May 26, 2022

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How To Test and Improve Your Anger Management Skills

5 min read

Anger can take many forms, like a fleeting period of rage or a lengthy blowout fight, for two examples. But while it’s often a natural emotion to feel, what’s most consequential is how you manage it as it bubbles up. Using introspection to test your anger-management skills (when you’re not in the heat of the moment, that is) can afford you some healthy self-awareness with regard to your common anger tendencies and triggers. Once they’re on your radar, you’ll be better equipped to spot and proactively quell the feeling whenever it inevitably arises.

And “inevitable” is the operative word regarding anger, because everyone is bound to experience it at one point or another. “Any excessive negative feeling—fear, distress, shame, rejection—will likely trigger anger,” psychotherapist Alison Stone, LCSW, previously told Well+Good. That said, the emotion isn’t inherently negative and can serve a key psychological purpose. “It helps you recognize when you‘re being mistreated,” says clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD, author of Understanding Bipolar Disorder. “If you don’t let yourself experience anger, people will walk all over you, and the anger can later turn up as depression, anxiety, or even psychosomatic pain.”

For that reason, effective anger management isn’t about ignoring or pushing down anger, but rather, experiencing it, accepting that it’s a normal human emotion, and thinking through what you want to say or do in response to it with mindful intention, says Dr. Daramus.

How to test your anger-management skills

The extent to which you take any of the above healthy anger-management steps when confronted with the emotion is certainly subjective to your mood, the situation prompting the anger, and a variety of other external factors. Even so, certain folks also have better baseline skills at anger management than others—and, as a result, tend to embrace effective techniques for managing conflict and disappointment more often than not.

To test your own abilities at anger management, you could start with a simple self-assessment like this 10-question one from Psychology Today. (If your anger levels put you or others at risk, though, seeking professional help rather than introspective self-treatment is the best path forward.)

This test poses a set of scenarios that would typically provoke some angry feelings, and asks you to rate how angry you would hypothetically feel in each one using a six-point scale ranging from, “I don’t feel angry at all” to “I feel furious.” Based on your responses to all 10 situations, it then aggregates an “anger score” on a scale from 0 to 100. While a score of “0” would likely reflect a high extent of denial—again, it’s normal to experience some anger sometimes—and a score of “100” would imply a complete lack of coping tactics for anger, exactly where you fall in-between can offer insight into your relative anger-management skills.

“You want to allow yourself to experience anger when someone is hurting you or crossing boundaries, but you also want to be in charge of your anger, not let it be in charge of you.” —Aimee Daramus, PsyD

“It’s ideal for your result to fall somewhere near the middle of that scale,” says Dr. Daramus. “You want to allow yourself to experience anger when someone is hurting you or crossing your boundaries, but you also want to be in charge of your anger, instead of letting it be in charge of you.”

Though this type of test for anger management isn’t clinical or diagnostic in nature, it can offer insight by way of prompting some healthy self-reflection. “It allows the test-taker to consider incidents that could possibly make them angry or explore things that may come up for them while reading the questions that they might not otherwise consider,” says therapist Nya B, LPC. To get an accurate result from the test, though, you’d need to be as honest as possible with yourself while considering each hypothetical scenario—which can be tough to do, particularly if you’re someone who does experience or hold onto a lot of anger or lingering resentment.

“At first, many people actually underestimate the depth of their anger,” says psychologist Robert Enright, PhD, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute and author of The Forgiving Life. “That may be because they fear deep anger, or they’re using the psychological defense of denial to hide some of their anger from themselves.” As a result, they’re likely to respond inaccurately to the hypothetical angering scenarios in the above test. “It’s so easy to continue with denial, and tell yourself, ‘Of course, I would never get too angry in those conditions,’” he says.

Because of this, he suggests consulting family members or friends to test your anger management rather than relying on more subjective-leaning self-reporting alone. “Ask a loved one to rate your anger on a 1-to-10 scale whenever you become angry or annoyed,” he suggests. “Once you have their answer [for a few different times when you were angry], talking out the discrepancy between their number and the number you might give yourself can help you reduce any amount of denial, particularly if you’re aware of or can develop a potential solution for that anger, like showing forgiveness.”

How to identify strong emotional coping skills in action

Having a clear picture of how effective anger management looks can also provide you with a sense of how your skills stack up in this realm. “A person who manages their anger well will take deep breaths during a conflict, use self-talk as a distraction, create a buffer of calm—perhaps, by keeping a stress ball or putty within reach—and be intentional about avoiding people or places that trigger them,” says Nya B.

Should a tense situation escalate, strong anger-management skills might also look like stepping away, and turning to a splash of cold water on one’s face, listening to music, or pausing for a few minutes with a meditation app in order to calm down, adds Dr. Daramus.

Once the person is less heated, an effective anger-manager will also acknowledge their feelings about the situation, while creating space and time for the anger to subside. “Typically, they’ll use words to separate themselves from the emotion, as opposed to owning it,” says Nya B. “Rather than saying, ‘I’m pissed,’ for example, they’d say, ‘I feel pissed,’ creating distance between them and the emotion, instead of holding onto it as a part of their identity.”

From there, people with strong anger-management skills also tend to use “I” statements to express what they were angry about, avoid excessive blame-shifting, and drop expectations that someone else agree with their viewpoint. And all of those are tendencies you can scan yourself for, in order to get a better read on how you might improve your anger-management skills, whenever you need to call upon them.

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