Getting Control of Your Anger - Part I

One of the major roadblocks to strong relationships, both at home and at work, is the inability to effectively manage one’s emotions. Of all the emotional, psychological and physical responses we experience in life, anger is perhaps the most challenging to process and control on a consistent basis.

How you choose to respond to your anger will make a difference in the quality of your relationships, your physical and emotional well being and your effectiveness in bringing about positive and constructive change in your life.

Today we will look at the first four of seven practical tips you can use to help manage your anger more effectively.

1. Understand What Anger Is

Anger is a natural, God-designed emotional and physiological response to negative or threatening circumstances in life. When you believe that you have been treated unfairly or harshly, or when you experience frustration associated with an unmet need or goal, your mind and body prepare for action. It is this emotional and physiological response that we call anger. Anger has the potential to help us protect ourselves or others and can serve as a catalyst to bring about needed change. However, its relative value is largely determined by how we choose to respond to it. Anger is referred to as a “secondary emotion”. This simply means that it is an extension of the primary emotion of frustration.

Everyone experiences some degree of frustration on a daily basis whether associated with not being able to fit into your favorite blue jeans or the person who just pulled out in front of you on the road. The good news is that most people can keep their frustration from escalating into anger, but for some it’s not so easy.

Hurt and fear are two other primary emotions that often accompany anger. Anger is often experienced and intensified when these other emotions are minimized or ignored. Consequently, effective anger management involves learning how to identify and express hurt and fear in a healthy fashion. [Keep in mind that the goal is not necessarily to eliminate anger, but rather to process and express it constructively.]

2. Control Your Initial Response

The emotional and physical response triggered by a real or perceived offense or threat typically gives way to feelings of anger that can range from mild agitation to violent rage. The greater the sense of hurt, fear and frustration, the greater the intensity of your anger. It is always important to remember that your initial or “automatic” response to anger may not be the most constructive. You need to pay attention to your words and actions so that they don’t become a damaging expression of your pain.

Postponing your angry reaction by as little as ten to twenty seconds can mean the difference between a good and bad outcome. During this time you will want to take several deep breaths and consciously tell yourself to “slow down” and to “respond” instead of “react”. A response is characterized by thinking before you act, considering how your action will impact others, and imagining a positive outcome. A reaction is “knee jerk” in nature and evidenced by thoughtless action with little concern for the outcome except to relieve the tension brought on by the anger.
It’s important to note that recent research challenges the once widely held belief in the value of letting one’s anger out through the release of physical energy, e.g., hitting a pillow or pushing a tree. It is now believed that this form of “catharsis” can actually reinforce the expression of hostility and aggression, which may increase the likelihood of a similar and even more intense reaction in the future.

3. Acknowledge Your Anger and Its Source

Go ahead and say it: “I am very angry for being falsely accused, for being criticized, for being treated poorly or unfairly, for experiencing fear or hurt, etc.” Admitting to yourself, and, at times, to those around you, that you are feeling angry is one of the keys to managing your emotion.

Simply saying out loud that you are angry can help decrease the intensity of your feelings. When we fail to acknowledge our anger we run the risk of holding it in until it overflows or begins to destroy us physically, spiritually and emotionally. Keep in mind that feelings that are buried alive do not die!

4. Tell Yourself the Truth

Practicing rational self-talk is critically important to managing anger well. Following an angry reaction, make an effort to identify and examine the self-talk you engaged in while acting out your anger. Common irrational and destructive beliefs may include:

“No one is going to treat me that way and get away with it.”

“The only way to really get someone to change or to understand what you want is by getting really angry at them.”

“People will think they can take advantage of me if I don’t express my anger toward them.”

“If I don’t get angry they will think I’m weak or try to control me.”

So, how do you counteract those negative thoughts?  Here are some objective facts to remember when feeling angry:

“I have been seriously and unjustly treated or hurt. To feel angry about that is normal, but to control my response is in my best interest.”

“To respond to my anger irrationally or aggressively will not serve any positive purpose and could actually create greater pain and problems for myself and others.”

“When I choose to ignore or stuff my anger now I run the risk of acting it out later which will likely hurt myself and others in the process.”

“I am only responsible for how I express my anger, not for how someone may choose to react to it.”

You have the power to decide who will be in control – you, or your emotions. When you choose to be in charge, your relationships, health and well-being will improve significantly.

Next time we will talk about the last three tips for managing your anger.

Live, Work and Relate Well!

Dr. Todd

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