Anger is most often stimulated in response to some kind of ‘antecedent’ event. This simply means an event that is linked directly to anger but that occurs before it. Antecedent events can take the form of threatening experiences or situations or triggering beliefs, attitudes and feelings.
The practitioner can support the young person to identify common antecedent events that mark the beginning of their anger process (see aspect 2: help young people understand their own anger).
By being aware of and dealing effectively with antecedent events and triggers that set off their angry reactions, young people can gain control over how their anger-related episodes unfold. There are 3 suggested strategies
- Avoiding antecedent events and triggers
- Noticing, labeling and diffusing
- Using self talk (helping young people learn how to talk themselves down not up)
While these strategies can be effective, each young person should know that triggers will continue to be there even though they are better at dealing with them. What the young person does have control over is how they choose to think, feel and behave in relation to the trigger.
Avoiding antecedent events and triggers
Whilst the young person is learning anger management techniques, the practitioner might encourage them to consciously avoid triggering events. For example, certain peers may trigger conflict. Whilst avoiding certain situations can be a useful strategy it is generally a time limited strategy. Geldard and Geldard (2010) warn practitioners to monitor young people practicing avoidance as it can result in the young person internalising their anger.
Once a young person can identify the triggers that result in them becoming angry they often become more adept at identifying triggers situations where they are present.
Noticing, labeling and diffusing
The practitioner can support the young person to identify the feelings/thoughts that may be hidden behind their anger by using the following interventions:
Noticing and labeling anger related feelings helps to externalise them and reminds the young person that having a feeling does not mean they need to act upon it. The practitioner can coach the young person to use phrases such as ‘ I am noticing I’m having the angry feelings of .........’.
H3. Introducing defusion & H4. Getting into defusion
Noticing and labeling is integral to the practice of defusing, a technique from ‘Acceptance and Commitment Therapy’ (ACT). Young people are taught to ‘step back’ from their feeling of anger, enough to observe it rather than being driven by it. When feelings are observed and understood without judgment, a young person positions themselves to choose a course of action that is in line with their values.
The element Getting into defusion includes the ‘Bad News Radio’ exercise and other metaphor-based techniques.
The bad news radio
The practitioner can use the bad news radio analogy to assist the young person to defuse from their unhelpful thoughts, and recognise their thoughts without being triggered by them. The young person’s thoughts can be viewed as separate to them, a talk-back radio station of unhelpful thoughts. The young person can hear the bad news radio playing in the background and decide to lower the volume, call into the radio station and challenge the commentary or leave the radio as it is and choose how they want to behave despite the bad news.
Self talk: Helping young people learn how to talk themselves down not up
Self-talk has the ability to influence whether a young person gets more or less angry in an exchange. Saying things such as, ‘This person is an idiot!’ or ‘How dare she talk to me like that?’ is likely to increase feelings of anger.
Instead, the young person can be coached to use calming self-statements such as:
‘Calm down. You can handle this.’
‘No point getting mad. Let’s just take a few breaths.’
‘I’m not going to let this get to me.’
‘I’m walking away now and will deal with this later’