|menu/||USING ANGER CONSTRUCTIVELY|
change the world
|By Clay Tucker-Ladd
- Don't react impulsively, be sure your anger is justified and have clearly in mind exactly what needs to be changed;
- Decide in advance how far you will go, e.g. can you and will you fire someone over this issue if it isn't worked out? Are you willing to quit over this issue? Will you demand a hearing or press charges?;
- When ready, state specifically and firmly what you want changed;
- Don't accuse or blame others;
- Show anger and strong determination but don't get overly emotional;
- Expect to get some flack and opposition;
- Sit down with others involved and work out detailed plans for making the changes needed; and
- Use "I" statements ("I feel hurt when you ..." or, "I feel belittled when you ..." rather than, "You're dreadful!" or, "You're always ...")steps to stop anger
It is helpful to think of 5 steps - or choices! - taking us from the initial frustration to intense anger in which we feel justified to express primitive rage:
what will help?
Lerner lists four useful approaches:
For example, if the wife decides to develop her own social life, rather than beg and badger her reluctant husband to go out more, the husband's opposition to change often takes these forms:
- "What you are doing [or about to do] is wrong."
- "Stop being this way and it will be okay."
- "If you don't change back, some serious things will happen."It takes courage to stand up to these challenges and threats, and proceed with improving your life, rather than keep on dancing the anger waltz.
There are various dances of anger. There may be disagreements - how much to socialize, spend, see relatives, watch TV, have sex - and anger flares, but nothing changes. One may seek more attention and love, while the other is emotionally unresponsive; both may get irritated, but nothing changes. One partner is over-involved with the children; the other is under-involved, and both complain, but nothing changes. One partner tries to change the other person but can't.
Actually, the frustrated partner could change his / her own behavior and meet his / her own needs in other ways, but too often this independent action is not seriously considered and / or the partner strongly resists such changes.
To meet your own needs requires a clear sense of purpose, confidence, independence, and persistence.
This willingness to be our own person and to move in our own direction, alone if necessary, is important but very scary (even in this age of sexual equality). It stops us from clearly expressing our basic disappointments in a relationship, so the troubles never get resolved.
Also, we are often afraid of unleashing our own anger, as well we should be, but the fear frequently inhibits our clear thinking about alternative ways of resolving the problems, including tactfully asserting our rights and preferences in that situation.
The anger and these fears (of separation and destruction) also interfere with our exploring the sources and background of our own anger. This lack of self-understanding also reduces the keenness and flexibility of our problem solving ability. Some quiet contemplation of our history, our situation, and our true emotions might help.
Triangles often play a role, without our awareness, in the creation of conflict and anger with a person. That is, we suppress anger towards one person (a boss or a spouse) and displace it to a scapegoat (a supervisee or a child). The scapegoat often never suspects that the anger is generated by someone else; he / she just feels disliked and persecuted.
This arrangement permits us to use displacement to avoid facing and working on our own interpersonal difficulties. Whenever anger becomes a chronic condition - an unending dance - ask:
- Is this displaced anger yielding a payoff to someone, e.g. do you and your spouse get to work on a "problem child" together?
- Is over-involvement between two people (say, father and daughter) a cause for mom and dad to fight?
- What would happen if the third party avoided forming a triangle and stayed out of any conflict between the other two people, e.g. if mom let father and son resolve their own fights?
- Does constantly worrying and working on relationship problems (yours or someone else's) divert your attention away from running your own life wisely?The major unhealthy roles we tend to act out under stress and when angry are:
- Blamer, critic, or hot head;
- The needy "Let's talk!" or overly demanding partner;
Do you recognize yourself and the people you have conflicts with? Try
to avoid these roles.
Avoid frustrating situations by noting where you got angry in the past;
- Reduce your anger by taking time, focusing on other emotions (pleasure, shame, or fear), avoiding weapons of aggression, and attending to other matters;
- Respond calmly to an aggressor with empathy or mild, unprovocative comments or with no response at all;
- If angry, concentrate on the undesirable consequences of becoming aggressive. Tell yourself: "Why give them the satisfaction of knowing you are upset?" or, "It isn't worth being mad over.";
- Reconsider the circumstances and try to understand the motives or viewpoint of the other person;
- Train yourself to be empathic with others; be tolerant of human weakness; be forgiving (ask yourself if you haven't done something as bad) and follow the great lesson of mankind: do as we would be done by.self-help methods must be tailored to each person's needs
First of all, it seems clear that we have two basic ways of dealing with our own anger. We can prevent it, i.e. keep anger from welling up inside of us, or control it, i.e. modify our aggressive urges after anger erupts inside.
The preventative approach sounds ideal - avoid frustrating situations, be assertive when things first annoy you, eliminate irrational ideas that arouse anger, etc. But, we can't avoid all frustrations and all thoughts that arouse anger.
Secondly, in the situations where we haven't, as yet, learned to prevent an angry reaction, we seem to fall into two easily recognized categories:
Do you recognize yourself and others you are close to? The "swallowers"
haven't prevented the anger, they have just hidden it - suppressed it.
(Don't let the fact that "swallowers" may eventually erupt in fits of
rage, much like the "exploder," confuse you.)
Abraham Lincoln to a large lady visitor who accidentally
sat on and crushed his favorite top hat: If you'd just asked me lady,
I could have told you it wouldn't fit.
anger or aggression-control
methods that focus on simple behavior and thoughts
You know who makes you mad, what topics of conversation upset you,
the situations that drive you up a wall, and so on. Can you avoid them?
This could be the best way to prevent anger. Even if you can't permanently
avoid a person whom you currently dislike, staying away from that person
for a few days could reduce the anger.
Having no goals can be uncomfortable. Having impossible goals can be
infuriating. You may need to plan ways of surmounting barriers in your
way. Reduce the environmental support for your aggression. How aggressive,
mean, and nasty we are is partly determined by the behavior of those
around us (Aronson, 1984).
These include gangs or friends who are hostile, TV violence, action movies, etc. More importantly, select for your friends people who are not quick tempered or cruel and not agitators or prejudiced.
Examples: if you are in high school and see your friends being very
disrespectful and belligerent with teachers or parents, you are more
likely to become the same way. If your fellow workers are hostile to
each other and insult each other behind their backs, you are more likely
to be aggressive than if you were alone or with tolerant folks. So,
choose your friends carefully. Pleasant, tactful models are very important.
It is remarkable what a difference a little understanding makes. For example one of Zillmann's (1979) studies shows that a brief comment like, "I am uptight," prior to being abrasive and rude is enough to take the sting out of your aggressiveness.
So, if you are getting irritated at someone for being inconsiderate
of you, ask them if (or just assume) something is wrong or say, "I'm
sorry you are having a hard time." Similarly, if you are having a bad
day and feeling grouchy, ask others (in advance) to excuse you because
you are upset. This changes the environment.
Although we may feel like hitting the other person and cussing them
out, using our most degrading and vile language, we usually realize
this would be unwise. Research confirms that calmly expressed anger
is far more understandable and tolerable than a tirade. Almost anything
is better than destructive aggression.
If you are a yeller and screamer, try quiet tolerance and maybe daily
meditation. If you are a psychological name-caller, try "I" statements
instead. If you sulk and withdraw for hours, try saying, "I have a problem
I'd like to talk about soon." If you tend to strike out with your fists,
try hitting a punching bag until you can plan out a reasonable verbal
approach to solving the problem.
These responses seem to help us calm down. Such responses include empathy
responding, giving the offender a gift, asking for sympathy, and responding
with humor. Other constructive reactions are to ask the offensive critic
to clarify his / her insult or to volunteer to work with and help out
the irritating person. This only works if your kindness is genuine and
your offer is honest.
Preoccupation with the irritating situation, including repeatedly talking
about it, may only increase your anger.
I am too busy with my cause to hate - too absorbed in
something bigger than myself. I have no time to quarrel, no time for
regrets, and no man can force me to stoop low enough to hate him.
CONTROLLED, MODERATE RETALIATION
"Things are equal" and not "I'll teach them a lesson!"
- feels better in the long run than excessive retaliation. Better yet,
walk away from the argument, let them have the last word.
As with all behaviors, you need to know:
- The learning history of the behavior (angry reactions);
- The antecedents or situations that "set you off";
- The nature and intensity of your anger;
- Your thoughts and views of the situation immediately before and during the anger;
- What self-control methods did you use and how well did they work; and
- The consequences (how others responded and other outcomes) following your emotional reaction.
If this information is carefully and systematically recorded for a
week or two, it could be enlightening and valuable.
Lady debater: Mr. Churchill, if I were your wife,
I'd put arsenic in your tea!
involved in avoiding or reducing anger
Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry
with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the
right purpose and in the right way - that is not easy.
- You can even cry and shout about how upset or hurt you are;
- No name-calling, no nasty put downs, no terrible threats, etc.;
- Find out his / her viewpoint;
- Get the facts;
- Stick with the current problem, don't dig up old grudges;
- State your views, hurts, fears, and preferences clearly; and
- Arrive at an understanding, if possible, and an acceptable arrangement for the future.Here are some steps to consider when planning how to handle a situation that upsets you:
Williams (1989) and Williams & Williams (1993), advocates of reducing your level of anger for health reasons (heart disease and immune deficiencies), give this advice about expressing or suppressing your anger.
When angry, ask yourself three questions:
If any answer is "no," better control your emotions by thought stopping, attending to something else, meditation, reinterpreting, etc.
every human being should be respected
The Quakers might be right, God may be in every person. No thought or feeling is awful, it doesn't hurt anyone until it gets transformed into action.
So, accept everyone as an important, worthy person, regardless of what they have done. Be tolerant of all ideas and feelings. Concentrate on solving the problem at hand rather than on any personal affront you may have suffered.
Live a non-aggressive, loving, and forgiving philosophy. There are many possibilities:
- A Christian "love thy enemies" or, "love one another" or, "turn the other cheek" philosophy;
- The Quakers', Gandhi's, and Martin Luther King's non-violence philosophy;
- The Kung Fu or Yoga philosophy of detachment and acceptance of the inevitable;
- Humanistic psychology's "unconditional positive regard" for every person;
- Martin Buber's prescribed reverence for others, as implied in his title, I and Thou.
This involves a deep respect for every person, considering them priceless,
irreplaceable, vital, and a fascinating, unique miracle to be cherished,
even if you don't like all that they have done.
To be wronged or robbed is nothing unless you continue
to remember it.
Anger consists of our bitter responses to insults, hurts,
injustices, rejection, pain, etc., and the bitterness is repeatedly
rehearsed and remembered.
- Forgiveness is not forgetting nor is it a promise to forget. You can never forget being hurt. In fact, if you had forgotten, you couldn't forgive;
- Forgiveness is not promising to believe the other person was not guilty or not responsible for the wrong things he / she did. If he / she were blameless, there would be nothing to forgive;
- Forgiveness is not praise or a reward - no reward was earned, none is given;
- Forgiveness is not approval of what was done. You are not saying that the wrong he / she committed is viewed any less seriously; and
- Forgiveness is not permission to repeat the offense. It does not mean that your values or society's rules have changed. It is not based on an assumption that the hurt will never be repeated on anyone but it implies such a hope.
Forgiveness, as defined here, is your decision to no longer hate the
sinner; it is getting rid of your venom, your hatred; it is your attempt
to heal yourself, to give yourself some peace (Smedes, 1984).
If and when you want to get these
bad feelings off your chest, want to remove some of the emotional
barriers from the relationship, and want to see the other person's side
of the situation, you may be ready to consider the remaining steps in
- As best you can tell, what was his/her psychological condition and educational background?
- What do you suppose he / she thought would be the outcome of treating you the way he / she did?
- What loss might he / she have been trying to handle or prevent?
- What emotions might have been dominating the other person?
- How do you think he / she saw you and your situation at the time?
If you can stop carrying a burden of resenting and blaming, if you
can emotionally heal yourself by getting rid of this poison, it probably
is worthwhile. It is not a decision to be made lightly.
Copyright 2002 Clay Tucker-Ladd.
WARNING The creators
of this site do not believe depression to be an "illness" but a critical
message that you must change your way of living,
thinking or behaving.
Guilt or embarrassment may be blocking an honest
expression of your feelings, so unblock the guilt. You'll get there.
Inch by inch, and everything's a cinch.
YOU ARE NOT YOUR DEPRESSION.
Even so, the boards are an important and immediate link to the outside world, which you may well need until you find a strong, stable and positive influence in your life, such as a local spiritual/religious group or a non-directive therapist or counsellor (preferably familiar with the works of Alice Miller) who believes in listening and not merely in prescribing.