Lesson Four

Lesson 4: The Aggression Cycle – How To Change the Cycle

Checking In This Week

As you look at your homework you completed for last week, what was the highest level of anger you reached on the anger meter? Be sure you reserved the number 10 for situations where you lost control of your anger and experienced negative consequences.

Be sure you described the anger-provoking event that led to your highest level of anger.

Make sure you included the cues that occurred in response to the anger-provoking event.

Where did the cues fall in the cue catagories (physicial, behavioral, emotional, or cognitive)?

What strategies you did you use to either avoid reaching 10 on the anger meter or recovering after reaching 10?


The Aggression Cycle

In the last three sessions, we reviewed the anger meter, cues to anger, and the anger control plan; in this session, the framework for integrating these anger management concepts is presented. This framework is the aggression cycle.

From an anger management perspective, an episode of anger can be viewed as consisting of three phases:
escalation, explosion, and postexplosion. Together, they make up the aggression cycle. In this process, the escalation phase is characterized by cues that indicate anger is building. As stated in session 2, these cues can be physical, behavioral, emotional, or cognitive (thoughts). As you may recall, cues are warning signs, or responses, to anger-provoking events. Events, on the other hand, are situations that occur every day that may lead to escalations of anger if effective anger management strategies are not used. Red-flag events are types of situations that are unique to you and that you are especially sensitive to because of past events. These events can involve internal processes (e.g., thinking about situations that were anger provoking in the past) or external processes (e.g., experiencing real-life, anger-provoking situations in the here and now).

If the escalation phase is allowed to continue, the explosion phase will follow. The explosion phase is marked by an uncontrollable discharge of anger displayed as verbal or physical aggression. This discharge, in turn, leads to negative consequences; it is synonymous with the number 10 on the anger meter.

The final stage of the aggression cycle is the postexplosion phase. It is characterized by negative consequences resulting from the verbal or physical aggression displayed during the explosion phase. These consequences may include going to jail, making restitution, being terminated from a job or discharged from a drug treatment or social service program, losing family and loved ones, or feelings of guilt, shame, and regret.

The intensity, frequency, and duration of anger in the aggression cycle varies among individuals. For example, one person’s anger may escalate rapidly after a provocative event and, within just a few minutes, reach the explosion phase. Another person’s anger may escalate slowly but steadily over several hours before reaching the explosion phase. Similarly, one person may experience more episodes of anger and progress through the aggression cycle more often than the other. However, both individuals, despite differences in how quickly their anger escalates and how frequently they experience anger, will undergo all three phases of the aggression cycle.

The intensity of these individuals anger also may differ. One person may engage in more violent behavior than the other in the explosion phase. For example, he or she may use weapons or assault someone. The other person may express his or her anger during the explosion phase the explosion phase is synonymous with losing control and becoming verbally or physically aggressive.

Notice that the escalation and explosion phases of the aggression cycle correspond to the levels on the anger meter. The points below 10 on the anger meter represent the escalation phase, the building up of anger. The explosion phase, on the other hand, corresponds to 10 on the anger meter. Again 10 on the anger meter is the point at which one loses control and expresses anger through verbal or physical aggression that leads to negative consequences.

The Aggression Cycle and the Anger Meter

One of the primary objectives of anger management treatment is to keep from reaching the explosion phase. This is accomplished by using the anger meter to monitor changes in your anger, attending to the cues or warning signs that indicate anger is building, and employing the appropriate strategies from your anger control plans to stop the escalation of anger. If the explosion phase is prevented from occurring, the postexplosion phase will not occur, and the aggression cycle will be broken. If you use your anger control plans effectively, your anger should ideally reach between a 1 and a 9 on the anger meter. This is a reasonable goal to aim for. By preventing the explosion phase (10), you will not experience the negative consequences of the postexplosion phase, and you will break the cycle of aggression.

What phase of the aggression cycle are you in if you reach a 7 on the anger meter?





What phase are you in if you reach 10 on the anger meter?





The Aggression Cycle

The Aggression Cycle


Relaxation Through Progressive Muscle Relaxation

In the last session you practiced deep-breathing as a relaxation technique. This session you will be introduced to progressive muscle relaxation. You should practice this exercise as often as possible.

Here is the audio file you can use. Just click on, “Muscle Relaxation MP3” below to start The Muscle Relaxation audio file.


      Muscle Relaxation MP3 - Darren Love


To make your own recording, use the script below or put it in your own words.

Take a moment to settle in. Now, as you did last week, begin to focus on your breathing. Take a deep breath. Hold it for a second. Now exhale fully and completely. Again, take a deep breath. Fill your lungs and chest. Now release and exhale slowly. Again, one more time, inhale slowly, hold, and release.

Now, while you continue to breathe deeply and fully, bring your awareness to your hands. Clench your fists very tightly. Hold that tension. Now relax your fists, letting your fingers unfold and letting your hands completely relax. Again, clench your fists tightly. Hold, and release. Imagine all the tension leaving your hands down to your fingertips. Notice the difference between the tension and complete relaxation.

Now bring your awareness to your arms. Curl your arms as if you are doing a bicep curl. Tense your fists, forearms, and biceps. Hold the tension, and release. Let your arms unfold and your hands float back to your thighs. Feel the tension drain out of your arms.

Again, curl your arms to tighten your biceps. Notice the tension, hold, and release. Let the tension flow out of your arms. Replace it with deep muscle relaxation.

Now raise your shoulders toward your ears. Really tense your shoulders. Hold the tension for a second. Now gently drop your shoulders and release all the tension. Again, lift your shoulders, hold the tension, and release. Let the tension flow from your shoulders all the way down your arms to your fingers. Notice how different your muscles feel when they are relaxed.

Now bring your awareness to your neck and your face. Tense all those muscles by making a face. Tense your neck, jaw, and forehead. Hold the tension, and release. Let the muscles of your neck and jaw relax. Relax all the lines in your forehead. One more time, tense all the muscles in your neck and face, hold, and release. Be aware of the muscles relaxing at the top of your head and around your eyes. Let your eyes relax in their sockets, almost as if they were sinking into the back of your head. Relax your jaw and your throat. Relax all the muscles around your ears. Feel all the tension in your neck muscles release.

Now just sit for a few moments. Scan your body for any tension and release it. Notice how your body feels when your muscles are completely relaxed.

When you are ready, open your eyes.

How was that?

Did you notice any new sensations?

How does your body feel now?

How about your state of mind?

Do you notice any difference now from when you started?


Weekly Homework

Review the aggression cycle and practice progressive muscle relaxation, preferably once a day, during the coming week. Don’t forget to develop your anger control plans.

For the day with the highest number, identify the event that triggered your anger, the cues that were associated with your anger, and the strategies you used to manage your anger in response to the event.

Use the following questions for your weekly review before completing the next lesson:

  1. What was the highest number you reached on the anger meter during the past week?

  2. What was the event that triggered your anger?




  3. What cues were associated with the anger-provoking event?

    Physical cues


    Behavioral cues


    Emotional cues


    Cognitive cues


  4. What strategies did you use to avoid reaching 10 on the anger meter?




For each day of the upcoming week, monitor and record the highest number you reach on the anger meter.

_____ M _____ T _____ W _____ Th _____ F _____ Sat _____ Sun


Review – Four Cue Categories

1. Physical (examples: rapid heartbeat, tightness in chest, feeling hot or flushed)

2. Behavioral (examples: pacing, clenching fists, raising voice, staring)

3. Emotional (examples: fear, hurt, jealousy, guilt)

4. Cognitive/Thoughts (examples: hostile self-talk, images of aggression and revenge)