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Anger - Managing a Powerful Emotion

Understanding Anger: How to Manage a Powerful Emotion

Last year you may have seen the disturbing video of ESPN reporter, Britt McHenry, belittling and berating a tow-truck company employee on that company’s surveillance camera. It was unsettling to see a successful, and very privileged, young broadcaster treating someone with so much less socioeconomic status with such disrespectful disdain. However, if we are to be honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we all have had moments in which we have behaved poorly with others, and maybe even demonstrated similarly ugly behavior.

You know the feeling. It's that rage you get when someone cuts you off on the highway; you just want to floor it and flip the bird. Anger is a corrosive emotion that can run off with your mental and physical health. So do you hold it in? Or do you let it all out? Anger doesn't dissipate just because you unleash it. Some insight into why we have it and how it works can help you better manage this raw emotion.

To respond effectively to anger, one needs to increase the comfort level around angry feelings. One can increase awareness of inaccurate ideas about anger and replace them with factual concepts about this powerful emotional response.

8 Misleading Ideas About Anger in Society Today

1. Anger is not an accusation.

Although anger is not an accusation, it is often accompanied by an accusation.  The accusation is the angry person's interpretation of the external event.  Anger can occur and be expressed without any accusations when all parties take responsibility for their own internal reactions.

2. Anger is not a sin, and a person who feels angry is not bad because of it.

Some people believe that experiencing anger means they are not living a Christian life. When you have the time, Google "Jesus and Anger" and you would be very surprised how often Jesus was angry.

3. Anger is not a behavior - often people confuse anger with aggression.

Aggression is a behavior and it is one way some may choose to express anger.  Anger is not violence.  Violence is a descriptive category of behaviors.  Your difficulty in responding to others has to do with the behaviors they may use to express their angry feelings.

4. Anger is not a weapon.

Many parents (without realizing it) may set their children up to fear anger in the same way they might fear a weapon, such as: 1) the child does something that the parent does not like, 2) the parent feels angry and expresses it by physically hurting or verbally berating the child, 3) this behavior is repeated and the child quickly learns to make the anger-pain connection, 4) from then on, the parent wields anger as a weapon of intimidation.  Another similar inaccurate impression of anger is the expectation that angry feelings result in punishment.

5. Anger is not an evaluation of your worth as a person.

Because another human being is angry about something you have done, does not mean you are worthless, stupid, unimportant, unlovable or lazy.  Anger is an internal reaction and another person's internal reaction has nothing to do with your rightness or wrongness as a human being.  It has to do with the chemicals being produced by the body because of the way one has interpreted events around them.

6. Anger is not a GIGANTIC mistake.

Nature did not err when it gave people a wide array of feelings - including anger.  Every basic emotion was built into the human species to survive and flourish (fight or flight).  Anger has helped humans since primitive times as the feeling state that directs us to fight when attacked by those bigger, stronger and faster animals.  Adrenaline produced by anger temporarily makes people stronger and faster, leveling the odds of combat.

7. Anger is not hot boiling water, and people are not teapots.

This alludes to the concept that anger is stored up and added to on a regular basis until it expands to such large proportions that it has to be vented or it will overflow. 1) Anger cannot be stored - anger is an internal reaction created by an overproduction of adrenaline and if a person stayed high on adrenalin he/she would be agitated, unable to sleep, and close to crazy within three days.  2) As a teapot, each outburst of anger would lower the anger level and with each outburst would be reduced until eventually almost gone.  According to the teapot theory, these are the people who ought to have spent all their anger, yet they are the ones who keep on aggressing.  3)  Anger needs to be vented to be reduced.  Anger was not given to humans so they could vent.  Venting fulfills no survival purpose.  As with every emotion, anger serves to sustain and enhance life.  Anger accomplishes this by providing the ability and strength to defend through physical altercation (fight off dinosaurs).  When the altercation is finished, the angry feelings recede, to be reproduced when necessitated by another danger.

8. Anger is not a chronic illness that needs to be managed.

Anger is an internal reaction whose main function is to defend the human being.  It does not need to be managed.  Instead, anger arousal needs to be identified when it occurs and used effectively, within the given social context, to fulfill its protective function.

Here Are the FACTS About ANGER:

  • Anger is a survival mechanism - anger prepares the body for battle.
  • Anger has many cultural and social functions. Anger acts as a social regulator because it is considered the appropriate feeling to have when the norms, mores, and laws of a culture are violated.
  • Anger functions as a social bond. When a group of people focus their anger collectively on an outside group, individual, or situation, the shared anger provides a connection for the members of the group.
  • Anger provides motivation when properly channeled. Anger is the body's energizer!
  • Anger is a method of communication. Anger always carries a message.
  • Anger furnishes psychological protection. Anger can be a means of physical protection and emotional protection.

So, who is responsible for what?  Well, anger expressed in a healthy manner usually requires the simplest of responses.  When two people have an angry encounter, neither, both, or either person may be responsible for the event that initiates the feeling process. From the moment the triggering event is over, who is responsible for what component of the feeling process is clear-cut.

The angry individual is responsible for the thought, emotion, and the behavior areas

and

The person responding to the anger is accountable for only one piece of the process - the reaction. 

No one makes anyone else feel angry.  Anger is an internal, chemical reaction that the person has learned to label.  It is their reaction and how they behave is their decision.  Emotionally healthy people intuitively know this and respond responsibly.

What did I just say...

Being Right or Being Happy

Being Right or Being Happy: The Consequences of Mismanaged Anger

I was asked the following question, “Why do I always have to be the one to control my anger?  Why is it always me?  My wife gets to say her piece, but when I do, I am ‘out of control’”.  I agree that there is some stereotyping that only men have anger problems and only men need to control their anger.  There are women with anger problems, too.  Some people really are more hotheaded than others; they get angry more easily and more intensely than the average person.  There are also those who don't show their anger in loud spectacular ways, but are chronically irritable and grumpy.  People who are easily angered have a low tolerance for frustration, meaning simply that they feel they should not have to be subjected to frustration, inconvenience or annoyance.  They can’t take things in their stride and they are particularly infuriated if the situation seems somehow unjust: for example, being corrected for a minor mistake.

Anger Has Consequences

There are consequences of becoming so angry that you lose control.  I worked with a client who was physically violent towards his wives, divorced twice, fired twice, chased out of a store by a manager because of swearing at the salesperson, and deliberately ramming his car into the rear end of another car on the expressway in road rage.  Things were not going his way.  What to do?

The problem isn’t anger itself; it is expressing anger in an appropriate way.  With anger, some people can tell others they are annoyed or even irate without totally losing control. Others are unable to even raise their voice without going over the top.  Letting it rip actually escalates anger and aggression and does nothing to help you or the person with whom you are angry or to resolve the situation. Trying to gain control and change this behavior on your own and failing time and again becomes a shaming and depressing cycle.  There are spouses and children who live in fear of being at home.  It takes a long time for the victims of verbal abuse to get over the emotional pain.  No matter how short the argument, it can leave a person damaged and even suicidal.  Typically, people who are easily angered come from families that are disruptive, chaotic, and not skilled at emotional communications.

There is hope that you can calm the rage and stop the destruction before it overflows into the lives of those you love.  If we can help you or someone you love, give us a call. Dr. Perry Weingart is experienced in anger management counseling which makes men accountable for their own actions, for controlling their own tempers, and understand that sometimes it is better to be happy than to be right.

Anger

It’s Just Not Fair: Anger and Anger Management

It's Just Not Fair: Anger & Anger Management

Anger is an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage. Like other emotions, it is accompanied by physiological and biological changes; when you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, as do the levels of your energy hormones, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.

Expressing Anger: Is There a Right Way to Express Anger?

The instinctive, natural way to express anger is to respond aggressively. Anger is a natural, adaptive response to threats; it inspires powerful, often aggressive, feelings and behaviors, which allow us to fight and to defend ourselves when we are attacked. A certain amount of anger, therefore, is necessary to our survival.

On the other hand, we can't physically lash out at every person or object that irritates or annoys us; laws, social norms, and common sense place limits on how far our anger can take us.

People use a variety of both conscious and unconscious processes to deal with their angry feelings. The three main approaches are expressing, suppressing, and calming. Expressing your angry feelings in an assertive — not aggressive — manner is the healthiest way to express anger. To do this, you have to learn how to make clear what your needs are, and how to get them met, without hurting others. Being assertive doesn't mean being pushy or demanding; it means being respectful of yourself and others.

Anger can be suppressed, and then converted or redirected. This happens when you hold in your anger, stop thinking about it, and focus on something positive. The aim is to inhibit or suppress your anger and convert it into more constructive behavior. The danger in this type of response is that if it isn't allowed outward expression, your anger can turn inward—on yourself. Anger turned inward may cause hypertension, high blood pressure, or depression.

Unexpressed anger can create other problems. It can lead to pathological expressions of anger, such as passive-aggressive behavior (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on) or a personality that seems perpetually cynical and hostile. People who are constantly putting others down, criticizing everything, and making cynical comments haven't learned how to constructively express their anger. Not surprisingly, they aren't likely to have many successful relationships.

The Goals of Anger Management

The goal of anger management is to reduce both your emotional feelings and the physiological arousal that anger causes. You can't get rid of, or avoid the things or the people that enrage you, nor can you change them, but you can learn to control your reactions.

Are You Too Angry?

There are psychological tests that measure the intensity of angry feelings, how prone to anger you are, and how well you handle it. But chances are good that if you do have a problem with anger, you already know it. If you find yourself acting in ways that seem out of control and frightening, you might need help finding better ways to deal with this emotion.

Why Are Some People More Angry Than Others?

Some people really are more "hotheaded" than others are; they get angry more easily and more intensely than the average person does. There are also those who don't show their anger in loud spectacular ways but are chronically irritable and grumpy. Easily angered people don't always curse and throw things; sometimes they withdraw socially, sulk, or get physically ill.

Is It Good To "Let it All Hang Out?"

Psychologists now say that this is a dangerous myth. Some people use this theory as a license to hurt others. Research has found that "letting it rip" with anger actually escalates anger and aggression and does nothing to help you (or the person you're angry with) resolve the situation.  It's best to find out what it is that triggers your anger, and then to develop strategies to keep those triggers from tipping you over the edge.

Strategies To Keep Anger At Bay

Relaxation

Practice the following techniques daily, and learn to use them automatically when you're in a tense situation.

  • Breathe deeply, from your diaphragm; breathing from your chest won't relax you. Picture your breath coming up from your "gut."
  • Slowly repeat a calm word or phrase such as "relax," "take it easy." Repeat it to yourself while breathing deeply.
  • Use imagery; visualize a relaxing experience, from either your memory or your imagination.
  • Nonstrenuous, slow yoga-like exercises can relax your muscles and make you feel much calmer.

Cognitive Restructuring

Simply put, this means changing the way you think. Angry people tend to curse, swear, or speak in highly colorful terms that reflect their inner thoughts. When you're angry, your thinking can get very exaggerated and overly dramatic. Try replacing these thoughts with more rational ones. For instance, instead of telling yourself, "Oh, it's awful, it's terrible, everything's ruined," tell yourself, "It's frustrating, and it's understandable that I'm upset about it, but it's not the end of the world and getting angry is not going to fix it anyhow."

Problem Solving

Sometimes, our anger and frustration are caused by very real and inescapable problems in our lives. Not all anger is misplaced, and often it's a healthy, natural response to these difficulties. There is also a cultural belief that every problem has a solution, and it adds to our frustration to find out that this isn't always the case. The best attitude to bring to such a situation, then, is not to focus on finding the solution, but rather on how you handle and face the problem.

Better Communication

Angry people tend to jump to—and act on—conclusions, and some of those conclusions can be very inaccurate. The first thing to do if you're in a heated discussion is slow down and think through your responses. Don't say the first thing that comes into your head, but slow down and think carefully about what you want to say. At the same time, listen carefully to what the other person is saying and take your time before answering.

Using Humor

"Silly humor" can help defuse rage in a number of ways. For one thing, it can help you get a more balanced perspective.

The underlying message of highly angry people is "things oughta go my way!" Angry people tend to feel that they are morally right, that any blocking or changing of their plans is an unbearable indignity and that they should NOT have to suffer this way. Maybe other people do, but not them!

Do not take yourself too seriously. Anger is a serious emotion, but it's often accompanied by ideas that, if examined, can make you laugh.

Changing Your Environment

Sometimes it's our immediate surroundings that give us cause for irritation and fury. Problems and responsibilities can weigh on you and make you feel angry at the "trap" you seem to have fallen into and all the people and things that form that trap.

Give yourself a break. Make sure you have some "personal time" scheduled for times of the day that you know are particularly stressful. One example is the working mother who has a standing rule that when she comes home from work, for the first 15 minutes "nobody talks to Mom unless the house is on fire." After this brief quiet time, she feels better prepared to handle demands from her kids without blowing up at them.

Some Other Tips for Easing Up on Yourself

Timing: If you and your spouse tend to fight when you discuss things at night—perhaps you're tired, or distracted, or maybe it's just habit—try changing the times when you talk about important matters so these talks don't turn into arguments.

Avoidance: If your child's chaotic room makes you furious every time you walk by it, shut the door. Don't make yourself look at what infuriates you. Don't say, "well, my child should clean up the room so I won't have to be angry!" That's not the point. The point is to keep yourself calm.

Finding alternatives: If your daily commute through traffic leaves you in a state of rage and frustration, give yourself a project—learn or map out a different route, one that's less congested or more scenic. Or find another alternative, such as a bus or commuter train.

Do You Need Anger Management Counseling?

If you feel that your anger is really out of control, if it is having an impact on your relationships and on important parts of your life, you might consider counseling to learn how to handle it better. We can work with you in developing a range of techniques for changing your thinking and your behavior.

Our course of action is not designed to "put you in touch with your feelings and express them"—as that may be precisely what your problem is. With counseling, we say, a highly angry person can move closer to a middle range of anger in about 8 to 10 weeks, depending on the circumstances and the techniques used.

Remember, you can't eliminate anger—and it wouldn't be a good idea if you could. In spite of all your efforts, things will happen that will cause you anger; and sometimes it will be justifiable anger. Life will be filled with frustration, pain, loss, and the unpredictable actions of others. You can't change that; but you can change the way you let such events affect you. Controlling your angry responses can keep them from making you even more unhappy in the long run.

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