Effective anger management starts with the basics – sorting out the preconditioners for anger


A brief snapshot from my recent life. At half term my partner and I took our

fourteen year old son up to London for the day. We had a great time to begin

with, exploring the magisterial Apple store in Covent Garden, going for a drink in

the OXO tower, seeing a movie in 3d at the IMAX.

And then we made a mistake. Instead of going home we decided to stay out and

have a pizza. By now we were all pretty exhausted and as the meal went on our

conversation ground to an almost complete halt. At one point I was looking

across at my son and he suddenly flared up. ‘Stop looking at me, will you. It’s

really annoying.’ Bruised, I stopped looking at him.

This unhappy little incident illustrates a very obvious, but very important feature

of anger. When we are tired we are much more likely to get angry than when we

are not. Earlier in the day, when our energy levels were higher I had also looked

at my son a few times. It’s the kind of thing fond parents do. And it hadn’t been

an issue for him then as he wasn’t tired. Now that he was exhausted however, my

looking at him was no longer OK. This time it was a trigger for anger.

Tiredness is one of a number of important preconditioning factors that make us

more likely to get angry. ‘Preconditioners’, as I call them, set us up to lose our

tempers. They eat away at our resilience and multiply enormously the things

that are likely to irritate us.

As well as tiredness another obvious and important preconditioner is hunger. I

once did some anger management work with a city client who came to recognise

that he lost his temper much more frequently on the mornings when he did not

have time to eat breakfast, and as a consequence spent the first half of his

working day feeling hungry. Another major preconditioner is stress. All of us

know that when we are feeling stressed, when we are worrying about situations

over which we do not feel that we have complete control, we are more likely to

lose it.

Anger management often focuses on helping us deal with the specific triggers for

our anger – the noisy neighbour, the domineering colleague – or on ways of

dealing with the anger itself. But it should never ignore those simple, but very

important preconditioners that set us up to be angry in the first place. Good

anger management therapy will look at your sleep patterns to make sure that

you are getting enough quality rest. It will look at your diet and your eating

patterns. It will help you to tackle your stress. Get the preconditioners sorted out

and you will be much less vulnerable to anger. Leave them unattended and you

risk constantly being tipped over into angry reactions each time you are faced

with a trigger that is sufficiently irritating to you.

Effective anger management starts with the basics – sorting out the preconditioners for anger