Learning what to do with anger in the heat of the moment is often a very difficult task. In order to combat this we need to understand our anger and prepare for times when we might be angry. At the peak of our anger it is often very difficult to stop and think which is why it is important to establish a correct understanding of anger and anger management when we are less emotionally elevated. While many may find changing anger patterns slow and difficult persevering through the struggle with anger and angry behavior will eventually lead to a very rewarding and worthwhile success in this area of their lives.
First we must change the believe or idea that anger is bad. As I’ve mentioned in my article “What is Anger?” anger is neither bad nor good. Anger has a functional purpose of telling us that something offensive or threatening has just happened to us. Anger is basically the red light on our emotional “dash board” that says hey “PAY ATTENTION SOMETHING JUST HAPPENED.”
Next we need to remember that angry feelings do not equal angry behavior. Behavior is a choice and we can choose to express our anger in ways that do not damage ourselves and others. For many this may be very hard to accept but all of us have thoughts and emotions that we do not act on. The difference with anger is that we have not developed the skills to express anger in non damaging ways.
ANGER IS NOT A CORE EMOTION… Anger is actually a defensive emotion and its purpose is to protect the individual from further harm. Before anger is experienced there is always some form of emotional pain felt by the individual. Feelings like disappointment, rejection, hopelessness, injustice, insecurity, fear, embarrassment, shame, and many others will come before the sensation of anger.
When the individual understands that anger is responsive and defensive ANGER CAN BECOME VERY USEFUL. Anger will always tell us something about what we believe and what we value. As we examine these beliefs we can decide which beliefs are useful and rational and which beliefs are unreasonable and irrational. The individual can tap into this information by asking “why did that (or why does this) situation bother me so much. Questions like why did I perceive the situation the way I did. Are there other possible interpretations of the events in this situation? What does my interpretation of the situation say about my values and what I believe about myself.
TAKE TIME OUT
First try to recall the number of times that staying in angry confrontation worked out well for you. Although it may not seem practical in the heat of the moment, if you find yourself in a situation that triggers you into high levels of anger, consider how you can remove yourself at least temporarily from the situation. As we escalate into high levels of anger our brain begins to enter a fight of flight mode and our ability to be in control of our thoughts and actions begins to reduce. If we end up on the fight side of anger we may say or do some very damaging things in order to stop what we perceive to be threatening us. On the flight side we may feel very damaged by what was said or done in the situation. If you are in the type of situation that will not allow a time out you may be in a situation or relationship that is not safe for you and you may need to consider changing the circumstance of your life to increase your safety and somehow to allow for a cool down period.
TAKE TIME FOR TOPICS THAT BOTH ENJOY
When you take a time out you should plan to come back to the causes of conflict but be sure that you have taken long enough to truly calm down. When you come back into conversation often it helps to restart the conversation with a totally unrelated topic that is safe for both parties. Although some might interpret this a avoidance it doesn’t have to be. Both parties need safety in order to enter back into relationship and conversation. People in relationship also need to have positive moments in their relationship even when the there is ongoing conflict. Take the time to talk about stuff you both enjoy and/or can connect on.
SET A TIME LIMIT OR PRE-PLAN YOUR EXIT STRATEGY
After it has been safe for several minutes (hours or days for some) find away to ask about the topic of conflict or test the waters to see if it is safe to talk. At this point some may find a way to pick up the conversation and others will still escalate into anger. There are many things you can do, one of these is setting a limit on the amount of time that a difficult topic will be discussed. Some may also find it helpful to have a preplanned exit strategy. Strategies could include having a task that requires attention immediately after the conversation or ensuring that you have a safe exit from the room and safe transportation to another location
LEARN MORE EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION SKILLS
Taking a time out is just one of many possible solutions. People with reduced anger management skills need to learn that although they feel angry they don’t necessarily have to act angry. One of the ways to do this is to begin to speak out the angry feeling. For example “I am angry because I feel less important than the children.” Or, “I am angry because I feel unappreciated (or hurt, disrespected, overlooked, etc…) when you come home late for dinner.” Again speaking your anger may not seem like a complete solution but it is better than screaming, shouting, or behaving in any number of other dysfunctional ways. As you learn to speak your anger remember to keep in mind that tone an gesture make up 94% of your message and if they are very negative your message can still be interpreted (and function) as a damaging expression of anger.
As you express your anger in I statements you must also keep in mind that the person receiving your message may not respond as you would like. We need to remind ourselves that even if someone does not respond the way we would like. Expressing our anger in a non damaging way is still better than the damaging alternatives. It is never o.k. to use abusive actions to force someone to hear and respond to us. Usually if you can express your frustration safely and allow the other party time to process and respond they will often want help meet your need in some way. Keep in mind that sometimes this will require several repetitions as similar situations come up in your relationship. To conquer anger you will need to develops patience and strength to handle difficult situations. Again if you have long standing issues of irresolvable conflict you may require some help to make this process work.
KNOW YOUR SELF – WHY DID THIS SITUATION REALLY BOTHER YOU?
In this article we have introduced just a couple of techniques for expressing anger in a non damaging way. There are many other ways that anger can be expressed in a healthy way. Often these ways are only limited by our experience and imagination. Take a moment an recall a time when you were angry. As you think back try to imagine at least one way you could have told the other person that you were upset about the situation without using an abusive behavior. After you have done that Think about what really bothered you about the situation. Now practice telling them that. As your final exercise ask yourself is what really bother me important if it is then ask why do I think it’s important. And what do I believe it means about me when someone does not see the same importance that I do.
I a future article I will examine the concept that we often choose anger because we believe that something important is being ignored threatened or over looked. Examining our beliefs closely and disputing them when they are not reasonable can help us reduce anger a deep level. If one were to use the metaphor of having your buttons pushed. Successfully disputing irrational believes is like removing the button. No button to push equals no anger in that area of your life.
Until next time be blessed.