The 6 Stages of Change in Anger Management

By Charles H. Elliott, Laura L. Smith, W. Doyle Gentry

You need to make an informed decision about whether you want to make changes and control your anger. To do that, you need to understand what the process of change looks like.

Drs. Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente, in their highly acclaimed book, Changing for Good, described the process of changing human behaviors, emotions, and habits. They believe that people move through six stages of change. However, people don’t necessarily go through each stage in a set order but instead may move forward or backward or even skip a stage or two.

These stages are described here so that you can consider which one you may be in with respect to your anger.

Precontemplation, a stage of change

People in this stage of change arent even thinking they have a problem that they want to change. They aren’t reading self-help books, and they aren’t looking for therapists. If you ask them if they have a problem, they deny it. So, someone who’s overweight and in the precontemplation stage wouldn’t consider weight a personally relevant issue.

Contemplation as a stage of change

This stage applies to people who are merely thinking about making a change. They haven’t yet translated those thoughts into concrete plans or actions. They just have a growing sense that something is wrong that should be addressed.

A common example of contemplation is someone who sort of knows he should lose some weight but hasn’t really thought about a diet, exercise, or other plans for getting there. In the case of anger, a person in the contemplation stage might say, “I should stop yelling so much at my kids,” but has no ideas or plans for implementing that change.

Preparation, a stage of change

People in the preparation stage of change begin to create plans, make an appointment with a therapist, or write down steps they plan to take. During the preparation stage, people gather resources and start to imagine exactly how they plan to proceed.

Action as a stage of change

Here the rubber meets the road. During this stage, people put their plans into real actions. In the case of anger management, they may start writing down their anger triggers and use a variety of strategies for responding to their triggers in new, more adaptive ways.

Maintenance, a stage of change

After people have made most of the changes they want to, there’s more to be done. They have to work at maintaining their changes, and that’s not always easy to do.

Termination, the final stage of change

Not everyone gets to this stage of change. Termination refers to the stage of change when new habits become so deeply engrained that they require little or no effort to maintain them. Therefore, relapse becomes much less likely at this point.

For example, some ex-smokers have reached this stage and feel no particular temptation to ever smoke again. However, others succeed with a lifetime of abstinence but still struggle occasionally with difficult urges. So you don’t have to reach this stage to be successful, but it’s nice and easier if you do.

Working through the stages of change

To help clarify how the process of changes works, the following example of Eli shows you how people don’t always go through each stage in a neat, clean, straightforward manner. Rather, it’s common to bounce around a bit.

Eli works for an interstate trucking company as a long-distance driver. Eli drives longer hours than he should. He also has a hot temper, especially when he’s fatigued. Eli blows up one day at the loading dock. He swears and pushes a coworker up against a wall for messing up an order.

Following the incident, Eli’s boss tells him he’s got to watch his temper. So Eli tells his boss he will never do it again and gives his word on it. Eli believes what he tells his boss and swears to his wife and friends that his angry days have come to an end. Eli has suddenly shifted from the precontemplation stage of change (not even thinking about it) to the action stage, but with no contemplation or preparation.

Two weeks later, Eli makes a couple of obscene gestures to other drivers. Over the next few days, he gradually slips back to his old anger habits and quits thinking about the issue. He has now shifted back to the precontemplation stage of change. Unfortunately for Eli, he has another major anger outburst at work. His boss tells him that he has put Eli on probation for the next six months and tells him he must get help for his anger problems.

This time, Eli starts giving the problem a lot of thought (contemplation stage). He then starts gathering as much information as he can about anger management (preparation stage). He buys a self-help book and makes an appointment with a therapist. He and the therapist develop a set of specific actions and goals. He begins implementing these actions (action stage) and mostly succeeds, but from time to time, his old habits return. Eventually, Eli rarely loses his temper, and his friends see him as almost a new person (maintenance stage). He never gets to the point of never having to think about his anger impulses (termination stage), but his job performance and relationships improve.