The Biology Behind Anger Management Techniques

Find out what happens inside the brain when you blow your lid, and learn about these anger management techniques.


| June 2013



Angry Caveman

Anger, often called “the fire inside,” is one of our most powerful and primal human emotions, as much a part of us as fear and love. It has traveled with us for millennia, sometimes as a weapon and sometimes as a tool.

Photo By Fotolia/Davi Sales

When it comes to anger, there’s something you may not know. It’s not always your anger that gets in the way of your success; very often, it is the anger of others. In Outsmarting Anger (Jossey-Bass, 2013), Dr. Joseph Shrand reveals the inner-workings of the brain when “the fire inside” erupts. He outlines seven innovative yet simple stratgies to help turn powerful anger impulses into positive, success-oriented actions. This guide helps you manage and decrease not only your own anger, but the anger of people around you so everyone can be more successful. Find out what happens in the brain when you become angry and learn a brief overview of the seven anger management techniques you can use to defuse anger in this excerpt from the introduction. 

“Put down the chair!” the nurse shrieked, as Dan, a very large psychotic patient, raised the piece of furniture in the air, intent on smashing it over her head. Staff members were already running toward them, ready to put him in restraints. Dan’s face was red with the flow of adrenaline, and he was breathing fast and heavy with rage. Just then, a doctor walked calmly into the hallway. “Hey Dan,” he said, “Want a cup of coffee?” They all stared for a moment. The doctor said, “Decaf OK?” Dan smiled, lowered the chair, and asked, “With cream?” They both went down to the kitchen for a cup of Joe.

This is a true story, and Dan was my patient. People wondered how I was able to calm Dan’s anger within seconds. I, too, have given a lot of thought to this situation and thousands of others that might have turned explosive and even catastrophic but for a calm and respectful intervention. In this short exchange with Dan, I reminded him of his value by approaching him calmly, trustingly, and with empathy for his very visible discomfort. I didn’t treat him like a patient. I didn’t treat him like someone who had lost control. I treated him with respect. Although it seems remarkably simple, respect extinguished Dan’s anger.

We all have the ability to outsmart anger, in others and in ourselves.

An adolescent patient had been in my program for ten days, recovering from a serious heroin addiction. Over that time, she had learned a lot about the impact of drugs on her brain, and the impact of her drugs on other people’s brains, such as her parents’. Heroin had a significant hold on her, but she was desperate to be sober. She knew in her heart that she needed longer-term care, but I had told her that addiction doesn’t happen in the heart; it happens in the brain.

When her parents told her she could not go home but had to go to further treatment for three months, she lost it and became enraged. Her parents quickly activated their anger response in return, flaring at her that she needed help and would do as she was told. The girl became even more furious and told them she hated them. She resented their power over her, suspected they just wanted to get rid of her, and began screaming and threatening to run away.