Getting Started

Lesson 1

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Getting Started

Lesson 1

Anger can be an intense and difficult emotion. Let’s start our exploration of anger by stepping to the side of the intensity and difficulty a bit and imagining that our experience of anger is an actual person in our lives. Take a few moments and think about this person — try to flesh him out and make him a real character that shows up at your door. (We’ll call him “he” just to make it easy, but your anger could very easily be a she or an it.)

What does he look like?
How does he dress?
How does he move his body when he moves?
What are his facial expressions like?

Now take a few moments and think about your relationship with Anger.

Is he cordial?
Is he combative?
Are you on speaking terms?
Are you more like old friends, or old enemies?

When you’re not feeling your experience of anger, where does Anger typically hang out?

In your back pocket?
In the corner of the room ready to spring to action at any moment?
Far away on the other side of the country?

When Anger comes to you, how do you typically greet him?

With a warm hug?
By trying to push him out of the room as fast as possible?

There’s no use trying to “manage” your experience of anger until you have a very clear understanding of what your anger is. What brings it on? How do you know it’s there? How does the experience make you feel before, during and after? These are all questions we will explore in this course.

In the spirit of exploration, we’ll also put off trying get rid of your experience of anger. Oftentimes, that’s our impulse: this thing doesn’t feel good, and it doesn’t lead to good consequences, so I must get rid of it as quickly as possible. The problem with this is that it never works. As you may have learned, it’s an ineffective strategy.

We believe it’s much more important to transform your relationship with anger. Rather than getting rid of it, we will teach you how to recognize it, how to learn from it, and how to make it into a manageable emotion that works for you, and not against you.

 What Is Anger?

Anger on its own is just an emotion — not negative, not positive. Like all emotions it has its own energy and its own experience that unfolds in your body. Anger affects the mind as well as the body. It may show up in your body as clenched fists or jaw, a flushed face, a racing heart; you may feel your blood boiling, and/or that your breathing quickens. Everyone has experienced anger and it can range from a mild annoyance to furious rage.

Anger in and of itself is not unhealthy. In fact, from a positive perspective, anger can work as a healthy warning system letting us know that something in our life is unbalanced, that we have been mistreated in some way, or that a need has not been met. Anger can also work as a motivator, propelling you to take social action, to make a tough change in your life, or confront a situation that is unhealthy.

On the negative side of things, anger can be expressed using hostility, aggression, and violence which can cause harm to you and/or others.

Anger is usually a reaction to a conflict, whether personal, work-related, or some other unforeseen obstacle, such as a lack of communication. Take a moment and see how our friends over at Howcast explain the basics of anger:

 Expressions of Anger

There many ways of expressing anger. Generally, we associate the expression of anger as an escalation of feelings that turn into a loss of control that may include yelling, cursing, violence, and aggression. This is not always the case. Anger also can be expressed internally through negative self-talk, feelings of resentment, body aches, or other forms of physical pain. It can be just as unhealthy to stifle anger, to run away from conflict, or to suppress our emotions, as it is to explode and react outwardly.

In this course we will examine healthy and unhealthy expressions of anger. Most of these expressions are habits we have learned from childhood, from our family, from the reactions we’ve received throughout our lives to our expectations, needs, and beliefs. Despite common misconceptions, anger is not genetic or inherited.  How you handle your anger is your responsibility. You are capable of changing your relationship with your experience of anger.

Some unhealthy expressions of anger include:

  • Sarcasm
  • Bullying
  • Excessive cynicism
  • Low threshold for frustration
  • Throwing or breaking objects
  • Violence

When your experience of anger is out of your control, chances are it will be expressed inappropriately.

 Why Anger Management?

Unhealthy expressions of anger can negatively affect your personal life, your workplace, and your health.

Lack of anger management can result in isolation, feeling a loss of community, guilt, shame, pain and fear. The quality of your relationships and other interpersonal interactions can plummet due to emotional and physical harm as a result of explosive reactions. Escalating anger, building resentment when you suppress your anger, and avoidance of conflict can be painful and scary.

As we know, anger has many negative consequences. We may not communicate as effectively. We may get into power struggles. We may show disrespect to others. This can lead to more conflict, arguments, increased stress, a loss of productivity at work and even the loss of your job.

Anger is a bodily process as well as a psychological one. Being angry excessively, either in frequency or intensity, can cause health issues such as a weakened immune system, hypertension and/or heart disease.

People look to anger management courses for different reasons. Everyone can benefit from learning new methods of managing anger and cultivating healthy social skills. Some people are required to take anger management courses by their employers. This ensures a productive and respectful work environment. Others are required by court order. Anger is a difficult emotion to control and not all of us have learned healthy ways of dealing with it.

Throughout this course, you will learn methods for dealing with anger in a productive manner, all the while strengthening personal relationships, self-esteem, and physical health.

Let’s Try an Exercise

Take a moment and call to mind the Anger-as-a-person-you-know idea that you created at the beginning of this lesson.

Just by calling him to mind, we are guessing that your body went through a series of micro-changes: your heart rate sped up, your pulse quickened, some muscles probably slightly tensed and the little hairs on your arms may have stood up just a little. We’ll get more into those physical changes later in the course.

Ask your Anger to sit on the couch and take it easy for a moment. You might even offer him a nice, imaginary glass of iced tea.

Once he’s situated on the couch (our guess is that since you asked politely he went without too much fuss), try this:

  • Call to mind a place that when you think of it, you feel totally at ease. Some people choose the beach, some a forest filled with birdsong, and others choose their bed on a Saturday morning with nothing to do but rest. Whatever works best for you.
  • Now fill in all the sensory details of that experience: When you look around, what do you see? When you listen, what do you hear? Are there smells in the air? What is the texture beneath your feet? What is the light like in the sky, or the room you’re in?
  • After you’ve filled in all those details, take a few moments with your eyes closed, and really let yourself soak in the ease and relaxation of this place and this moment.
  • Did you skip any of the steps above? If you did, take a risk: go back and really try to get into this. We promise you won’t be disappointed. We’ll give you a hint: by now you should have noticed either a slight or dramatic shift in your breathing and in your mind. Things have probably begun to slow down either a little or a lot.
  • Now notice how your body feels. Find a place in your body that feels either calm or neutral. Sometimes people feel into their heart, or their temples, or their seat, or their ankles, or even their big toe. It doesn’t matter where, just make sure it’s not a place that’s carrying any tension.
  • Let yourself soak up the feelings of relaxation present in that part of your body. You might even try to breathe very deeply and send your breath to that place. With your eyes closed or your gaze pointed down, do this for a few more minutes.
  • Now open your eyes. How do you feel? Imagine your Anger sitting on the couch watching you do this exercise. What does he think of all this?

Imagine being able to tap into this sense of calm the next time you become angry. Imagine being totally triggered, and then stopping yourself and bringing yourself to this relaxed, centered place. This class will teach you how to do just that.


Before personal growth is possible, goals need to be set. Take some time and set three goals for yourself, keeping in mind what you would like to achieve with this course. Think of some behaviors or habits you would like to change. Think of how you want your next conflict to look—do you want it resolved peacefully, where neither party gets hurt and maybe both parties may benefit? Maybe you want to know how to cultivate more respect and compassion for others.

While thinking of your goals, please keep in mind that while this course will help develop anger management skills, true anger management is a process that needs attention, awareness, and the willingness to be honest with yourself. This course will give you the foundation you need to start improving your relationships, your work, and your life, but it will take daily work on your part to maintain it.

Along with these goals, a journal would be an extremely useful tool while you take this course. In the next few days, write down some conflicts you witness, whether they involve you or not. Observe how others react to these conflicts. If the conflict involves you, are you running away from the conflict? If it involves others, are they reacting passive aggressively, agreeing to something they clearly disagree with? How would you improve these situations? Try to see the conflict from both parties’ perspectives.

It’s okay if you draw a couple of blanks at this point. This exercise is meant to build awareness of others’ feelings as well as your own emotions. Emotional awareness is a big part of anger management, which we will explore in-depth in the upcoming sections.




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