Anger: Cleansing Squall or Hurricane?
Anger is the emotional energy within each of us that rises up when something needs to change.
If you act on the need to create change, your anger can be channeled effectively; but it’s not redirected to something effective, your frustration will build, sometimes to hurricane force.
Anger that is allowed to get out of control is as destructive as a hurricane, but anger that is expressed in healthy ways can “clear the air” just as a mild rainstorm does. If you express your anger clearly and cleanly, without too much drama, it will be like a cleansing rain, leaving you calm and relaxed, and the problem solved.
People who have angry outbursts, whether at spouses or freeway traffic, have poor impulse control. They are often emotionally “stuck” in the early childhood temper tantrum stage (about age 2 1/2 to 3) because they never learned to manage their own anger. Whoever was supposed to help them manage their temper, such as parents or teachers, were absent, intimidated or helpless, and allowed the child to grow into a raging adult. People who are prone to violent outbursts may also have witnessed a family member who was a “rageaholic” and frequently angry or violent. People who rage don’t know how to do "emotional maintenance" and shake off stress. They also don't know how to quit when something is getting to them. Those who allow themselves to rage don't know how to tell they're on the brink, or how to stop. They often have a sense of entitlement (“I just have a bad temper”) and a lack of emotional maturity. For the people subjected to the angry outburst, it’s actually like dealing with a tantrum-throwing three year old in an adult body, which is dangerous.
The difference between people who lose their temper (throw fits, throw objects, scream and yell) and those who don't is that those with self control can feel that they're getting upset, getting close to “losing it.” With enough harassment and pressure, anyone can be goaded into rage.
People who usually keep control of their anger just stop or leave the situation earlier; before they are pushed so far. They respect their own anger, and deal with it effectively. As soon as they feel their emotions getting out of control, they stop what they're doing, walk away, change their thinking or attitude, write out their upset, pray, or call a friend to get calmed down.
Once an angry person understands that just spewing anger about is not healthy or functional, anger management is not difficult to learn. Most habitually angry people have a feeling of entitlement (“I can’t change who I am”) that prevents them from wanting to control their anger. Once they understand that shouting, blaming, raging and being violent doesn't accomplish anything; that it ruins relationships, and makes them look weak, rather than powerful, then learning to control anger is not hard. I tell clients who see me for anger management that “He who loses it, loses,” because no matter who started it, or who’s to blame, once you lose your temper, you become the bad guy.
You Have Choices
To solve your anger problems, make some choices: Do you want to keep doing what you're doing, or do you want to learn self control and have a life that works? Do you want to look macho or controlling, or do you want to be successful? Do you want to be right, or be loved? In every case, learning to control your anger and act responsibly will get you more of what you want from life.
If you or your partner tends to get loud and obnoxious frequently, it's a bigger problem than just struggling. Perhaps you need to swear off drinking, or get some therapy. No matter what, you must find a way to end this childish and demeaning behavior. If your partner tends to be too argumentative, use behavioral training: Treat him or her very well as long as he or she's agreeable and will discuss things calmly. If your spouse gets oppositional and controlling; try being silent. Do not respond at all. If your partner doesn't stop after a few moments, or if she or he gets louder, that may be evidence of anger management problems. Out of control yelling and bad behavior is actually a childish temper tantrum, and it is not necessary to put up with it. Leave on the spot. If you’re home, go to another room, or take a walk. If you're dining out, take a taxi, leave money for the bill if there is one, but get out of there. It doesn't matter how important the occasion is; it's ruined anyway. Once your mate realizes you're not going to put up with bad behavior, he or she will hopefully understand it is unacceptable, and change it if possible, or perhaps even get necessary therapy.
The person who loses his or her temper looks like the bad guy to everyone else, no matter who started the problem, or who is really at fault. Keeping your cool is a very important social skill. It doesn't matter who's right, who started it, or whether it's fair. He (or she) who "loses it" to win an argument actually loses everything instead.
To get better at controlling your anger, use the following exercise to visualize a scene where you got angry, and replay the tape several times, to get a clear picture of yourself responding in different ways. When you do this, you are actually rehearsing different reactions, and giving yourself new options. You always have choices: you can laugh, walk away, get thoughtful, be afraid, be angry or be reasonable.
Exercise: Rewinding the Tape
1. Imagine a previous angry situation as if it’s occurring now. Get as clear a picture of the scene as possible, imagining what people are wearing, what the room looks like, etc.
2. Mentally play the scene as if it's a video, and see how it develops. Don't worry if it plays out according to your worst fears; just watch it as you would any video.
3. Because this scene didn’t go well originally, consider what you'd like to change about what you're doing (remember, you can't control the others in the scene, but you can get them to respond differently by giving them something different to respond to.) Rewind and replay this mental image, trying new ways to handle it until you are successful (that is, you handle the situation without losing your temper).
4. Play the tape a few more times, with this successful process and outcome, until you feel confident you can do and say what you are visualizing.
5. Play the tape again and again, visualizing your successful outcome. The more you replay it, and practice your new responses, the easier it will be to access them in the next discussion.
6. You have just reprogrammed your mind to create some new responses to tense or angry situations, and you'll find these responses are available to you when you need them. Use this technique any time you're concerned about an upcoming discussion or confrontation.
Adapted from: Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Squabbling About the Three Things That Can Destroy Your Marriage (Adams Media) ISBN# 978-1-59869-325-6 © Tina B.Tessina, 2008
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California, with over 30 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 16 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction (New Page); How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free (New Page); The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again (Wiley) and The Real 13th Step: Discovering Self-Confidence, Self-Reliance and Independence Beyond the Twelve Step Programs (New Page.) Her newest books, from Adams Press in 2008: Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage and Commuter Marriage. She publishes “Happiness Tips from Tina”, an email newsletter, and the “Dr. Romance Blog” and has hosted “The Psyche Deli: delectable tidbits for the subconscious” a weekly hour long radio show. Online, she is “Dr. Romance” with columns at Divorce360.com and Yahoo!Personals, as well as a Redbook Love Network expert. Dr. Tessina guests frequently on radio, and such TV shows as “Oprah”, “Larry King Live” and ABC news.