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The Anger Escalation Process

by Dave Decker M.A.

Explosive and disrespectful anger does not just "erupt out of nowhere," even though that's what many angry people feel and describe to others. After an angry episode, you might have been thinking to yourself, "I was feeling fine and then I just reacted" - or "My day was going great, and then I just blew up." But that isn't quite the reality.

In fact, explosive anger arises as a result of an escalation process. An escalation is a gradual build-up of emotion and tension over a period of time and an explosion is the end result. Some people escalate to drinking too much, eating too much, or getting depressed. People who tend to react to stress by getting angry get explosive and rageful. An escalation may last minutes, hours, days, weeks, and even months and involves specific "cues" or "triggers" that can include brooding about past hurts and resentments, reacting to current situations and people, and any and all feelings.

Anxiety, disappointment, and fear can be a part of an escalation just as much as anger can. Often, angry people have little, if any, awareness that the pressure is building internally and have few, if any, skills to identify and handle the escalation in a productive and useful way.

A key in handling anger more effectively is getting to know yourself. The more information you have about what is happening inside you, e.g. your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations, and what you tend to react to that is happening around you, the better you will be able to recognize and intervene in an escalation to explosive anger.

The more effectively you can notice what's going on and then do something about it, the less likely you are to become punishing, demeaning, and disrespectful with others.

The Escalation Prevention Plan can help you identify your cues and triggers and then come up with De-Escalation Strategies that you can use to respond to them differently. Remember too that an escalation is not just feeling rageful and "out of control" and acting in an abusive or destructive manner. It can also involve experiencing any feelings (e.g. anxiety) and signs (e.g. increased heartbeat) that can lead to an explosion.


© 1987 David J. Decker, MA, LP
Phone: 612-725-8402 or 651-646-4325 -






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