What sets your nerves on edge? The idiot who suddenly cuts into your lane? The stubborn printer that always breaks down when you most need it? Perhaps it’s the missing toothpaste cap? It’ll probably have you biting your knuckles, or elicit a four-letter word. If these trivial daily mishaps are likely to send you into a fit of rage, you just might have a problem.

Illustrator Virassamy

“There are three stages in anger,” explains anger management trainer Annemie De Boye. “The first is physiological, where your body prepares to fight something it perceives as a threat. Your temperature rises, breathing accelerates, muscles tense up, your body starts producing adrenaline; these are all autonomous impulses. The second stage is cognitive, as your mind interprets the situation. You start wondering, for example, why your boss is giving you a hard time, again. ‘Why does he never criticise my colleague?’ ‘He must have it in for me.’ This is where the famous tunnel vision comes into play and you focus entirely on your ‘aggressor’. Staying rational becomes more difficult. With the thought process in motion it’s over to the third stage, which is your reaction. Some people nervously click their pen, others tap their feet. As for the people I work with, this is when they snap.”

Before anything, it is important to note that anger is not to be confused with aggression. Anger is part of our behaviour and is not necessarily linked to emotions, whereas aggression is purely emotional and acts as a warning signal. Take a bank robber; he will threaten people, often using violence to scare them into cooperation, yet in essence he acts rationally, as he cannot afford to lose sight of his surroundings. Aggression on the other hand is the result of intense frustration; think ofpeople who start screaming at police officers for giving them a ticket. So what triggers a tantrum? “It comes down to frustrations accumulating and your current level of tolerance; an outburst is the result of one frustration too many.” Anger issues are a sign of our times. Crushed by the constant pressure to perform, countless minor incidents get in our way towards achievement, like unpredictable traffic jams or unreliable alarm clocks. Additionally, elements such as fatigue and an imbalanced lifestyle lower our level of tolerance. At work, more and more people suffer from so-called Office Rage when ‘computer says no’ again. “In addition,” De Boye continues, “elements such as fatigue and an imbalanced lifestyle lower our level of tolerance.”

Office Rage and that stubborn printer…

We are not all destined for therapy, though. “Part of how angry you are as a person lies in your genes. The other part, linked more to frustration, is behaviour we learn from others.” De Boye tends to deal with two kinds of patients: “Perfectionists, who are irritated by the slightest flaws and therefore continuously frustrated, or overly principled people, for whom it’s black or white and who can’t let things go.” Owning up to this lack of self-control is tough – people rarely call on De Boye of their own accord. “Usually employers or family members have – as a final warning – ordered them to seek help.” So what does ‘anger management’ entail? “I teach people how to recognise the signs of an oncoming outburst. Cooling down is an effective remedy, while sports are a good outlet for frustration. Next, think positive; it’s only a dirty coffee mug – not the end of the world. Thirdly, control your actions. Are you pacing? Sit down. Naturally, anger management isn’t something you learn in a day, but I hand people the tools to get there.”

Kamil Uygun, former European Free Fight Champion, confirms that sports can help counter a burgeoning aggressive streak. “It takes a lot to really get me angry, which is something I owe to fighting,” Kamil admits. “Professional fighters are incredibly disciplined; we are obliged to watch our diet and nights out. If anybody knows about self-control, it’s us.” The intense physical exercise is also an efficient way to evacuate built-up adrenaline and frustration. “The ring is not the place to vent your emotions, though,” Uygun warns. “Anger will make you weak.”

See Kamil in action:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJdpU4xI9eY

Geraldine Laurys, Chief Inspector of the Saint Josse ten Noode police station, spent 10 years on the streets and dealt with aggression on a nightly basis. “Mainly marital disputes, drunken brawls, people with psychological problems. But fighting aggression with more aggression doesn’t work; stay calm but show them you’re not to be messed with, sometimes a sense of humour can do the trick.” Surprisingly, police officers do not receive in-depth training on how to deal with aggression; how well one handles volatile situations depends mainly on personality and common sense. Laureys feels female officers have less trouble calming people down. “A certain form of respect towards women generally still exists. But crime has become more violent. Part of it has to do with the increase in Slavs; due to the hardships they’ve experienced, they have a whole different set of morals. One more dead body is no skin off their nose.”

Another profession to suffer the rage and venom of countless incensed consumers are phone operators. “In one ear, straight out the other – it’s the only way to cope,” admits Silvia Picciau, who has been working in Sony’s complaint department for over three years. “Some people are so worked up, they forget to say hello. Personally, I find the people who don’t listen the worst. We do our best to find a solution but the person on the other end of the line just talks through you – it’s so frustrating.” Not every caller is automatically angry. “Most people just need reassurance. All they want to hear is ‘We understand your problem, this is how we can help’.”” Not all callers are angry, but those who are upset easily resort to verbal abuse. “The names I’ve been called!” she gasps. Her advice on dealing with temper tyrants: “Speak quietly. In order to hear you, they’ll have to lower their voice!”

Visit hipepe.be for more info on Anger Management training.

Als Het Potje Overkookt: Anger Management En Agressiehantering Op De Werkvloer (2010) by Annemie De Boye, Kluwer.