Dealing with anger

Anger is a very common feeling after family separation. It's a perfectly normal emotion but it can, if it isn't controlled, lead to destructive behaviours and unwelcome outcomes.


You may be angry because of something your child's other parent has done. You might feel angry because you don't see your children every day. You might feel angry because you are being prevented from seeing them at all. You may feel angry with yourself or you might just feel angry that this thing has happened to you rather than someone else.


The first thing to say is that it's okay to feel angry. But, failing to manage your anger will cause unhappiness or suffering to both yourself and those around you, including your children. Uncontrolled, it can cause distress, fear and, at its worse, physical harm. Choosing to manage your anger means that you stay in control of how you feel and how you act and it will always lead to better outcomes.


What is anger?

Anger could be defined as a negative emotion that can lead to arguments, aggression, rage, bitterness and hostility. It is usually accompanied by physical effects such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and increased levels of hormones like adrenaline and noradrenaline. Anger is often described as being part of the fight or flight brain response to a perceived threat of harm.


Anger can be expressed externally through threatening behaviours such as shouting and lashing out at objects or other people. Anger can also be directed inwards by suppressing angry feelings. This can lead to depression, poor physical health and risky behaviours such as excessive use of alcohol or drugs.


We often describe anger as coming about as a result of the actions of others or because of some external event. 'I was angry because of what she said' or 'it was because such-and-such happened' for example. This implies that anger is inevitable and outside our control. However, anger is neither inevitable nor outside our control and we can learn to manage it. Anger is a learned behaviour and our behaviour is something that we can change.


It can be useful to think of anger not simply as a response. Try thinking of it as three stages:

  • the event that triggers the feeling
  • our ability to manage that feeling and
  • our response to the feeling


Managing anger

Be prepared

Thinking about the things that trigger our angry responses can mean that we don't get taken by surprise. It allows us to predict difficult situations and prepare our responses. Try making a list of all the things in your life that are likely to be the causes of anger. Think about the triggers, how they make you feel and then try to think of how you can respond differently.


Notice the warning signs

Most of us experience physical changes when we are angry or are about to become angry. If we can recognise these changes, we can receive an early warning signal that can prevent us from exploding into anger. Does your heart beat faster? Do you feel hot or flushed? Does your breathing become faster or more shallow? Do you tense your muscles? Try to learn the signs.


Learn to reduce the feeling

Find ways to increase the amount of time between the event that triggers the feeling and your response to the feeling. Count to ten, remove yourself from the situation, try to relax your breathing. Even just a little extra time can allow you the opportunity to respond differently.


Improve your general mood

Sleep, exercise and good diet will all help in managing anger and difficult situations. Find someone to talk to about your situation, go for a run or work in the garden. If things are getting too much, find a private place and shout as loudly as you can.