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Self-Management of Angry Outbursts for Men with Asperger’s

Some men with Asperger’s (AS) have significant anger-control issues. Anger may be a common reaction experienced when coming to terms with problems in relationships, employment, and other areas in life affected by AS.

Sometimes there is an ‘on-off’ quality to the anger in which the individual is calm minutes later after an outburst – sometimes leaving his partner in shock. She may feel hurt or stunned for hours, if not days, afterward. NT partners often struggle to understand such angry outbursts, with resentment often building up over time.

In some cases, the man with AS may not acknowledge he has anger-control issues, and will blame his partner for provoking him. Again, this can create major conflict within the relationship.

Some common causes of angry outbursts in men with AS include:
  • Other’s behavior (e.g., insensitive comments, being ignored)
  • Intolerance of imperfections in others
  • Having routines and order disrupted
  • Difficulties with employment despite being intelligent in many areas
  • A build-up of anxiety
  • Being swamped by multiple tasks
  • Sensory over-stimulation
  • Relationship conflict

Identifying the cause of anger in your AS partner can be a challenge.  It is important to consider all possible influences relating to:
  • His physical state (e.g., pain, tiredness)
  • His mental state (e.g., existing frustration, confusion)
  • The environment (e.g., too much stimulation, major changes of routine)
  • How well (or poorly) he is being treated by co-workers

Steps to successful self-management of angry outbursts include the following: 

1. Plan ways to become distracted from the stressful situation (e.g., carry your cell phone and play a game on it).

2. Focus on self-awareness. This is where you become more aware of your personal thoughts, behaviors and physical states which are associated with acting-out in anger. This awareness is important because it helps you to notice the early signs of becoming upset. Write down a list of mental and physical changes you notice as you begin to get mad.

3. Make changes to routines and surroundings (e.g., if possible, avoid driving in peak hour traffic).

4. Keep a record. As you become more aware of situations associated with angry outbursts, you can keep a record of events, triggers and associated levels of anger. Explore the different levels of anger (e.g. slightly annoyed, frustrated, highly irritated, royally pissed, feelings of rage, and so on). In your record of situations that trigger anger, list the situation, the level of anger on a scale of 1 to 10, and the coping strategies that help you overcome or reduce angry feelings.

5. Explain to your partner how she can be of help to solve the problem in question.

6. What’s the big goal? Identify why you would like to manage your anger more successfully. Identify what benefits you expect in everyday living from improving your anger-control skills.

7. Avoid situations which are associated with a high-risk of getting you upset.

8. Get feedback. Ask other people who know you well to describe situations and behaviors they have noticed that seem to trigger your anger.

9. Use a 3-step method called “Stop-Think”:
  • Stop and think before reacting to the situation (e.g., “My goal right now is to improve my ability to cope with anger when I am waiting in long lines”).
  • Challenge your inaccurate or negative thoughts (e.g., “The service here is so inefficient. Why can’t they hurry up? I'm going to get pissed any moment now. WAIT. Stop thinking this!”). 
  • Create your new thought (e.g., “Everyone is probably aggravated by this long line – even the cashier serving us. I can either come back later, or I can wait here and think of something pleasant”).

10. Try meditation. Most people won’t even consider this one, but I know of many people who have found more benefit in this technique than any other – by far. When a stressful situation arises - with practice - you can immediately "train" your mind to focus on a pleasant and calming memory or image, rather than hyper-focusing on the current problem.

==> Relationship Skills for Couples Affected by Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism