John Schinnerer Ph.D.
Guide To Self, Inc.
Feeling angry is neither wrong nor bad. Anger is a normal, healthy emotion felt by everyone. Anger is a call to action, a message that something (or someone) has come between you and a goal of yours. When your promotion is given to a coworker, you feel angry since your coworker has come between you and your goal of climbing the corporate ladder. When your parent wouldn’t allow you to go out on Friday night, you were angry because you were thwarted from your goal of temporary freedom and friendship. When your spouse asks you pick up a child at a friend’s house on your way home from work, you feel slightly angry because your goal of relaxing is temporarily put on hold.
Normally, it’s not the anger that is problematic. It’s the way you act due to the anger that is often a problem. When anger leads to physical fights, yelling, screaming, stonewalling and insults, then your actions become problematic.
Anger is often constructive and useful. Without anger, we would sit idly by while tremendous social injustices (e.g. slavery, racism, genocide) are carried out. By using anger constructively, we can, overcome adversity, prove naysayers wrong, and correct social wrongs. By learning anger management tools, we can use anger to our advantage.
To turn anger into constructive action, check out the following practical, concrete tips:
1. Cop To Your Anger
Perhaps one of the worst things I see clients do is deny their anger. Without an awareness of your anger, you are at its mercy.
An old Japanese tale tells of an angry samurai who commanded a Zen master to explain the concept of Heaven and Hell to him. The Zen master replied with disregard, ‘You are no more than a fire ant. I will not waste my time with trash like you.’ The samurai was enraged and drew his sword from its scabbard. He screamed, ‘I will kill you for your disrespect!’ In the face of the Samurai’s anger, a peaceful manner came to the Zen master. ‘That place of anger from which you come,’ the Zen master calmly stated, ‘is Hell.’ Awakened by the truth in the Zen master’s observation, the samurai regained his composure and put away his sword. The samurai bowed and thanked the Zen master with deep gratitude for his awakening. ‘And your newly found gratitude,’ said the master, ‘is Heaven.’
The moral of the story is if you want to change how you relate to anger, change your awareness of yourself. The sudden ‘aha’ of the samurai to his own anger demonstrates the critical difference between being overtaken by anger and being aware of being overtaken by anger. The difference is subtle yet critical.
By suppressing anger, you push it from your head to your body. A consistent finding in those who have low self-esteem, migraines, ulcers, heart attacks, hypertension and substance abuse problems is that they are unable to master their anger. Rather than controlling their anger, their anger controls them. While anger is not the sole cause of these problems, the consistent appearance of anger in people with these issues indicates it is a major factor in all of these problems.
On the other hand, by allowing anger to be, you create room for the possibility of being aware of it and labeling it as anger. Studies have shown the mere act of properly labeling your emotional state dials down the intensity of the emotion. So increase your awareness and find the right label to put on your internal state. If you feel your heart rate jump, your blood rushing to your fists and feet, and your brow furrow, be open to the possibility that you are angry, irritated or annoyed. Say to yourself silently: ‘Okay, I’m getting aggravated. I’m getting mad. What could this be about?’
2. Look for the Cause of Your Anger
Following on the heels of that last question, look around for the cause of your anger or irritation. What may have led to your anger?
At times, the answer is as obvious as a punch in the face. Common causes of anger include perceived disrespect, a violation of your rights, insults slung at you, lies told about you by others, social embarrassment and stressful situations. The more specific you can be in describing the event that sent your heart rate rocketing the better off you will be.
At other times, the cause of anger is not so clear cut. You may come away from a business meeting feeling slighted or overlooked. You may walk away from a conversation wondering if the other person meant to be disrespectful. During these unclear times, stop long enough to ask yourself ‘With whom or what am I angry? An individual? A department at work? A firm? Myself? God?’ And realize that it may be some combination of any of these that is causing your anger.
3. Spelunk In Your Feelings About Anger
Dive into the depths of your mind and heart and figure out how you feel about anger itself. Were you allowed to be angry as a child? Are you fearful of where your anger will take you? Does anger make you feel embarrassed? Guilty? Afraid? Take a bold and honest inventory of how anger makes you feel. This is known as meta-emotion. Meta-emotion is how we feel about particular feelings just like meta-cognition is thinking about thinking.
Anger is a primary emotion and we often hold deep-seated feelings about primary emotions (e.g., anger, sadness, disgust, happiness and fear). Take a few minutes to write down how anger makes you feel. Start with your childhood experiences and work your way forward to the present day.
4. Act Constructively with Anger
Again, it’s not the anger itself that is the problem usually. It’s how we behave once we get angry. So here are some constructive ways to deal with anger…
• Express your anger early before you get infuriated. Try speaking to the person who annoyed you. Use first person pronouns, such as ‘I feel…’ or ‘It confuses me when…’ or ‘I’m annoyed…’ Let your anger out bit by bit using speech to express why you are angry. First you must work on self-awareness so you know in the moment when you are becoming angry. Before you get to a 5 on a 10 point scale of anger, address the anger before you escalate into a rage. Instead of flying into a rage, be conscious of your anger. It’s the only way to figure out exactly what is making you angry. This step involves learning appropriate assertiveness where you can identify what you need and share that need with others in a nonthreatening way. This approach is far better than sitting on your anger or stuffing it down. It’s also been shown to be more constructive than exploding in a rage which often spirals out of control.
• Use Your Anger To Work Towards Constructive Solutions. Anger is a great source of internal energy. Put it to use. If you are angry about a specific situation in your community, company, or school, join a group that is working on solving that problem. If it’s your family that is accelerating your anger, make an appointment with a mental health professional.
• Exercise. Studies show that individuals who exercise more than 20 minutes per day, sleep at least 7 hours per night, and eat healthy foods that are naturally colorful have reduced feelings of anger and irritation, higher levels of happiness and well-being. Have you worked out today? If not, take a brisk walk for 15-20 minutes (outside in nature of course!) to decrease anger, increase your level of happiness and satisfaction with life.
Anger management is a learnable skill from which everyone can benefit. Anger management skills greatly reduce your risk of coronary heart disease, hypertension, ulcers, heart attack and stroke. Take steps now to manage your anger. You’ll be glad you did!
About the Author
John Schinnerer, Ph.D. is in private practice teaching men the latest ways to turn down the volume on negative emotions such as anger, anxiety and stress. He also helps guys discover happier, more meaningful lives. His offices are in Danville, California 94526. He graduated from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in educational psychology. He has been an executive, speaker and coach for over 14 years. John is Founder of Guide To Self, a company that coaches men to happiness and success using the latest in positive psychology. He hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a daily prime time radio show, in the SF Bay Area. His areas of expertise range from positive psychology, to emotional awareness, to anger management, to coaching men. He wrote the award-winning, “Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought,” which is available for FREE right now at http://www.GuideToSelf.com. His blog, Shrunken Mind, was recently recognized as one of the top 3 in positive psychology on the web (http://drjohnblog.guidetoself.com ). His new video blog teaches people concrete steps towards a happier life. (https://drjohnsblog.wordpress.com ).