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
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.