Getting Control of Your Anger - Part II

In my last blog I shared the first four of seven practical tips for managing your anger well. They were:

1.  Understand what anger is

2. Control your initial response

3. Acknowledge your anger and its source

4. Tell yourself the truth

Those are the critical first steps to balancing the inner issues (thought processes) that set you up for either success or failure in anger management. Now let’s look at some external actions and choices you can make to help you put a stop to unhealthy reactions to anger.

5. Limit Your Exposure to the Things That Trigger Your Anger

Repeated exposure to stressful images, thoughts and situations can intensify your emotional response. If you find that your anger escalates when you watch the news, read the newspaper or talk about an offense or injustice with a friend or co-worker, then you may need to significantly reduce or eliminate these activities. This could mean hiding posts from certain Facebook friends or other social media connections if they often use it as a soapbox for complaints.

The same holds true if you are exposed to someone who intentionally, or unintentionally (we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now) provokes you by being critical, blaming or mean. The best thing you can do is respectfully excuse yourself from the situation and only reengage when cooler heads prevail – especially yours. Finding alternative activities to engage in when frustrated or angry like exercising, calling a friend, reading a book, playing with your children, working around the house, or watching a funny movie can give you the break you need to avoid an emotional reaction and regain a healthy perspective.

6. Take Constructive Action

Effective anger management often includes engaging in constructive and creative forms of expression. Here are some examples of how you may want to respond to your anger.

  • Identify the specifics of what you are angry about in order to prevent your anger from being displaced onto other issues and/or people.
  • Regularly practice relaxation techniques.
  • Refrain from reliving the experience and intensifying the emotion.
  • Don’t exaggerate the incident; stay rational.
  • Express the emotions that often accompany anger, i.e., hurt, fear, sadness.
  • Explore options related to problem solving. If your anger is related to an ongoing frustration or irritation take time to consider possible solutions to resolving the problem.
  • Rehearse your response and focus on staying in control, speaking calmly and maintaining a slower pace of speech.
  • Think before you speak and listen carefully.
  • Use humor to diffuse your anger.
  • Choose appropriate timing for expressing your thoughts and feelings about an issue.
  • Talk openly and honestly with friends, family and co-workers and make sure that the important ingredients of constructive dialogue are included.

One way to enhance your communication with others when it involves difficult issues or painful emotions is to use a communication template. The one outlined below involves the use of five simple sentences that will help you stay focused.

”When you…” Make sure you stay objective at this point, only stating the facts of the situation, not your interpretation of them. Don’t assume you know what someone’s motivations were.

”I feel…” Keep in mind that you must identify sensory feelings at this point, not simply more thoughts disguised by the words I feel. Pay special attention to the temptation to use the phrase, I feel that…  You can’t feel that.

”And then I…” Here is your opportunity to describe your thoughts and actions associated with the situation. This will give others a window of understanding into how their actions impact you and why.

”What I need is…” Don’t be shy about sharing your needs, wants and desires. People tend to complain about what they don’t want, but stop short of clearly identifying what they do want. Expressing your needs in this way can open up a dialogue about expectations that can either lead to agreement or the need for modification.

”What I’m willing to do is…” This statement will give you the opportunity to communicate to the other person that moving forward in the relationship is not all about what they can do or change, but rather that it involves responsibility on your part as well.

Example:

When you arrive home an hour later than you say you will I feel fearful, angry and disappointed. And then I think you don’t care about me or our family and that you are inconsiderate. What I need is for you to come home closer to the time you say you will or for you to let me know that your plans have changed and why. What I’m willing to do is to be more understanding of your situation at work and to be more supportive of those times when things don’t work out like you thought they would.”

At first you will likely feel awkward and clumsy when using this form of dialogue, but in time it will become a natural way for you to communicate and an important part of your overall emotional management strategy.

7. Forgive the Offender

If the offense you have suffered is personal, unfair and deeply painful it is in your best interest to ultimately forgive the offender. Unfortunately, forgiveness is usually not what you want to think about when you have been mistreated and deeply hurt. Instead, you are likely to be more focused on some form of retaliation.

Unforgiveness often leads to bitterness and resentment, which means you will personally suffer more than you need to. It has been said that holding on to bitterness is analogous to you drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

A decision to not forgive your offender actually gives them the power to continue hurting you long after the offense has been committed. Forgiveness is not easy, but it’s very necessary for your own well-being. A great book on the topic of forgiveness is Forgive and Forget by Lewis Smedes. It not only helps the reader understand the importance and value of forgiveness, but it provides assistance in walking you through the process.

Anger is not always easy to control, however, if you are willing to be honest with yourself and intentional about engaging in the process of change, you can be successful!

Live, Work and Relate Well!

Dr. Todd

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