Angry outbursts can actually feel good, as an endorphin rush and a release of building tension. The problem, of course, is that they can also be damaging to personal and professional relationships and convince others that you are immature and out of control. You can, and probably do, feel embarrassment and remorse after you have released oversized anger at someone you care about. If you recognize that you exhibit irrational anger and want to change that pattern, following are steps that can lead to a more appropriate expression of anger.

1.     Recognize that you have a problem.

You wish that you could get it under control but nothing is working.  You might even try to convince yourself it isn’t a problem, but all the evidence is there. Do you find yourself lashing out at people? This might even happen several times a day in an episode of extreme anger or rage. Or do you find yourself irritated most of the time?

If this sounds familiar, then you might have an anger problem. The good news is that as soon as you acknowledge that your anger is getting in the way, or out of control, you can start moving forward!

Your anger may be very irrational; you have to realize that this isn’t normal and it affects relationships to the point that people you care about don’t want to be around you. Maybe you apologize and say it won’t happen again, but it does happen again and again and again.

This sort of anger is more likely to be directed at people you love and feel safe around; you know you can’t behave this way at work because you have to keep your job, so you bring it home.

Clients tell me, “I’m a really laid back person, I don’t bother anybody. But then I get angry and I go from 0 to 10.” They don’t want to be that way, but anger can operate like an addiction. You have pressure building and building and when you release it, there’s a sense of relief. It’s like an endorphin high and it feels good in the beginning. Then it becomes a problem.

Substance abuse or addiction only adds to the problem. Anger escalates to rage. Instead of using skills to back off, you’re just gone with it.

In a calm moment, step back and look at yourself, do some self-examination. When you recognize that this kind of anger isn’t really working for you, it’s time for the next step.

2.     Do what you can to help yourself.

You can try some deep breathing; see if that will relieve the symptom. Take a walk. Look realistically at your life: “If I keep going what will happen? I could lose my job. I could lose people I love. It could escalate and I could hurt someone else or myself.”

Try to think differently, to recognize that it’s okay for someone else to have a different opinion from yours. Imagine the situation from their perspective. Try to focus on what they are really saying, instead of just responding to what you are hearing.

Keep a journal, write down when you got angry and why you think that happened.

Self-help books can help. They are usually written by people who have experienced anger themselves, and have put the skills and ideas to work.

If self-help isn’t working, move on to the next step.

3.     Contact a professional.

There’s a reason your anger has gotten this big. Most of my clients have no idea where it came from. Anger can manifest when you have a need that is not being met, or had not been met in the past. This could be a need unmet in childhood, in a present relationship, or even career.

Whatever the cause, there tends to be a pattern that you might recognize when you look closely. The anger frequently surfaces in the teens, when the child is beginning to think about his life. Hormones contribute, too.

The source might even be buried, but a counselor can provide a safe place to explore patterns, so you can get greater insight and then help design a new path.

In addition, if you suffer from depression or another mental health issue, that can be contributing to your anger. There might be a chemical imbalance going on and you can’t really help it. One of the symptoms of ADHD is anger. A professional can help you discover what’s going on and how to treat it.

4.     Keep at it.

You must recognize that this is a lifelong process. So many clients have come back to me and said, “It worked while I was doing it.” Once you have tools that are working for you, keep at it to maintain the healthy communication and relationships you have worked hard to repair. By using your skills, you can prevent that cycle of addiction to anger. You can get angry in a healthy way and when it’s appropriate.