But is anger a habit?

Looking at the visitor statistics for this blog, I noticed that this year’s most visited blog article so far is ‘How we do the Anger Habit.’ In the 8 months since it was published it has been viewed just under 1800 times.

This is great and yet what I find particularly interesting is that nobody has commented on, questioned or challenged the article’s central idea – that anger is a ‘habit’ i.e. it is something that we do rather than something which happens to us.

‘It’s not my fault – that’s how I am’!

I first began introducing the idea that our emotions are really ‘habits’ in the weekly stress management courses which I began running in the mid 80’s.  These were held in Dorset, in the south of the UK, and proved very popular – so much that, at one stage, I could be running four, five or even six courses per week throughout the area. 

Now one of the great things, and one of the challenging things, about running live courses like these is that people are very happy to share their opinions with you!  And back then many people weren’t very happy with the idea that anger, especially, could be a habit – and would tell me so in no uncertain terms.

They held that anger wasn’t something they did i.e. it wasn’t a habit’ but was something that they suffered from as in ‘my anger overwhelmed me!’

My response usually began with the story of the physician John Hunter who, firmly believing he was the victim of his anger habit, prophesied his own death of a heart attack.

Things have changed

The idea that our emotions are habits is much more acceptable today.  More is known about the brain. More is known about how our thoughts produce our emotions.  And people are more open to the idea that negative emotions are things that they can learn to deal with rather than things they have to be treated for.

The NLP take on anger

As usual, NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) succinctly cuts through the fluffy thinking and gets to the core of the issue: the Anger Habit is just another ‘programme’ or mental strategy that, as young people, we learned to use in order to get our own way.  It probably worked very well for the three-year-old throwing a tantrum in the supermarket in order to get the embarrassed parent to buy those sweets.  It’s likely to be a lot less effective as a means of getting your own way in adult relationships.

(There is a series of articles dealing with anger in our Mind-Body Health website : http://www.pe2000.com/anger.html)

9 thoughts on “The Anger ‘Habit’…?”

  1. Hi Reg,

    A while since we spoke, and I retire from the MoD in February….

    The combination of thoughts, feelings and actions that go with the anger habit are also mirrored in the depression habit.

    Your course remains the most inspirational piece of CPD I have ever experienced.

    I hope you are well and long may you prosper!

    Kind regards,

    Mike Hughesman

  2. Hi Mike: good to hear from you again – and I can’t believe it’s 9 years since you first attended a Pegasus NLP course. Glad the two courses have stood the test of time in your experience, too.

    Yes, I agree regarding depression and the pattern does apply to just about any other habitual emotion. Which bodes well for dealing with and replacing them 🙂


  3. I have found the “Reg” NLP approach to anger and it’s various causes and effects very enlightening and very useful.

    I can see a similar approach being useful for people with light or mild depression.

    I would be very worried however if this course of action were to be specified as a “cure” for those that suffer from deep depression. Certainly not a task that a lay person should embark on.

    The techniques that you promote could still be useful to someone with deep depression alongside their existing treatment if agreed by their medical Practitioner.

    It does worry me when people with less skill than yourself, with the best intentions dabble in treating depression, at least this can be less than effective, at worst can be counter productive.

    I use some of the techniques learned at your courses on a daily basis fighting the effects of chronic migraine, and they can be very effective, they won’t cure the migraine “BUT” they really help with the ongoing side effects both from the Migraines themselves and the side effects of the medications used to alleviate the pain.


  4. Hi Reg,
    I worked on the anger habit long ago and completely changed my outlook on life as a result. Only in the last few months have I realised that depression is also a habit! It’s proving hard to break, but not impossible.

  5. Hi Reg,

    I think you summed the process really well and for me personally I see 2 distinct parts of the anger ‘process;’ I needed the knowledge and an understanding kinaesthetically (& emotionally) of both in order to be able to free myself up from it

    First is the: ‘programme’ or mental strategy’ that you allude to, or in laymen’s terms how we get angry.

    The Second is mentioned in your linked article about John Hunter/ ‘The cost of anger’:…’go over the event in your mind…your mood is being ruled by the memory’

    Some part of our mind (some label it the ‘ego’ or ‘internal dialogue’) is running over the events in our mind that precedes the anger or it could be the self talk we engage in as we re play it.

    For me having an awareness of this second part is the most powerful one and the one that most easily dissipates my anger.


  6. Hi Tudor:

    I agree with your concern about well-intentioned people “dabbling” in areas that are outside their competency. Certainly people who have experienced chronic depression and over a considerable period of time would benefit from a comprehensive and skilled approach. And, when I used to see such people on a one-to-one basis, I would recommend that they liaised closely with their general practitioner so that their medication could be balanced with their changing attitude to life.

    That said the “how do you do it?” issue still remained. They may have had the thoughts and feelings and behaviours of “depression” for a very long time but it was still a mental programme. If they weren’t assisted in recognising that they will always remain “patient patients” rather than very active participants in reorganising their lives.


  7. Hi Claire:

    the reasons for entering the ongoing mood of “depression” are many and various. It’s usually a reaction to either how one is living one’s life or to events in one’s life. I used to suggest to people that depression is like those “cutout” mechanisms on electrical cables – the ones which switch off the electricity supply to, say, a lawn mower

    it’s as if the inner mind or “the unconscious mind” is saying that if we don’t sort out how we are living our lives we will have to get by on a much lower level of mental or physicalenergy

    and allopathic medication is a valuable aid in getting us to a level of functioning that enables us to do this “sorting out”


  8. hi Russell:

    Just goes to show different things ring true for different peopleand at different times in their lives!:-)

    For me, in dealing with my own short fuse, the clincher was recognising that getting angry was undermining my own peace of mind and my own equilibrium – and enabling other people to be in charge of my mood.



  9. Hi Reg, I have worked in the mental health arena for many years now, and whilst my colleagues and I spend time working on ways to alleviate the symptoms of mental ill health for those that are attending the ‘drop ins’ and other services, we overlook ourselves as we believe we are not vulnerable, nor are we prone to the ‘dis-ease’ that the service users appear to be. However, I have watched people i work with emulate the issues performed by those in our care, on a regular basis. Some succumb to the same problems and issues that manifest in those in their care. Anger is a big issue, and I have been on the end of some violent outbursts in this time from both the cared for, and the carers.
    Not all anger, I agree, is a habit and something that we have learned to do; I am usually quite calm and ‘cloak’ myself to avoid being drawn in, as it were, but I have been known to snap when I feel it was warranted.

    So what I am saying is that it would be good if we could see anger as a habit, whether it is or it isn’t, because habits can be altered and re-framed and let go of, whereas being a victim of the anger, and allowing yourself to be overwhelmed is counter productive and leaves you with nowhere to go. Its like having a badge of honour across your forehead ‘I am a victim of anger, and I can’t help it’ etc.

    I have successfully supported quite a few people to overcome a habit, be it anger or smoking or something other, and once they have gained their own own sense of worth for this, they realise that there is no such thing as being a victim of the issue, only that they have allowed themselves to succumb to something that they can blame their feelings on. Addressing the underlying causes has to be better than accepting that ‘this is the way I am’.

    I hope that makes sense. I really enjoy the blogs and they help me formulate ideas for the people i worlk to support. Thanks. Alex

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