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27 October 2007

Anger Management



Control Anger - Before It Controls You!


By Hoda Nassef

We all know what anger is, and we've all felt it: whether as a fleeting annoyance or as a full-fledged rage. Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy, human emotion. But when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems: problems at work, in your personal relationships and in the overall quality of your life. And it can make you feel as though you're at the mercy of an unpredictable and powerful emotion. This article is meant to help you to understand and get a hold on handling anger.

What is Anger?

Anger is 'an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage,' according to Charles Spielberger, Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in the study of anger. Like other emotions, it is accompanied by physiological and biological changes; when you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, as does the level of your energy hormones, adrenalin and noradrenalin. Anger can be caused by both external and internal events. You could be angry at a specific person (such as a co-worker or supervisor) or event (a traffic jam, a canceled flight), or your anger could be caused by worrying or brooding about your personal problems. Memories of traumatic or enraging events can also trigger angry feelings.

Expressing 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 behaviours, 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.

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.

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. As Dr. Spielberger notes, 'when none of these three techniques work, that's when someone - or something - is going to get hurt.'

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 Angrier Than Others?

According to Jerry Deffenbacher, Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in anger management, some people are really more 'hotheaded' than others; they get angry more easily and more intensely than the average person.

On the other hand, 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. People who are easily angered generally have what some psychologists call a low tolerance for frustration, meaning simply that they feel that they should not have to be subjected to frustration, inconvenience or annoyance.

They can't take things in stride, and they're particularly infuriated if the situation seems somehow unjust: for example, being corrected for a minor mistake. Research has also found that family background plays a role. Typically, people who are easily angered come from families that are disruptive, chaotic and not skilled at emotional communications.

What Strategies Can You Use to Keep Anger at Bay?

Relaxation:

Simple relaxation tools such as deep breathing and relaxing imagery can help calm down angry feelings. If you are involved in a relationship where both partners are hot-tempered, it might be a good idea for both of you to learn these techniques through various books on this subject.
Some simple steps you can try:

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.
Non-strenuous, slow yoga-like exercises can relax your muscles and make you feel much calmer.

Practice these techniques daily. Learn to use them automatically when you're in a tense situation. Cognitive Restructuring:Simply put, this means changing the way you think. Angry people tend to curse, swear or speak in highly colourful terns 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.'
Avoid using words like ‘always’, ‘never’ and ‘ever’, when you are angry. For example: 'You're always late! You're the most irresponsible, inconsiderate person I have ever met!' The only goal that accomplishes is hurting and angering your friend. State what the problem is and try to find a solution that works for both of you, or take matters into your won hands by, for example, setting your meeting time a half-hour earlier so that your friend will, in fact, get there on time, even if you have to trick him or her into doing it!

Logic defeats anger, because anger, even when it's justified, can quickly become irrational. So use cold hard logic on yourself. Remind yourself that the world is 'not out to get you,' but rather that you're just experiencing some of the rough spots of daily life. Do this each time you feel anger getting the best of you and it'll help you get a more balanced perspective.

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 such a situation, then, is not to focus on finding the solution, but rather on how you handle and face the problem.

Make a Plan

Make a plan and check your progress along the way. (People who have trouble with planning might find a good guide to ‘organizational skills’, or ‘time management’ helpful.) Resolve to give it your best, but also not to punish yourself if an answer doesn't come right away.

If you can approach it with your best intentions and efforts and make a serious attempt to face it head-on, you will be less likely to lose patience and fall into all-or-nothing thinking, even if the problem does not get solved right away. It's natural to get defensive when you're criticized, but don't fight back. Instead, listen to what's underlying the words: the message is that this person might feel neglected and unloved. It may take a lot of patient questioning on your part, and it may require some breathing space, but don't let your anger - or a partner's - discussion spin out of control. Keeping your cool can keep the situation from becoming a disastrous one.

Change 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, the first fifteen minutes are a brief quiet time alone. This enables her to feel better and be 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 a 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 tell yourself, '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 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 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.

A psychologist or other licensed mental health professional can work with you in developing a range of techniques for changing your thinking and your behaviour. When you talk to a prospective therapist, tell her or him that you have problems with anger that you want to work on, and ask about his or her approach to anger management. With counseling, psychologists say that a highly angry person can move closer to a middle range of anger in about 8 to 10 weeks, depending on circumstances and the techniques used.

What About Assertiveness Training?

It's true that angry people need to learn to become assertive (rather than aggressive), but most books and courses on developing assertiveness are aimed at people who don't feel enough anger. These people are more passive and acquiescent than the average person; they tend to let others walk all over them. That isn't something most angry people do. Still, these books can contain some useful tactics to use in frustrating situations.

Remember, you can't eliminate anger - and it wouldn't be a good idea even if you could. In spite of all your efforts, things will always happen that will cause you anger. Life will always 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 unhappier in the long run.


H.N.

The Platters

New York

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