As a child, Nicole’s parents had always taught her to be passionate about whatever she did – sports, academics, work, family. From the time she was young she could remember them instilling a zest for life. But now, as a married mom with 3 children, she found herself increasingly short with her husband and kids. It wasn’t because they weren’t helping or didn’t value her either – this was something different. Lately, snapping at them verbally wasn’t enough, and she felt the urge to lash out physically. After her most recent outburst over a board game that got too loud, she knocked a lamp off a table and accidentally cut her hand in the process. She was beginning to scare herself.
Mike and Tiffany were madly in love with each other. Friends envied the infectious laughter, constant physical affection, and clear sexual energy between them. But friends didn’t see what went on behind closed doors. The other side of their physical and emotional intensity was a deep sense of fear when either of them needed to pull away. They spent so much time together that both often felt overwhelmed. They’d been caught in a cycle of starting fights just to get the space they needed as individuals. Recently, Mike got so angry he called Tiffany a name he’d never wanted to, and she burst into tears screaming equally hurtful obscenities at him. They were going to have to do something, for both themselves and their relationship.
Aldo didn’t have much to complain about when he looked at his life objectively. Great job, great car, great apartment, great community, great girlfriend – these were all on the list he compiled every time one of his friends told him, “You seem angry a lot.” He did notice that his neck and shoulders were frequently tense, that he liked to have the last word in arguments, and that he occasionally yelled at a bad driver. But even if he didn’t think he had a problem, he was getting tired of other people telling him to “lighten up”.
Anger can impact anyone.
Many people are surprised to find out that others view them as angry or irritable people. Others are more in touch with their own levels of anger. Whatever the case, it is important to know a few key facts. People experiencing anger often identify cognitive (thoughts), emotional, and physical sensations in common. They may curse, throw objects, yell, or experience thoughts of resentment or feelings of hostility. Other people experience physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and increase in heart rate and blood pressure, creating a feeling as though they might be ready to explode. Though it is often hard for those around them to understand, many people may not even realize they’re angry, but will notice physical illness symptoms, guilt feelings, or overreactions.
Anger may manifest itself directly or indirectly.
Anger expressed directly: voice elevation, screaming, obscenities, headaches, achey stomach, dry or tight throat, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, clenched fists, threatening others, pushing, shoving, hitting, feeling violated, hostility, resentment, rage.
Anger expressed indirectly: excessive sleeping, chronic fatigue, anxiety, numbness, depression, sulking, overeating, loss of appetite, crying, constant criticizing, mean or hostile joking, abuse of alcohol or drugs.
(Note: These can also be expressions of other emotions)
But isn’t anger normal?
Absolutely! At some points, everyone should probably feel anger. Anger over injustice or mistreatment is particularly appropriate, for example. Imagine if we didn’t feel upset when a child is abused or when people are mistreated. These things are easy to understand. So, ask yourself two questions:
- What am I typically feeling anger over? If you are feeling outraged over some grave injustice, then you get a pass. But that’s just it – most people who struggle with anger actual find themselves angry over most anything! Others are always saying they overreact or that their response is disproportionate with what happened. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” These people find that more and more of their day is spent feeling anger, thinking the object of their anger, acting out on their angry feelings, or recovering from their anger or actions. Before long, they’ve lost most of their days, weeks, months, or even years to anger!
- What do I do with my anger? Even if you’re anger is legitimate or founded on something understandable, that doesn’t necessarily make it productive for you. The former CEO of Chrysler, Lee Iaocca, once said, “In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive.” If you are finding yourself ruminating or obsessing about your anger, that which hurt you and lead you to anger, or other destructive thoughts, then it would seem your anger has gotten the best of you. What’s worse, people who struggle with anger long-term are likely to become bitter.Poet Maya Angelou once remarked that while anger in itself could purify, “Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host.”
Some healthy ways to manage anger on your own.
- Develop an attitude of mindfulness. Learn to recognize that you are angry earlier. The quicker you get a jump on it, the easier it is to manage. Pay attention to typical indicators that you are physically, emotionally, or cognitively becoming stimulated in some way, even if it doesn’t seem directly related to anger.
- Learn to recognize what you’re angry for. A great question to ask when you get angry is, “What fear button is being pushed?” I.e., What do you fear is going to happen or is happening that causes you anger. For example, if your spouse is late to pick up the kids and you find yourself angry as a result, you may fear that your spouse doesn’t care, that they expect you to do all the work, that they aren’t interested in connecting with your children, etc.
- Examine the rationality of your fears that are producing anger. Here are some common cognitive errors people make while angry that only lead to further anger! Ask yourself…
- Are you magnifying the situation? Ex: “This ALWAYS happens!”
- Are you putting a fixed, negative label on others without considering all of the evidence (which might more reasonably lead to a different conclusion)? Ex: She’s so uncaring!!!
- Are you using fixed ideas of how others should behave and overestimating how bad it is if these expectations aren’t met, possibly even using “should” or “must” to describe things? “He should have called me by now! He must not care about my needs!”
- Are you personalizing the responses of others as being directed at you, without considering more realistic explanations for their behavior? Ex: “My boss thinks he’s better than me – that I have to do all the work and he doesn’t have to do any.”
- Do you employ a negative funnel that only acknowledges the negative aspects of a person or situation? “Ex: My wife can’t do anything right. She’s late to pick up the kids, disorganized, and careless.”
- Are you viewing a situation in black or white, all or nothing terms? Ex: “My sister thinks my mom is right, so now the two of us aren’t going to be able to get along.”
- Do you have a fairness fallacy that leads you to feel resentful when others don’t share your point of view? Ex: “Why can’t my professor see that I deserve a good grade?”
- Do you hold others responsible for your feelings? Ex: “It’s my dad’s fault I’m so angry.”
- Do you use the change fallacy, expecting that others will change if you’ll just apply enough pressure? Ex: “I’ve got to try to explain it to him again. I’m sure he’ll agree with me then.”
- Do you feel the need to always be right, going to any length to prove that you are? Ex: “I don’t care what anyone says about me yelling and cursing. I was right.”
- Learn to change your thinking. When you discover that your thinking is irrational (in the above ways or others), start thinking differently. For example, to start, find one more positive, reasonable way you could look at any given situation. For example, if you typically think, “This ALWAYS happens!!!”, each time that thought comes up, rehearse out loud the following truth, “Well, sometimes this happens, and when it does I’m angry. But there are many times when this does not happen.” It may feel corny, lame, or stupid at first. It may even feel like “the shoe is on the wrong foot.” But the truth is, you’ve been wearing it on the wrong foot all along!!!
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