk

The great thing about fight-or-flight is that it gives you an energy burst. Let that energy out by taking a walk. Get into nature and appreciate the fresh air. Focus on the green leaves on the trees, the graceful jump of a squirrel, and the deep red of the cardinal’s feathers.

Calm your heart rate by taking deep breaths, holding them, and slowly releasing them. Visualize individual muscles and concentrate on relaxing each one.

Phone a friend

There is a fine line between venting your feelings and destructive gossiping. But letting your feelings out to a neutral third party can assist in calming you down. It helps you process your emotions and can sometimes help you see the other person’s point of view.

Talk to a mirror

Practicing in the mirror is an excellent way to get out your anger. Pretend that the mirror is the other person, and tell them exactly what you think, no holds barred. Once you’ve gotten it all out and you are significantly calmer, continue to role-play with the mirror by having mock conversations that are increasingly productive.

Anticipate the other person’s response and keep doing this until you are ready to talk to the person constructively. The process helps you calm down and can make you see both sides.

Manage Anger to Support Your RecoveryManage Anger to Support Your Recovery

Anger is a natural human emotion that can alert you when something is wrong. But many people don’t know how to respond to it appropriately. By taking a step back and thinking about what’s at the root of the problem, you can articulate it enough to communicate it rationally.

By practicing some simple and easy coping strategies, you can avoid the destructive expressions of anger and be able to deal with your daily stressors constructively.

Right Path Addiction Centers offer the resources you need to help manage your anger during recovery, including individual and group therapy sessions. Contact one of our five Virginia locations to make an appointment to speak with a qualified mental health professional.


Written by Sergey Zhitar, MD Medical Director

Native of Moldova, Dr. Zhitar is Board Certified in Addiction Medicine as well as Internal Medicine and completed his training at UPMC Shadyside, Pittsburgh, PA in 2000.

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