The Fantasy: Wouldn't it be great if the next time your boss did something really stupid and hurtful, you could vent your rage, throw things around, scream and he or she would say: "You know you're right. I gave the wrong person a hefty raise. You're the one who really deserved it. How stupid of me! Now that you made it obvious by yelling at me and denting my desk, I'm going to double your salary."
Or, your husband's late again, and by the time he walks in the door (12 minutes late) you yell at him about everything that's been bothering you lately, and he just says, "Sweetheart, I am so sorry you're upset. The reason I'm a few minutes late is I stopped to buy you this" — he holds out a beautiful piece of jewelry—"but I shouldn't have done that without calling. How can I make this up to you?"
Well, fantasies are great, and at times it's hard to understand why other people don't conform to our fantasies but usually if venting anger gets us what we want, it's at the expense of respect and good feeling between us and the other person.
What Is Anger?
Anger is a natural response if we're being threatened, and it's also often a cover for hurt and feelings of vulnerability. It's not the feeling, it's the way it's managed that often needs work. The problem of how to control anger is serious: not only individuals but politicians, political groups, and even countries often aren't good at even recognizing that anger is present; destructive actions become almost immediate.
How We Control Anger:
When I first became a therapist and worked at a clinic, I was assigned to co-lead a group for men who were court ordered to treatment because of violence.
The men ended up teaching me (and each other) a thing or two about how to control anger.
- They had to learn to recognize the feeling in themselves: they had to learn their own body and mental cues.
- They had to admit that they'd been taught not to be vulnerable, and they had confused aggression with strength and manliness. (Often for women the teaching is different; being nice all the time can lead to a big build up of unmet needs.)
- They blamed their inability to control on what other people did.
The Blame Game:
The way they handled anger was an equalizer: whether they were high school dropouts or executives or successful attorneys they had quick trigger reactions, and at first, they all said the same thing: She or he made me do it. They would launch into a story about what was done that "made" them lose control and get violent.
What was interesting was that the men could see in each other what they couldn't see in themselves and they began to call each other out. "Hey, man, no one can control you but yourself. You can't say she made you do it. You did it."
Sophisticated or unsophisticated as the comebacks were they all boiled down to the same thing: tension and rage had been building and building, the trigger was cocked and then pulled at the slightest "provocation" usually by someone who the men felt connected to and slighted by.
So, ironically the men who were court ordered to learn how to control anger felt out of control and exploded to try and assert their dominance and control.
Start Controlling Your Anger:
Some simple rules emerged from the groups about how to control anger:
1. Recognize the way this powerful feeling shows up in you.
Is your body incredibly tense? Are you repeating in your own head the ways you’ve been wronged? Are you frightened about being in a losing position? Any of these inner states can be precursors to anger. Most of us will see one similar pattern repeat in ourselves.
2. Once you recognize the feeling, learn some way to release the physical build up of energy.
Brisk walking or exercise works for some people; others like more meditative or calming practices like listening to music or yoga.
3. Recognize when an issue or your feelings are too hot so that walking away may be strong not weak.
It may be your way of maintaining control rather than losing it. Walking away doesn’t mean not dealing; it means postponing dealing until you feel more able to handle the forceful feelings inside.
4. Learn the difference between being assertive, and identifying what you want and need, and being aggressive.
It’s not easy but it’s worth it.
5. Know that the temptation to act strong can come from feeling weak.
Not admitting your vulnerability to yourself can be a recipe for disaster, an assurance that you will build up so much tension or hurt that explosion feels like the only way out. If you can find someone else to talk to, that’s even better because being heard and understood is naturally calming.
And from a place of energized calm, I can envision entirely different fantasies than I gave at the beginning of the article, — and I hope you can too:
- Your co worker gets a raise: You know you deserve one, and so you finally shed your shyness about showing your excellence so that you are not only offered a raise and promotion, you enjoy your work more.
- Your husband is late again: You get clear with yourself about all that you've kept unsaid. You leave him a note and go do something that helps you buy time and get clear. The next night, you open up and you ask him to, and you find yourselves talking to each other in an honest way that you haven't for months. And, oh, yes, you get that jewelry also.
Those fantasies might seem far-fetched but they are not impossible. Good and bad feelings spring form a deep well in each of us, and learning to handle them really can be a way to create the relationships we want.
Carol Freund works with individuals and couples helping them be in touch with the powerful and sometimes confusing feelings inside of them. This helps people to be stronger and more authentic. You can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can check out her website: www.carolfreund.com. When she writes she is truthful about emotional content but changes names and details so that no one can be identified.
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