Do You Have 'Anger Management' Problems? Here's How To Find Out

Do you control your anger, or does your anger control you? These 12 questions will help you find out the truth.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | June 14, 2024

Many people come to therapy when they feel as though they aren't in control of their anger. They may say things like:

  • "I lose my temper so often and unexpectedly. I wish I could help it, but even the smallest of inconveniences can set me off."
  • "I struggle to communicate any problems I have with others without it turning into a fight. I start with good intentions, but my anger somehow always boils over, and I end up hurting their feelings."
  • "No matter what I do, I can't shake the feeling that everyone around me tries to rile me up. Even if they aren't, I always find myself in an argument—and I'm usually the one who starts it."

Although anger management problems are incredibly prevalent, many people downplay or ignore these problems—telling themselves, "That's just the way that I am." However, this reductive mentality opens the door to a variety of social and emotional challenges. Here's how to identify if you have a problem, and if you do, what you can do to get them under control.

The Anger Management Scale

The Anger Management Scale (AMS) was developed by Dr. Sandra Stith—a professor of couple's and family therapy—and Dr. Sherry Hamby—a research professor and renowned activist who empowers victims of trauma and violence.

The AMS was designed to measure individuals' tendencies to escalate situations or to attribute their anger negatively to others, as well as their ability to calm themselves down and effectively use calming strategies. To use the scale, individuals rate their level of agreement to the following 12 statements on a scale from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree:"

  1. When arguing with my partner, I often raise my voice.
  2. When my partner picks a fight with me, I fight back.
  3. If I keep thinking about what made me mad, I get angrier.
  4. My partner likes to make me mad.
  5. When my partner is nice to me, I wonder what my partner wants.
  6. My partner is rude to me unless I insist on respect.
  7. I often fail to recognize when I am beginning to get angry at my partner.
  8. I can't usually tell when I am about to lose my temper at my partner.
  9. When I feel myself starting to get angry at my partner, I often avoid talking about the problem.
  10. I don't often take a "time out" as a way to control my anger at my partner.
  11. Taking a break from my partner never helps me to keep calm.
  12. I rarely try to think of something pleasant to keep me from thinking about my anger at my partner.

Without taking the necessary steps to identify when anger is a problematic part of one's life, the issues can easily be dismissed as an unbreakable habit or fixed personality traits. In turn, the root causes of their anger are also neglected—allowing destructive patterns of behavior to indeed become an unbreakable habit.

Ample research suggests that anger is an "emotional contagion"—one that can severely damage relationships with friends, family and partners. More concerningly, poor anger management has been shown to be associated with a variety of mood, anxiety and substance use disorders, as well as cardiovascular diseases. This makes it imperative to recognize and address anger issues as early as possible, as the risks they pose are not worth how easy or satisfying the outbursts may feel in the moment.

If you struggle with controlling your anger and related outbursts, here are two practices that may help you in moments of rage which, if rinsed and repeated, can help keep your anger at bay.

1. Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring is a method of changing negative thought patterns that contribute to anger, and replacing them with more positive and rational thoughts. It involves recognizing and challenging irrational or distorted thoughts and reframing them to see the bigger picture:

  • Identify distorted thoughts. When you feel angry, take a moment to identify the specific thoughts running through your mind. Are you thinking in absolutes, such as "always" or "never"? Are you catastrophizing by assuming the worst possible outcome?
  • Challenge your thoughts. Ask yourself questions to challenge these thoughts. Is there evidence to support this thought? Is there evidence against it? Am I overgeneralizing based on one event? What would I say to a friend in this situation?
  • Reframe your thoughts. Replace the distorted thoughts with more rational ones. Instead of thinking, "This is terrible, everything is ruined," you might think, "This is frustrating, but I can handle it, and it's not the end of the world." Practice this regularly to make it a habit.

2. Grounding Techniques

Grounding techniques are exercises that help you stay connected to the world around you and the present moment—which can interrupt the escalation of anger by minimizing its emotional intensity. The 5-4-3-2-1 Technique is particularly useful in moments of anger, as it forces you to focus on sensory integration:

  1. Identify five things you can see around you.
  2. Identify four things you can touch.
  3. Identify three things you can hear.
  4. Identify two things you can smell.
  5. Identify one thing you can taste.

By engaging your senses, you shift your focus away from the anger-inducing thoughts and towards the immediate environment. This redirection has far more immediate and effective results than what some methods—like breathing techniques and "time outs"—might allow. It can take your mind off of what makes you angry surprisingly quickly, allowing you a moment of peace, and in turn, to regain control.

Anger can do more than ruin your mood; it can ruin many good parts of life that we often take for granted. We either let it paint our life, or we find a way to let it go. Although this is a choice that is ours alone to make, the road to healing thereafter is one that you don't have to travel alone.

Anger can be blinding, but it doesn't have to control your life. Use the Anger Management Scale to find out how you can take charge of your emotions.

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