Anger Management

by J.D. Roth

Based on Courtney‘s recommendation (and the recommendations of a bunch of AskMetafilter folks), I’ve begun to read Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David. M. Burns. The book attempts to empower a person to defeat depression without drugs, and is reportedly very effective for those, like me, with mild depression.

I’ve only read bits and pieces so far, but what I’ve read has been eye-opening. Yesterday, I browsed the chapter about anger. I suspect my co-workers (and perhaps my friends) think I’m a little irritable. I often think of myself as easily upset.

Feeling Good features the following survey, which is based on the Novaco Anger Scale. I’ve reproduced it here without permission. For each situation below, estimate the degree of anger it would provoke in you using this simple scale:

0 – You would feel little or no annoyance.
1 – You would feel a little irritated.
2 – You would feel moderately upset.
3 – You would feel quite angry.
4 – You would feel very irate.

As you describe how you would ordinarily react to each situation, make your best general estimate even though important details may be missing.

  1. You unpack an appliance you have just purchased, plug it in, and discover that it doesn’t work. 3 – I would be quite angry. If it were a computer-related product, I would be irate.
  2. You are overcharged by a repairman who has you over a barrel. 2 – I would be upset.
  3. You are singled out for correction when the actions of others go unnoticed. 4 – I would be irate. I hate this.
  4. You get your car stuck in mud or snow. 0 – This would not bother me. It’s an act of nature. What can you do?
  5. You are talking to someone and they don’t answer you. 1 – This would annoy me.
  6. Someone pretends to be something they are not. 2 – I would be angry. I don’t like this.
  7. While you are struggling to carry four cups of coffee to your table at a cafeteria, someone bumps into you, spilling the coffee. 1 – I would be irritated, but not much.
  8. You have hung up your clothes, but someone knocks them to the floor and fails to pick them up. 1 – I would be irritated, though this is unlikely to happen in real life. I don’t hang up my clothes!
  9. You are hounded by a salesperson from the moment you walk into a store. 2 – I would be upset.
  10. You have made arrangements to go somewhere with a person who backs out at the last minute and leaves you hanging. 1 – This is irritating, but there are worse things that can happen.
  11. Being joked about or teased. 1 – This goes more to self-image than to anger. I’d feel all sorts of self-doubt.
  12. Your car is stalled at a traffic light and the guy behind you keeps blowing his horn. 2 – I would be upset.
  13. You accidentally make the wrong kind of turn in a parking lot. As you get out of your car someone yells at you, “Where did you learn to drive?” 0 – As Kris can attest, when I make a driving error and am honked at or yelled at, I get sheepish and apologetic, not angry.
  14. Someone makes a mistake and blames it on you. 2 – I would be upset.
  15. You are trying to concentrate, but a person near you is tapping their foot. 4 – This pisses me off.
  16. You lend someone an important book or tool, and they fail to return it. 1 – I loan out a lot of stuff. I wouldn’t loan it if I didn’t think it might not come back.
  17. You have had a busy day, and the person you live with starts to complain that you forgot to do something that you agreed to do. 3 – This makes me very cranky.
  18. You are trying to discuss something important with your mate or partner who isn’t giving you a chance to express your feelings. 2 – I would be upset.
  19. You are in a discussion with someone who persists in arguing about a topic they know very little about. 3 – This makes me cranky.
  20. Someone sticks his or her nose into an argument between you and somebody else. 1 – Not a big deal.
  21. You need to get somewhere quickly, but the car in front of you is going 25mph in a 40mph zone, and you cannot pass. 2 – I would be upset, especially if the driver would not pull over.
  22. Stepping on a glob of chewing gum. 0 – Again, this is environmental. What can you do?
  23. Being mocked by a small group of people as you pass them. 1 – As above, this would turn more into self-loathing than into anger.
  24. In a hurry to get somewhere, you tear a good pair of slacks on a sharp object. 1 – I’m clumsy, so I’ve become used to this.
  25. You use your last quarter to make a phone call, but you are disconnected and the quarter is lost. (Or, in modern terms: you are stranded, so you use your cell phone to call for help. The battery dies.) 1 – Another case in which there’s nothing to be angry at.

Here is how Burns interprets the results of the anger survey.

0 – 45: The amount of anger and annoyance you generally experience is remarkably low.
46 – 55: You are substantially more peaceful than the average person.
56 – 75: You respond to life’s annoyances with an average amount of anger.
76 – 85: You frequently react in an angry way.
86 – 100: You are plagued by intense fury. You probably harbor negative feelings and grudges.

My total score is 41. I am not very irritable. This is surprising in some ways, but makes sense when I think about it. I may bitch and moan often, but I’m rarely truly upset. I say what I think and move on. I do not dwell on anger.

Kris and I talked about this survey after I took it. We decided that we both have similar approaches to anger. Neither of us gets angry very often, but what we do that may be unusual is that we openly express how we feel. If something irritates us, we express our displeasure instead of holding it in. We suspect that most other people hold it in. (Note that we do, of course, hold in our frustrations in certain circumstances.)

I believe that most people are taught to keep their feelings — good and bad — under wraps. If they’re excited about something, they remain restrained. If something makes them angry, they do not let it show. Many people dislike confrontation, especially if the confrontation is somehow negative. I’m not like that. I usually wear my heart on my sleeve. I don’t know what good it does to keep irritation inside.

How did you score on the anger assessment survey?

Updated: 18 October 2005

Do what's right. Do your best. Accept the outcome.
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