By Tina B. Tessina
Anger is a taboo emotion in our culture: we feel it, we express it, but we don’t usually talk about it, so it’s difficult for adults to figure out what to do with their anger. Expressing anger in a dysfunctional way does lead to broken families, and even to landing in the hospital, the morgue and the nightly news.
Anger is the force within us that rises when something needs to change. If we act on the need to create change, the anger can be channeled effectively; but if it’s not redirected to something effective, the frustration will build, leading to rage. Anger that is allowed to get out of control is as destructive as a hurricane, but anger that is expressed in healthy ways can “clear the air” just as a storm does. The aftermath of a healthy, not too violent storm allows us to appreciate the pleasures of calmness.
People who have angry outbursts, whether at spouses or freeway traffic, have poor impulse control. They are often “stuck” in the early temper tantrum stage (about age 2 1/2 to 3) because they never learned to manage their own anger. Whoever was supposed to help them manage their temper, such as parents or teachers, were absent, intimidated or helpless, and allowed the child to grow into a raging adult. They may also have witnessed a family member who was a “rageaholic” and frequently angry or violent. People who rage don’t know how to do “emotional maintenance” and shake off stress. They also don’t know how to quit when something is getting to them. Those who allow themselves to rage don’t know how to tell they’re on the brink, or how to stop. They often have a sense of entitlement (“I just have a bad temper,” said with some pride) and a lack of emotional maturity. They’re actually like emotional three year olds in adult bodies, which is dangerous.
The difference between people who lose their temper (throw fits, throw objects, scream and yell) and those who don’t is that those with self control can feel that they’re getting upset, getting close to “losing it.” With enough harassment and pressure, anyone can be goaded into rage.
People keep control of their anger just stop or leave the situation earlier before they are pushed so far. They respect their own anger, and deal with it effectively. As soon as they feel anger is getting out of control, they stop what they’re doing, walk away, change their thinking/attitude, journal, pray, or call a friend to get calmed down.
Easily Angry or Irritated
Being easily angered or irritated is a great way to punish yourself. It raises your blood pressure, and tends to create unnecessary problems with others. Anger interferes with clear thinking, and being irritable makes it unpleasant and difficult for others to work or socialize with you. To reform this habit, you must develop more emotional maturity. Understand that your anger is not seen as power by others, but as childishness and petulance. It will lose you far more than you will gain. Learn to slow down, and reduce your overly high expectations. Allow others to be themselves, and don’t expect them to march to your drum. Counting to 10 works wonders, as does taking three deep breaths when you are upset.
Taking up yoga, meditation, tai chi, or another calming pursuit will teach you patience. Strenuous physical activity is a great way to burn off excess anger. If none of these work, see a therapist or join an anger management group.
An angry reaction is not that rational. It’s an emotional thing. Those who overreact are scared, feel helpless, and are trying to get in control of what’s happening. It’s not rational thinking, and a movie probably won’t help. No matter what you do, don’t get into a fight about anger. It’s better to choose your battles, even if you’re the only one choosing. Your partner cannot fight alone.
Do not accept or make excuses for temper tantrums. A bad temper, sudden outbursts of anger or rage are indications that you or your partner are not in control of your emotions. You don’t know how far someone will take this. Never try to placate or soothe a partner who gets unreasonably angry, and don’t give in to demands. Nip these outbursts in the bud, or get help.
Anger needs to be talked about, but not acted out. Acting out your anger (tantrums, yelling, violence) unless it is done in a carefully controlled therapeutic environment, simply reinforces the idea that anger is the same as acting out. Those therapeutic sessions that urge people to express their anger with yelling are really intended for people who have trouble getting angry. Anger management and abatement requires learning about your anger, what it means, what triggers it, and how to use it in a healthy way.
I teach my clients with anger problems that “He who loses it, loses.” Expressing anger in an out-of-control way will ruin your relationships, cost you your job, separate you from your children, and land you in the hospital or in jail. Instead, you need to understand how to recognize the growth of your anger before it’s too far gone to control, and learn to channel it in healthy ways.
To express your anger effectively, follow these steps:
• First, you must stay calm—if you raise your voice, you won’t be heard, because the other person will become defensive.
• If you aren’t calm, calm down before expressing your anger: count to 10, take deep breaths, talk to someone with whom you are not angry.
• Figure out what you’re angry about. It’s common to be upset or angry but not know exactly what it’s all about. What are you feeling? Who are you angry at? What did he or she do? Taking the time to get clear about your anger will make it easier for you to be clear with your partner, and easier for your partner to figure out what to do. If your partner did something wrong, just blaming still doesn’t make it clear exactly how you were hurt, or what the other person can do to make it right.
• Know what will appease your anger. It is your responsibility to know what the other person can do to be forgiven.
• Understand if you’ll be doing any damage, to yourself or others, by expressing your anger. It’s usually not smart to tell your boss, a policeman, your mother-in-law or other people with power that you’re angry. It’s better to offer a solution in those cases. Raging at children is destructive to their entire being. Also, when someone is deep in grief, or recovering from an illness or big problem like being fired, it is not a good time to talk about your anger. Doing so makes you look uncaring and narcissistic.
• Only after these steps should you directly tell the person that you are angry (I’m angry, and I need to talk with you about it) and explain what you need to fix the problem, (I need you to never hurt me like that again; I need you to pick up your mess; I am not willing to be friends with you if you gossip about me)
• If you’ve followed the steps, you will almost always get a positive response to your anger—an apology and a promise to change behavior.
If you can’t calm down enough to follow the above steps, you may have a rage problem. If that’s the case, then therapy is what you need. Often people who throw temper tantrums (rage) think it’s OK because they grew up in an environment where it was permitted. If, as a child, you or your partner were surrounded by adults who yelled a lot or were violent, or didn’t help you mature out of temper tantrums, you may have a distorted idea of anger.
When you’re in control of your impulses, you don’t have temper tantrums, drink too much, or let your other “animal impulses”: (i.e.: greed, lust, gluttony, pride, rage, jealousy, etc.) take over. We all have negative impulses. The mature person has them under control, and can keep his or her life on an even keel. That is, you think before you react or respond. Inner anarchy exists if you’re getting drunk, raging, remaining in bad relationships “because I love him.”
Self management is not difficult, once you understand it’s your responsibility. Many of us remain mystified about our inner thoughts and feelings, because we’ve never been taught to consult with ourselves before acting. Asking your own opinion about an issue, finding out what you think or feel about it, takes the pressure off you, and gives you the means and opportunity to decide how you’re going to act on what you think and feel.