- Although Sara is normally quiet and even-tempered, her brother really knows how to agitate her when they argue. She always ends up yelling no matter how hard she tries to stay calm. She’s decided that, next time, she will simply walk out of the room when her brother starts an argument.
- Hector doesn’t get angry often. But when his girlfriend is running late, he speaks harshly to her. He knows he needs to figure out the real reason this angers him, so that he can stop treating her rudely.
- Steven angers easily when something goes wrong with his car. Sometimes his extreme irritation only makes matters worse. But it helps calm him down when he remembers what his dad used to tell him: If you don’t want car problems, don’t drive.
What about you? When do you have anger problems? How do you tend to solve them?
Expressing anger isn’t necessarily wrong. But we do need to practice dealing with it in appropriate ways, so that it serves to solve problems rather than to create new ones.
Three Types of Solutions
As you continue to grapple with various anger problems, consider the following three types of solutions.
1. Avoid anger. If certain situations always make you angry, sometimes the simplest solution is to avoid them in the first place. Does discussing politics with your father-in-law get you hot under the collar? Then don’t bring up the latest election news. If he brings it up, change the subject. Or you can always be honest, “I get way too upset over these issues; let’s discuss something else.”
2. Prepare for anger. Since anger can’t always be avoided, it’s wise to prepare for it. Decide what you will do—or at least try to do—the next time something gets your dander up. Take time to think about your anger. (Perhaps now would be a good time!) Reflect on the things that vex you and how you normally react. Analyze your reactions and decide how you need to change them.
- Determine appropriate ways to express your anger. How can you replace inappropriate expressions with better ones?
- For example, let’s say that every time you can’t find your glasses, you normally fly into a rage, blaming everyone in the household for misplacing them. Decide right now that, next time, you’ll take a deep breath and remember that your outburst won’t help. Instead, you’ll recruit a family member to help you search the house calmly until your glasses are found.
- Or, let’s say you’re infuriated about the town’s decision to eliminate obviously needed parking in certain areas. Your first reaction is to blast the mayor on Facebook. If you stop yourself and take the time to think about it, however, you’ll realize that a different approach might actually help the mayor change his mind. Perhaps you could write and circulate a thoughtful petition instead.
- Practice. If you’re facing a situation that might make your blood boil, imagine various scenarios beforehand and decide how you will react. Are you afraid your overbearing boss might turn you down for a raise? Practice an appropriate reaction before you meet with him.
- Bring in a peaceful partner when you expect conflict. Freddy has a short fuse when disputing charges on his phone bill. So he often prepares for such calls by asking his wife to join him, “If you’re sitting next to me,” he tells her, “I’ll be less likely to shout.” If he really starts to fume, Freddy simply hands the phone to her for a few minutes until he cools down.
- Choose your attitude. In his online book, You Can Choose to Be Happy: Rise Above Anxiety, Anger, and Depression, Tom G. Stevens, PhD, offers specific methods for controlling anger-causing beliefs and thoughts.
- Find the true source. Sometimes, the real source of your anger may be disguised by exterior circumstances. For example, you might resent your husband’s failure to fix the leaky faucet. But are you angry because he didn’t fix it or because it seems to represent his lack of consideration? Maybe his action simply reminds you of someone who hurt you in the past. If you can identify the real source, you’ll have a healthier attitude toward the situation and be better equipped to deal constructively with the anger.
- Evaluate your expectations. Sometimes you get angry because your expectations of others are either unrealistic or different from theirs. Maybe your son isn’t just being lazy; maybe he simply isn’t strong enough to haul those boxes. Maybe your waiter’s boss really does expect him to bring the entree out that quickly, even though you didn’t want it until you were finished with the salad. Try to recognize those times when you need to lower your expectations or perhaps to change them altogether.
- Change your attitude toward life. Are you holding on to anger because you want to punish the other person? This attitude rarely does more than waste your time and mental energy. Realize that, most of the time, your anger punishes you more than anyone else.
If you are angry because you feel something isn’t fair, you must realize that life, itself, is often not fair. Stevens’ advice: Stop comparing your life to others’ lives. Learn to be happy with the life and the gifts you’ve been given.
Are you still exasperated about yesterday’s argument? Do you still seethe when you think about last year’s run-in with your former boss? Are you mad at your friend because she refuses to change a bad habit? Realize that there are some things you cannot change in life—past events, others’ beliefs, others’ attitudes….
But you can change your own attitude. “Accept the past, forgive, let go, and move on,” Stevens writes.
3. Control your anger.
As the well-known biblical proverb says, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” Even when you’ve prepared yourself for your angry moments, you’ll still have times when you feel yourself losing it. We all do. It’s only human. So how can you wisely keep yourself under control?
Count to 10? Take some deep breaths? Maybe. But sometimes it takes a little more effort.
Try the following tips from various experts.
Walk away. Stevens calls it a “time-out.” When you feel yourself getting out of control, excuse yourself, stop talking, and leave the room. Even a minute or two might allow enough time to cool down so that you can return and deal with the situation calmly and rationally.
When you’ve cooled off and perhaps gained a different perspective, you’ll be better able to clearly explain what provoked you. Other people will be more likely to listen and to respect your view when you’re calm.
Exercise. Use some of the extra energy that anger produces. Take a walk, go for a run, ride your bike…pick something that usually makes you feel good. When you have a plan for getting your anger out in a constructive way, such as exercise, advises Stevens, you’ll be less likely to exhibit destructive behaviors.
Scream. But not at a person. Go scream into a pillow or in a room where no one will hear you.
Punch. Something soft, like a punching bag or couch cushions.
Imagine. Picture a friend or family member trying to calm you down. What would he or she say? Perhaps you imagine your mother soothing your ruffled feathers, “It’s not that important. Don’t let them make you angry; don’t give them that power over you.”
Write. Spell out your angry feelings in your journal. Write an irate letter and destroy it. Berate the boss on your PC then hit delete.
Listen. Put on your headphones and lose yourself in soothing music.
Talk. Call a sympathetic friend (or your mom!) and tell her what happened.
Pray. Are you religious? Jesus taught us to pray for those who persecute us. A 2011 issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin reported on three experiments in which participants were provoked to anger and then asked to pray for people, including the people who had originally caused their anger. The results? Prayer reduced the participants’ anger and aggression in all three experiments.
Be positive. If you’re getting angry about a situation you can’t change, change your perspective. Assume it’s for the best. Sixteen year old Josh is a master at finding the silver lining. When stuck in traffic due to an accident and running late for an important play rehearsal, he thought, If I’d left any earlier, I might have been involved in the accident. Instead of getting angry, he used the extra time to practice his lines.
Advanced Anger Control
These last three from Stevens are perhaps a bit more difficult and might take a little more practice. Think of them as advanced anger control.
When you are angry with someone, try to see that person’s perspective. Imagine yourself in his or her shoes. Why might this person be acting this way or saying the things that are making you angry?
Assume the other person’s best intentions. Give the person the benefit of the doubt. Scott didn’t mean what he said. He’s probably just having a bad day.
Think about the consequences before you act out your anger with yelling, name-calling or other destructive behavior. Will you hurt someone you love? Will you ruin your chances of dealing positively with this person in the future? Don’t let yourself proceed with actions you’ll regret.
A Final Piece of Advice…
If you can’t seem to get a handle on your wrath, you may want to seek professional counseling or an anger management program. Don’t let your temper control your life.
Written by Beth Prassel-Sieg
Perhaps you’re not the one with the anger problem.
If you find yourself at a loss when dealing with the anger of others,
don't miss part 4.
- OTHER PARTS IN THIS SERIES -
To Be or Not to Be...Angry
When Anger Backfires
Weathering the Anger Storm
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