In this series on emotion management, Jackie Pack talks about anger. Often, the messages we’ve learned about anger are part of the problem and don’t help to manage this often scary feeling. Anger is an emotion all of us experience, and it doesn’t work well to deny or suppress the feeling. So, what do we do with anger? What is the purpose of it in our lives?
TRANSCRIPT: Anger Management
Hi everyone, welcome to Thanks for Sharing. I’m your host, Jackie Pack. With the shelter-in-place policy continuing and many of us feeling the angst from this dragging on for weeks and not really having a realistic end in sight at this point, I hear from a lot of people that the emotions are starting to get to them. I thought it would be helpful to take the next two episodes and talk about emotions and how to manage them. In this episode, I’m going to focus on anger since it deserves an episode all on its own. I am concerned when I read the statistics on the increase in domestic violence during this time of quarantine. It’s something I think about on a regular basis, and I know that this would have been me when I was growing up. In the house I grew up in, there was domestic violence, and my dad wasn’t really home all that often. If we had had to have quarantined and he was home with us day in and day out, the frequency and intensity of violence would have increased for sure, and I feel for those who are experiencing this in addition to the uncertainty and anxiety already happening with the virus.
Now I grew up in a culture that also didn’t allow or respect women who had anger. That didn’t stop me from having anger. What it meant is that my anger had to find another channel to express itself through or it required for me to just stuff it down, not feel it, not recognize it for what it is. obviously this isn’t a healthy way of dealing with anger. In the culture I grew up in, boys were allowed to have anger. It wasn’t really talked about or openly accepted, but we just knew that boys were boys and anger was part of that package. The religion I grew up in didn’t condone anger per se. The leaders preached against anger for both men and women, but when it happened, most of the time people just look the other way. I saw boys’ and men’s anger on sports courts and sports fields, but that was accepted because they needed a way to get that aggression out. I saw their anger just watching sports. They weren’t even participating, other than being a spectator. I saw it at school on more than one occasion. I saw it in the media, and like I said, I experienced it in my home. The unspoken rule at my house was to not talk about what happened. We were expected to present a positive image of our family, and for the most part, most people believed that image that we presented. I was also very much aware that I couldn’t add my anger to the dynamic of our household because who knew what would happen? I wasn’t going to be responsible for rocking the boat and causing things to escalate when things could escalate so quickly and so unpredictably. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time in my room. All of us did.
Anger was a confusing emotion for me. Over the years as I’ve worked with clients and talked with clients about anger, I’ve learned that for many of use, the messages about anger were pretty similar. Anger was bad. You shouldn’t have it, and if you did have it, you needed to go to your room until it was gone. Now I’m not sure what kind of magic was supposed to happen in your room in order to make the anger go away. What it just that you would get bored instead of angry? Was it just simply the passing of time that distracted you from what you were angry about? And if so, where did the anger go? I mean, maybe it went away, but only until the next time, and there would be a next time, right? Nobody was really teaching what to do with anger, how to handle our anger because the truth is we all have anger, and it’s not a bad thing. Anger is an emotion that has evolved with our species. It hasn’t disappeared with the natural selection process. Now maybe at one point we needed this ability to recognize and flee from enemies, but in our predator-free habitats, those traits have become less critical for survival. Under an evolutionary phenomenon called “relaxed selection”, traits that were advantageous in one time and place become obsolete in another, and traits that aren’t actively maintained by natural selection tend to become smaller or less functional over time, studies suggest.
Now there are several emotions that human beings experience that even though maybe we’ve decided or labeled them as bad emotions, they’re still with us. So maybe it isn’t about the emotions being bad and how we teach or don’t teach or talk about or express the emotions that are the problem, and not the emotion itself. When my husband and I were newly married, we lived in an apartment and they were just kind of these not townhomes, they were only single-level, but more like a duplex. So we lived in these duplexes, and there were four of them, and so our apartment was connected to another duplex, and then there was some yard and garden area between, and then there was another set of duplexes, and one day my husband after work was going to go biking with a friend of his. They were going to go up in the mountains and have a ride, and I was going to get home after him, and so I was going to pick up some things for dinner and make dinner and then him and his friend were going to come back and we were all going to eat dinner. So on my way home from work, I had stopped and gotten some food to make for dinner, and while I was making the food, the neighbors whose apartment was attached to our apartment got into a really big fight. Now this wasn’t something that I was not familiar with. I grew up in a home where my parents fought on a regular basis, and so I kind of knew how to entertain myself while there was this yelling and screaming going on that I could also hear, but it was different because this wasn’t the house I grew up in. So I’ve got dinner cooking and I tried to go into another room in our apartment to get away from the noise, and I really couldn’t completely drown out the noise, and it ended, I was in our bedroom and it ended with the husband of these neighbors slamming the door, walking past my bedroom window to where his car was parked, and tires squealing, drove off. Maybe like an hour later, my husband and his friend got back, and we had dinner and things were fine. My husband could tell that I was… something was a little bit off with me, though, so after his friend had left, he said to me, “What’s wrong? What’s going on?” So I just told him about the neighbors and this fight that they had gotten into, and he listened but couldn’t quite understand why that would be upsetting to me, so he said, “Why did that bother you? I mean I understand maybe not wanting to listen to the argument, but why did it bother you?” And I said, “I’m just dreading when that happens to us.” And I can picture still the look on my husband’s face when he looked at me and he said, “Wait, you think we’re gonna do that?” And that was the first time that question had been put to me in that way, and I checked in with myself, and I was like, “Yeah, I do think we’re gonna do that.” And he was like, “Well I don’t want to do that.” And I kind of laughed internally, thinking like we have a choice. Isn’t that just what happens? Now at the point I got married, I had grown up in a house where there was a lot of anger and a lot of yelling and fighting, even though nobody really on the outside knew that. I had also worked a couple of jobs where I got to know other people in my community or in my neighborhood who were well-respected and yet because of the nature of the job that I was working with them was in their home at times, and also experienced them yelling. So this was just something to me that had become normal or familiar because it was normal for me growing up, and so I looked at him and I said, “Yeah, I do think we’re gonna do that. Do we have a choice not to?” And he was just like, “I think we do.” Now I didn’t know enough about my in-laws at that point where I had known my husband for years before we… well I had known him for a couple of years before we started dating. I had just known him as a friend, and then we started dating. We dated for several years before we got engaged and got married, and so I knew enough about his family to know that yeah, there were sibling squabbles amongst him and his siblings, but I hadn’t really ever witnessed his parents really even raising their voices at each other, and I wouldn’t say that theirs was a marriage that I wanted to pattern mine after, but I did know that his mom and dad loved each other, and that they talked kindly to each other, and that was the first time that I started wondering to myself, can this be a choice? Is this something that I don’t have to experience in my marriage? It’s not just going to become something that happens all on its own because that’s how it works? So this was the first time that things came together for me in a way that I started thinking maybe this didn’t have to be inevitable. I wanted it to be true, and I started wondering how could I make this true for me, for us, for the kids eventually that we were going to have?
Now I do recall telling my husband prior to us getting married, we were engaged at this point but we hadn’t gotten married, and I remember having a conversation with him, we were talking about having kids, and I remember telling him I don’t want to spank the kids. That’s not something that I’m comfortable with, and I don’t know that I’m comfortable with you doing it, and he was asking some questions. He had been spanked as a kid, and so he was just kind of… he wasn’t opposed to no spanking, but we were just talking about it, and I remember telling him that I didn’t trust myself when it came to hands-on, physical touch when I was angry, and a lot of this had to do with the fact that I grew up in a home where touch wasn’t safe. As a family, we weren’t physically affectionate. We didn’t really hug, we didn’t touch each other in other ways, and so when touch was done, it was typically done in anger, and it typically wasn’t safe touch, and as I was having this conversation with my husband, I told him I have to be able to trust myself, and I wasn’t going to be able to trust myself if I was afraid of what might come out. Now I had an experience once when I was a young teen, I’m thinking maybe 13 or 14 years old, and we were home, my mom was gone. My dad was typically always gone. He was only home on Sundays, and so my dad of course was gone, but my mom was gone, and I believe my older sister was gone, so I was the oldest one at home, and my brother was just irritating me. I don’t even remember what it was about, but I remember getting so angry and chasing him down the hallway. I chased him into my mom and dad’s bedroom, and he jumped over their bed, and I had him cornered, and all of a sudden he realized he had gotten himself cornered, and I grabbed him. He kind of went down on the floor and kind of held his hands over, and I just started hitting him. Again, I can’t remember what I was even angry about, but I was hitting him, and I remember stopping because I was afraid of myself and I didn’t know where that came from. I hated it when my parents would get physical with each other. It was not something that I ever wanted to do, and here I was without even realizing it, just whelping on my brother and just hitting him, and so I stopped. Obviously he got up and ran, and I was a little scared, and I remember telling my husband who at the time was my fiancé that I know that’s in me because I saw that repeatedly, and so I know that’s in me, and that’s why I didn’t trust myself to get physical or to have hands on when I was angry.
I also started to wonder, is anger helpful? Is there a way to not feel angry? Maybe what I’ve been taught is right. Maybe you shouldn’t feel angry. So I started to collect the data. I started to think about when do I feel anger? Why did it come up when it did come up? What it accurate? And here are some of the conclusions that I came to. Number one, I think anger is a defense system. It’s kind of like my own internal security system that gets activated when it appears that I’m in danger, and anger is something that propels us, or it moves us into action. It kind of gets us moving. It’s that type of a feeling that is intense enough that we feel this need to do something. I also learned that our brain doesn’t differentiate between physical danger or emotional danger, so anger is going to get activated when my brain is detecting some type of danger, whether it’s emotional or whether it’s physical. Now the second thing that I noticed or conclusion that I came to is that when I noticed myself feeling anger, my anger was an alert signaling that something was off or something was about to happen or something had happened that activated that anger, and my anger was an alarm or it was a warning that let me know that my attention was required. Now the third question: Was it accurate? Well, not always. I wasn’t always in danger emotionally or physically. Sometimes it was simply a trigger from a time in my past when I was emotionally or physically in danger, and what happened currently was close enough that it reminded me of this time unconsciously, but it reminded me of that time. It seemed parallel enough that it activated my alert system, and maybe at this time in my past, there was nothing that I could do, so the trigger coming up now was an invitation to correct this default setting. Maybe I had gone into a freeze or a flee or maybe a fight or an appease, and I was given an opportunity to kind of correct what I needed to do when situation like this came up. In the past I may have ignored the signal, and now I could see it for what it was, and I could adjust my belief about it. I wasn’t a kid anymore living in the house and situation I grew up in. I was now an adult, and I could respond the way that I needed to.
Sometimes the anger was accurate. In either case, whether it was accurate or whether it wasn’t accurate, or whether it was a trigger from my past or whether it was just a current situation that needed my attention, what was it that my anger was calling me to do? The next questions that came up is what’s my anger calling me to do, and what action is needed? So one of the things that I realized is that anger itself isn’t the problem. What we do with our anger is either the problem or a solution, and realizing that, I came up with a rule or kind of a mantra for myself around my anger that I still use today that says “I can act on my anger, but I don’t act out my anger.” So what does this look like? Well sometimes acting on my anger meant that I have to set a boundary, whether it was to notice and be aware or to speak up or to walk away, my anger was an alert system getting me to pay attention and kind of saying hey, slow things down and really tune in to what’s happening. Now I often say when it comes to boundaries that we always feel our boundary, or we need to feel our boundary. Maybe we don’t. Maybe we’ve tuned that out, but when we’re working on boundaries, one of the first steps is to start to feel our boundary, so this may be anger gets activated in my body and I start to feel this need for a boundary. Maybe I can feel the injustice or the unfairness. I can feel that this person or this situation is not safe or healthy, and in addition to feeling, so I can also speak. I can speak up. I can speak my boundary. I can call attention to what is happening. Now sometimes speaking my boundary or speaking up isn’t necessary. Sometimes it’s not safe. There’s gonna be other repercussions if I were to say something or if anybody was to say something, so when it is safe, I can act on that. I’m first going to feel it, and then I can act on it, and I can speak on my behalf or on the behalf of somebody else or something else. Third, I can also act on my boundary. I can take a step back. I can get up and walk away. I can change the subject. I can remove myself physically or emotionally from what is happening. When I talk to clients about removing ourselves emotionally from what’s happening, there was a lot of times that maybe, like I was saying, as a kid, there was danger both physical and emotional happening in my house when my parents were fighting, and I couldn’t get up and leave. I couldn’t just leave the house. As I got older and could drive or even before I got my driver’s license, there were times I would just get up and leave the house and I’d go for a walk. Usually that’s what I did. I would just go walk around, but when I was young I couldn’t get up and leave, so I had to leave emotionally. I just kind of had to get my mind on something else and pay attention to something else so that it could kind of help drown out the background. Sometimes today it’s not appropriate for me to get up and walk away, so I pull out my phone and I start playing a game or I start checking social media. It’s a way for me to leave emotionally if I can’t get up and leave physically. Now sometimes we can do all three. I can feel my boundary, I speak and say something, I speak my boundary or I speak what’s happening, and I can also act. Other times maybe it’s only necessary to do two. I feel it and I act it, and I walk away. Maybe I feel and I speak or I feel and I act. So there’s times when I feel, and I know that I can’t do either of the other two. All that is important is for me to feel what I’m feeling. It’s me feeling my anger and being aware of why it’s coming up right now and what triggered that. That’s acting on my anger. I’m able to feel my anger, notice it, recognize it and then do what I need to, whether that’s… of course feel it, and then whether that’s to speak or to act.
Acting out my anger can look like yelling, hitting, kicking, throwing. It can look like road rage. It can look like losing it on a customer service representative. Acting out our anger can feel out of control, or it can feel very controlled. John Gottman talks about two different kinds of abusers. He says the more bullish abusers who lack the ability to control their anger or emotions are what he labels pit bulls, while those who remain calm with little to no physiological response to situations that most people would deem to be upsetting are labeled cobras. Now if you picture those two, the pit bull is much more likely to get angry due to the situation. They may not walk around with this anger oozing out of them, but if the situation arises, they can get very on guard and very alert, and they will be a pit bull. They kind of become intimidating. They become somewhat frightening. Cobras on the other hand, I’ve never actually been around a cobra, but I’ve seen them on YouTube and different things like that. So if you picture a cobra, they can be quite mesmerizing, and they just move gracefully and they don’t seem threatening other than the fact that they’re a snake and they’re a cobra, but in their behavior, they’re not necessarily aggressive until all of a sudden they are. So pit bulls are seen as more anxious dependent on the situation, and they have issues with emotion regulation. They’re not able to control their anger, so pit bulls will escalate situationally. Cobras on the other hand demonstrate more of an anti-social temperament and correspondingly have more issues with institutions. Cobras can also be very destructive in their relationships, whether it is with co-workers, partners, or children. They are more methodical and strategic. Both types, pit bulls and cobras, can be controlling, and both benefit from a society that upholds male dominance or machismo and aggression. Pit bulls are more likely to benefit from anger management courses or therapy in order to resolve the issues from their past that fuel the anger and abusive behavior that arise situationally. Cobras on the other hand don’t typically respond to therapy, and in fact therapy can enhance their emotional knowledge and lead to more effective ways of manipulating and abusing.
Another way to think about the differences in anger, sometimes I’ll talk about white anger or I’ll talk about red anger. Now if you think about being around a fire, let’s say that you’re at a campfire, you’re doing a campfire in your backyard, as the coals or as the wood gets hot, you can see kind of the red embers that are burning in the fire, and then eventually it starts to turn white. White is an even more escalated heat than red, and so I’ll talk about sometimes red anger is what we think about when we think of anger. It’s got heat. There’s something there. There’s a lot of intensity to it, so it’s something we can put our finger on, whereas white anger, if you think of white, white is the absence of , so we may not necessarily see the anger in somebody who displays white anger. They may be very socially engaging. They may be very socially tuned-in, and yet this white anger is much more strategic and can be much more lethal, so they can take somebody out even while the whole time they are socializing with them and have a smile on their face.
Now what is the difference between anger and rage? Sometimes those terms are used interchangeably, or sometimes we think of anger as the emotion and rage is what I do. Anger and rage are related to each other, and most people do not find any hard difference between the two. Both anger and rage are emotional outbursts. Anger is a feeling or emotion that a person has when being offended or when they’re wronged. On the other hand, rage can be this extreme expression of anger. Now many things can trigger anger, including stress, family problems, financial issues. For some people, anger is caused by an underlying disorder such as alcoholism or depression. Now anger itself isn’t considered a disorder, but anger is a known symptom of several mental health conditions, so intermittent explosive disorder, or IED, is an impulse control disorder characterized by sudden episodes of unwarranted anger, it seems to come from nowhere. The disorder is typified by hostility, impulsivity, and recurrent aggressive outbursts. People with IED essentially explode into rage despite a lack of apparent provocation or reason. Now everyone has their own triggers for what makes them angry, but some common ones include situations in which we feel threatened or attacked, frustrated or powerless, like we’re being invalidated or treated unfairly. One of the ways that I explain rage to clients who have issues with this explosive rage is that rage is not just about anger, but rather a packaging of several emotions put together, so I often say rage is a combination of anger, shame, and fear, and when those three emotions start packaging together and there isn’t a way to work through them or to challenge them, then they just erupt and each emotion is acted out in that rageful episode.
Now you might think that venting your anger is healthy and that people around you are too sensitive or that your anger is justified or that you need to show fury in order to get respect and anger is a sign of strength, but the truth is anger is much more likely to have a negative impact on the way people see you, impair your judgement, and get in the way of your own success. So many years ago, I was a coach for my youngest brother’s, my youngest sibling’s soccer team, and I was like 21, 22 I think. I wasn’t married, and my brother was like 5 or 6, and at that time that was the earliest. You can start playing soccer younger now, but at that point it was the first year for many of them playing soccer. So I had this team of like, I don’t remember how many boys we had on the team, maybe 13, 14, something like that little boys, and I was teaching them how to play soccer, and some of the kids on the team had some real natural ability and moving with the ball came pretty easy to them. Other kids had a difficult time kicking the ball and staying standing. Every time they kicked the ball, they tended to fall over because they didn’t know how to balance on one foot, so I kind of had this wide age range of abilities on the team, and I was still young, I thought all the boys on the team were great. I liked all of them regardless of their ability to play soccer, and so I was coaching them and we had been having practice for maybe a month before games began, and so when the games began, I actually had a pretty good team, probably not as much due to me as a coach, but just some of the ability for them to play and kind of come together, we had a lot of fun together in practice, and so when we started to play games, we were good compared to the other teams that were the same ages, same variety of ability as my team was, and one of the things that I noticed pretty quickly, most of the other teams had dads who were coaches, it was just kind of the county rec soccer team at that point, so most of the coaches were dads and parents. They had a kid on the team, and for me it was my brother, so I was one of the younger coaches, like I said I was like 21, 22, something like that, so I was one of the younger coaches, and when we would play these other teams, I would notice how some of the other coaches got so angry and were so into the game, and I’m like these are kindergarteners. Does this game mean something more than I’m aware of? And they would just yell and they would get so upset with what the boys weren’t doing or what they missed or different things like that, and I was… my ego was still pretty active at that age and could run the show, so I’d like to say that it was my maturity, I think it was probably more of my ego, but as I watched these parents on the field, I grew up in a home with yellers, so I didn’t have a lot of respect for people who were out of control, and I would watch them and think to myself, they have no idea how foolish they look screaming. I remember one of them throwing his clipboard down on the ground, and again I’m like, these are kindergarteners. So there was one of these rules that I made for myself is I will not yell in a game, and so I was pretty quiet during the games, and I let them play, and I noticed what we needed to work on, and then when we had practice during the week we would work on what we needed to in the game. So one of the games, they just were doing so well and I remember I just got so excited and I just yelled out, but it was something positive. Oh another thing that I would notice is when these coaches on the sideline were yelling and losing it, the boys on the field didn’t even seem to hear them, so I often thought to myself, you’re over here screaming and they can’t even hear you. That’s gotta be the definition of foolish, and so I remember I was on the sideline and they had done something really great, and I was just so excited. The excitement kind of rushed over me and I remember just yelling pretty loudly, but I was yelling like “Good job, boys! That was so amazing!” And there were like three of them that had been working together to do whatever they did, eventually they scored, and all three of them turned and looked at me, and the smiles on their faces, they just lit up because I was so proud of them, so I remember thinking oh, maybe they can hear coaches, but again, who wants to hear your coach losing it on the sideline? But if I’m yelling something positive, of course they want to hear that, so that became something that like if they did something well in the game, I would yell out whatever positive praise had been earned and deserved and was needed in that moment, but if they made a mistake, we just saved that for practice, and not that I yelled at them at practice, but we just worked on it and we had a talk when they were listening to me and I was right there with them during practice, and that experience at that time in my life really kind of served me well in a lot of ways, and I remember when I started to have kids, thinking back to this time that I had been this coach of these young boys and just kind of taking some of the lessons that I learned as a young coach myself into my parenting with my young kids and wanting to do it different and recognizing how much praise is needed and that anger, even if I sometimes felt it, anger was not going to get me what I wanted, and oftentimes, and I started as I got older and had more life experiences, I started to see how often when people express this anger in kind of an out-of-control way how much they minimized the message that they were trying to speak to, and a lot of times I would notice what they’re trying to say has some legitimacy behind it, but the way that they are saying it erases the legitimacy of what they’re trying to speak to. Now many people think that anger management is about learning to suppress your anger, but never getting angry is not a healthy goal, and it really isn’t realistic. Anger will come out regardless of how hard you’ve tried to tamp it down. The true goal of anger management isn’t to suppress feelings of anger but rather to understand the message behind the emotion and then express it in a healthy way without losing control, and when you do this, you’ll not only feel better, you’ll also be more likely to get your needs met. You’ll be better able to manage conflict in your life, and you’ll be able to strengthen your relationships.
So what are some of the tips for managing anger? Tip #1: Explore what is behind the anger. Sometimes we talk about, and I learned this in my psychology classes even in my undergrad program that anger is a secondary emotion. Now to me, I think that’s mostly true, and so the example sometimes that I give for clients, let’s say that I’m a young mom and I’m out in the front yard with my child and I look up and she’s kind of toddled off into the middle of the road and I see a car coming. Now what I feel is not anger at that child. I am scared. I feel a lot of fear when I assess this situation, so I run out, grab my child, get her safely back to the sidewalk, and then what happens? Let’s say that I start scolding that child. Maybe I give them a swat on the butt. What comes out is anger, which says anger is a secondary emotion. The primary emotion was that fear. It was that sheer panic of oh my gosh, something horrible could happen, but by the time I got the situation resolved and everybody was safe, now it’s coming out as anger. Now sometimes one of the reasons behind anger being a secondary emotion is anger isn’t the most vulnerable of the emotions. Fear is a much more vulnerable emotion, one that we don’t like to feel, and so anger makes us feel a little bit more empowered, and so we can mask a lot of our primary emotions with anger, and I think that’s true a lot of times. Now I also will say sometimes anger is a primary emotion. When I read about child abuse cases or murder cases, there is a part of me that feels anger about what is happening and what is not happening and what we aren’t doing to make things safer, and in that way I think anger is a primary emotion. It’s probably also got some others. Maybe it’s got some sadness, maybe it’s got some fear with that, but it’s also primary and it’s also legitimate for me to feel angry about those things. Again, that’s not necessary for me to act out that anger, but to instead act on my anger, and some of the examples that I use, I think Mothers Against Drunk Driving is an example of somebody who acted on their anger, didn’t act out their anger, but acted on their anger and tried to do something to make life safer for people. From their tragedy, maybe from their anger came about a great program. Amber Alert, 9-1-1 systems, all of those things have come about because somebody was angry and justly so, but they acted on their anger in order to make change.
Now second tip for managing anger: Be aware of what your anger warning signs look and feel like. So this could be knots in your stomach. It could be clenched fists or a clenched jaw. We may be breathing more shallow and faster. We may have a pounding heart. We may start to pace back and forth. It may show up as a headache or we may have difficulty concentrating. All of those things can be signs of anger, so it’s important for you to know what your anger warning signs look like. How is it going to show up in your body first so that you can tune in when anger starts to come on the scene? I’ve only had this happen once, and I was sitting and I felt like this electric current, that’s the best way I can explain it or describe it, it was like this electric current that went up one side of my body over my head and down the other side of my body, and I had never experienced anything like that, and I knew I was like oh wow, I’m angry, and I’ve never experienced anger like this, and I just got up and I walked out, and kind of took a moment to do some breathing, came back in and said, “I need to leave.” And then I just walked out and got in my car and left. So just be aware of what your anger warning signs look like. Again, if you’ve been given the message that you shouldn’t have anger, it’s going to be difficult to develop an awareness about what our anger warning signs are or to explore what is the emotion behind the anger.
Third tip for managing anger is know what your triggers are. I talked about some of them. It may be stressful events. They don’t excuse anger, but understanding how these events affect you can help you take control of your environment and avoid unnecessary aggravation. We may think that external factors, the insensitive actions of other people for example, or frustrating situations are causing our anger, but anger problems have less to do with what happens to us and more about how we interpret and think about what happened.
Tip #4 is learn what works for you in managing the anger and getting yourself calmed down. This is a great way to use your inner observer that I talked about several episodes ago. To notice what’s going on in your body. Maybe another way to kind of manage to anger and to calm down is to stretch, maybe go for a walk or a run, maybe yelling. When my kids were young, there were a lot of frustrating days when I was home with my kids and they were small, and sometimes… I don’t consider myself a real yeller, I don’t have the voice for yelling, and if I do yell I end up coughing or I lose my voice or something, so I don’t normally yell. I’m not really a yeller, but there were times when my kids were young that I just wanted to yell, and so I would say to them, you know what, mom needs to yell, and they’d be like, oh you need to yell? And I’m like yeah, do you want to yell with me? And they’d be like, uhh, sometimes they would, and sometimes they were like no, I just want to watch you yell, and so I made sure that I was not yelling at them, but I would just yell. I would just “aahhh!” And I would just yell and then I felt a little bit better. I got that out of me. Another one, and there is some science behind this, but sometimes swearing can help calm down. It’s kind of the we name it to tame it. Again, I wouldn’t recommend swearing at somebody because that’s acting out our anger, but sometimes swearing and using kind of those more intense language. Now if this is something that you use in your everyday language, it’s not going to have the same benefit, but there is research that shows using that high-intensity language to express the anger can actually help to calm us down. Now my mom had a rule. My mom was a schoolteacher for most of her career, and so she had a rule. I remember so many things that my mom, like if I used a word wrong, sometimes if I was on a… I played softball growing up typically. I played some soccer but softball was more popular, and so if I would say like “Oh we won that other team,” my mom would always say to me, “Jackie, you did not win that team. You won the game, but winning kind of says that you own, and you didn’t… that team is not going home and you’re not sitting it on your dresser, so you couldn’t have won the team. You won the game.” So I kind of grew up having my grammar corrected and being told these are the proper words, so when it came to swearing, my mom had a rule about swearing. Of course she did. She was a schoolteacher, and so she would say that it wasn’t okay to lazy swear. If you were just swearing because you couldn’t find a better, more appropriate word, then that was just lazy. That’s just lazy grammar, but if this swear word is actually the best word to use, then you can go ahead and use it because sometimes the words that we have that aren’t swear words aren’t quite accurate or they don’t quite fit the situation, and we need to swear, so it was okay to swear, but she would also say it’s not going to be very often that you can’t find an appropriate word to express what’s going on for you, so it wasn’t just kind of a license to swear, but we were given permission to swear, so again, like I said, swearing probably not at someone because again, that’s going to increase conflict, but just being able to name those words, to tame those emotions. Remember that anger is a call to action, so doing something tends to help.
Another tip for managing anger is to just push pause and just say I’m going to have to come back to this, and just hit pause and go and do what you need to in order to calm down and reengage. A sixth tip for managing anger is do a reality check. Kind of go through your checklist asking how important is it in the grand scheme of things? Is it worth getting angry over? Is it worth the impact to the rest of my day? Is my response appropriate to the situation? Is there anything I can do about it? Is taking action worth my time? So just kind of do a reality check. And then seventh tip for managing anger is again to remember act on your anger, don’t act out your anger. Mastering the art of anger management takes work, but the more you practice, the easier it will get, and the payoff is huge. Learning to control your anger and express it appropriately will help you build better relationships, achieve your goals, and lead a healthier, more satisfying life.