Do you get too angry too often? You don't have to stifle that anger or let it explode either. Consider these techniques for getting a grip on your emotions that will improve both your disposition and your relationships:
- Adopt the end goal to separate the trivial from the genuinely important and to express truly legitimate anger in ways that are destructive neither to yourself nor to others.- Recognize it is OK to get angry. What may not be OK is how you express the angry feeling. Allow yourself to experience your anger freely, but also set a goal to understand its origin and to shape the course of its expression.
- Acknowledge that anger does not have to be an all-or-nothing-affair. Many people stifle anger because they don't think they can express it without going for the jugular. "But the opposite of stifling one's anger is not necessarily unleashing a raging beast," says one author.
"There is a middle ground - all kinds of middle grounds, in fact - between saying nothing and hurling a potted plant at your husband's head."
- Delay responding while you're experiencing intense anger. Bow out of a potential confrontation by saying, "I need a little time to sort out my feelings. Let's set up another time to talk more about this issue." In doing so, you're asking for temporary time out to clarify your own position rather than permanently putting a lid on the issue.
- As you step back, consider your anger a signal that something isn't going right. Initially go inside to find out why you're angry rather than outside to strike. Ask yourself if you're experiencing hurt inasmuch as hurt often underlies the surface feeling of anger.
- During your cooling-off period, ask yourself what you might have contributed to the situation. Examine the part you play in perpetrating anger-generating responses and develop the knack of responding differently to old situations with new and creative behavior. Avoid focusing on changing others - change your own position.
- Keep in mind you're upsetting yourself through your own interpretation of stressful events. Such events are themselves neutral and value-free, with no inherent ability to invoke an emotional response in you. You confuse the issue of who's responsible for generating your anger when you say "You make me angry."
- Question whether the situation is truly important enough to justify rage. Or indignation. Or even annoyance. Is your manufacturing of your own anger a waste of precious energy?
- Ask yourself what you're trying to accomplish. One man, who used to "sleep mad," reported that as he grew older, he gradually matured in the expression of his anger, saving that anger for situations in which it could serve as a catalyst for change. Said he: "I learned to ask, `If I tell some-one how mad I am, will it get me what I want?' "
If expressing your anger will be self-defeating, look for another outlet. Take a walk around the block, pound a pillow, or write a letter you tear up later.
- Finally, ask yourself whether you're displacing your anger, using vulnerable others as stress conductors. Whom (or what) are you truly angry at? Too often, those most dear to us are the innocent targets of accumulated anger and stress looking for a home. Children, who are powerless to fight back, or spouses, who are unlikely to walk away because they've been treated badly, are among the most likely candidates.
One author describes that part of her that "dumps" when she's overstressed: "I like to visualize a little cartoon character inside me," she says. "She pops out when I squeeze her too hard, when the outside me has loaded her up with too much to handle. She is invariably a very angry person. She stomps her foot and shakes her finger in my face, protesting loudly that she has been pushed too far."
- Restrict an initial description of your anger to observations about your own feelings. Use your anger to get clear about your own self, enabling you to make firm statements such as "This is what I think," "This is what I feel," "This is where I stand," "This is what I want," or "This is what I will (or won't) do."
Avoid criticizing, insulting or blaming another person or holding that person responsible for your feelings or reactions.
- Talk about other feelings besides anger. Anger usually occurs in combination with other emotions and talking exclusively about anger excludes recognition of these feelings.
- Listen receptively and respectfully to what another involved person has to say. Let the other's position sink in before you make a reply. Also try to edit what you say, thinking before you respond, selecting your words carefully and holding back occasionally.
In creatively managing your anger, keep in mind a piece of fortune cookie advice that has survived for centuries: "If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow."
- JoAnn Larsen is a therapist practicing in Salt Lake City.