I'm Dr. Ryan Fuller and I practice in New York City. I work a lot with anger management clients. Frequently I have clients ask me how to handle anger when it's justified. The thing that I try to make clear to clients right off the bat is that I, in fact, believe all anger is valid. That is, the experience, or the feeling of anger is always valid, given the particular situation and the beliefs the person might be having about the situation. With that said, the behaviors they engage in while angry may or may not be good ideas, in terms of their goals and their principles. First, a lot of people struggling with anger management do find themselves angry, not so much as a function of the actual trigger, the activating event, which might seem disproportionally small compared to their emotional reaction.
If that's the case, it's important that we assess their beliefs. In a case like that, although I don't use the language, someone might say, "It's not really justified." What they really mean is their beliefs are out of sync with reality and not logical. They're not really seeing it in an appropriate way. If that's the case, we want to make sure they change those beliefs. At the same time, there are plenty of instances where we can come across someone who's experiencing anger because, in fact, there's a transgression that is so severe or the violation is against such an important standard, that the anger is still there. When that's the case, again what's critical is that we validate the feeling, but we make sure that the behaviors that follow are pro-social or in line with the person's goals. What we really want to do is have that person say, "Okay, I'm angry. Here's why." and then realistically decide, "What can I do to change the situation?" That might involve something they take on personally, by trying to problem solve. It might be assertively communicating with the party who's violating that standard, very clearly and constructively, "This is the problem that I have with the behavior that occurred. Here's what I'd like to see in the future, and here are the consequences if that behavior doesn't change." There certainly are times when we might be really thinking rationally and we're still angry. When that's the case, it's critical that we communicate clearly about it, and actively problem solve.