Help, I’m Getting Angry
Just this morning, my five year old came stomping through the kitchen with a big scowl on his face. He was angry. We have recently developed a schedule board to help Ian plan his day. He loves to follow his schedule, and he was planning on getting ready and dressed for his day from 8:00 to 9:00 in the morning. Mom threw a little monkey wrench in his plan when I told him he needed a bath before he could get dressed. Knowing that mom was working, he raced off to get dad out of bed. Dad, however, had a different agenda. He wanted to sleep in, and he wasn’t about to get up to give Ian a bath. Oh no! His plan was messed up and the result was anger. Thankfully, Mom taught him how to rearrange his schedule so that it was playtime between 8:00 and 9:00, and getting ready for his day was now pushed to the 9:00 to 10:00 time slot. A little flexibility and a lot of toy cars, and Ian’s anger quickly dissipated.
The Faces of Anger
Anger is a normal human emotion. It is considered the emotion of self- preservation. Anger may appear when someone talks to us in a disrespectful tone of voice, when the bills pile up, or when traffic is causing us to be late for an appointment. Anger shows up when people don’t listen to us, don’t do what we want them to, and when we’re overwhelmed with 100 things to do. Anger has many faces: frustration, impatience, annoyance, bitterness, irritability, criticism, temper tantrums, rage, and even depression. A lot of us don’t like to talk about anger because it’s considered “bad” to be angry. Anger, in and of itself, is not wrong. Mishandling your anger can, however, be harmful to you and others around you.
What is Your Style?
According to Dr. Les Carter, author of The Anger Trap and a leading expert on the subject of anger, there are three styles for handling anger. Some people are passive, and they stuff the anger inside, all the while pretending that everything is okay. Others are aggressive. When they are angry, you definitely know because they shout, scream, spew out angry criticisms, and even slam doors and cabinets. The third style of dealing with anger is the passive-aggressive approach. When someone is passive-aggressive with their anger, they appear, on the surface, to comply, only to seek revenge in a secretive way. Examples would include people who are nice to your face, but then criticize you behind your back, or people who agree to do something they don’t want to do, and then purposely choose not to follow through. The preferred, and the healthiest way to handle your anger is through assertive expression and then letting it go.
The Roots of Anger
Before you can learn to express your anger in a healthy way, and be released from the chains of anger, it’s helpful to understand what is at the root of your anger. This requires us to stop long enough to examine our anger before we react. If you will, picture a plant with four roots. Each root represents a core trigger for anger.
- Sometimes our anger is triggered by our need to control, or have control in our life. When our children misbehave, our anger can be triggered if our goal is to control their behavior. Control is an illusion because we can’t control other people. We can, however, control our response to our anger.
- The second root represents our feelings of insecurity. When someone criticizes us, our insecurity can cause us to feel angry. The core issue is really about whether or not we feel we are good enough. We can learn to evaluate what we want to believe about ourselves. Sometimes the criticism may be valid, but others times it is not. Another person’s opinion does not need to shake our self worth.
- Another anger trigger is self-absorption. We are born selfish. Think of a two year old. What is her favorite word? You guessed it: Mine! As we mature, we hopefully learn that the world does not revolve around us, and it’s important to think of other people. Sometimes, however, it’s easy to slip back into our old patterns. We want time for ourselves, and our anger gets triggered because our child will not go to sleep. Or perhaps you’ve planned a night out with the girls, and your husband calls to inform you that he has to stay late at work and cannot be home for the kids. You are angry because he has (or his boss) interfered with your plans. Does this mean we don’t have a right to feel angry? The answer is no, but we do have to step outside ourselves and consider the needs of those around us. It is possible to balance our needs with the needs of others.
- Lastly, the fourth root symbolizes our fear. Anger is often triggered by fear. What are you afraid of? The pile of bills may mean you will be in debt forever, or you’ll never have enough money to retire. Conflict might mean someone is going to leave you. Fear is your imagination running wild. Acknowledge your fear and then reframe your thoughts to diminish your fear. Reassure yourself that everything will be okay, or that you can handle whatever life has to offer.
An Anger Journal
Healthy expression of your anger and being free from the traps of anger will require you to take some action. For the next month, keep an anger journal. Each time you feel angry, irritated, impatient or frustrated, write the situation down in your journal. How did you handle your anger? Analyze what you think is the root cause of your anger. Write down an assertive response to your anger. How can you change your thoughts to let go of the anger? At the end of the month, look for patterns. Do you consistently deal with your anger in the same manner or does it vary? Review the four roots and identify any consistencies in your own anger. Now that you have a good understanding of your anger, you can make different choices. Stop now before you react to your anger. Make a mental note of what’s driving your anger. Then you can choose a healthy response to your anger.
Anger, while a normal part of life, does not need to hurt your relationships or spoil your mood. By the way, it is 10:00 and Ian is bathed, dressed and ready for his day. He’s right on schedule!