Managing Your Anger
By: John Moyer, M. Ed., LPC
The scientist Louis Pasteur famously said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” That phrase can also be good advice for dealing with problematic anger. Have you ever been told that you have an “anger management” problem or a short fuse? Perhaps you:
- “lost it” and behaved badly
- yelled at others over minor differences
- acted far out of proportion to what was called for
- found yourself making proverbial mountains out of mole hills.
Intense anger can cause us to lose perspective and to act against our better judgment. Yet anger is a normal healthy emotion we are all expected to manage. It’s often helpful to view anger on a spectrum or range of intensity from feeling mildly annoyed all the way to murderously enraged. Anger helps us feel empowered, calling us to action or it can overwhelm our best thinking and get us into trouble if we can’t let it go. We all experience a range of angry feelings. It’s part of human nature. In fact, the label “Anger Management” is really a misnomer because all emotions need to be respected and heard.
How does anyone deal with overwhelming anger? The key, as Pasteur suggests, is in preparation. We need to regulate moods and physiological responses as a part of typical growth and development – from childhood through adolescence and throughout adulthood. Anger can often alert us to something deeper. For example, irritability and fatigue which often appear as anger can be signaling the onset of depression. Anger can also indicate a personal boundary violation that may not yet be realized. In order to deal with anger more effectively, it is often helpful to explore and examine our level of understanding and mastery in 3 general skill areas: 1. Self-care 2. Cognition and 3.Communication.
- Self Care
Self-care or nurturing skills include relaxation, getting regular sleep, basic hygiene, regular play and exercise, coping skills and routines don’t leave us exhausted by the end of the week. Ask yourself, “Do I plan enough time to simply be a human being and not an overly busy human doing? What makes me feel more alive and connected?” Perhaps it’s time to allow yourself to explore and develop your interests. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, our skill-sets, our limits. Get to know yours.
- Cognitive Skills
Cognition or cognitive skills have to do with thoughts and attitudes. Are the messages that we give ourselves and send to others helpful? Or do our thoughts keep us stuck in old unhelpful patterns? Perhaps we unconsciously criticize ourselves mercilessly with negative self-statements? Viktor Frankl gave us the example of concentration camp survivors during WWII and how they found meaning in their lives because they understood the power (and necessity) of managing their own attitudes under the worst conditions imaginable. That certainly puts things into perspective.
Communication is how we interact with others. Do we socialize enough? Can we ask for our needs to be met in an assertive rather than hostile or aggressive manner? Do we find ourselves agonizing over conflicts, or do we tend to avoid conflict in general and withdraw and/or isolate? Can we be “good enough” parents to ourselves, encouraging ourselves, being gentle and not be overly self-critical?
Nobody does this kind of work perfectly. If we are willing to learn and to grow from our experiences, we can learn to deal with our moods and emotions in safer and more effective ways. We can be “pro”-active rather than re-active and be more prepared when the time comes.
One more thing from Louis Pasteur to close: “One does not ask of one who suffers: What is your country and what is your religion? One merely says: You suffer, that is enough for me…”
There’s professional help, and hope, available. Contact New Directions Counseling Services about an upcoming anger management group happening this fall 2015.