Anger Management, Relationships, Empathy And Other Stuff
Examine the dynamics underlying the anger, especially
in relationships. For example, you like a certain amount
of freedom and personal space, and your "significant other"
wants more connection and closeness. If he or she starts
complaining about your activities, don't retaliate by painting
your partner as a jailer, a warden, or an albatross around your
neck. If you are playing off someone else’s behaviors and
you both get angrier and angrier, you may be stuck in reciprocal
negative feedback. I call these Negative Loops. I discuss
this at length in my Ebook, Why Relationship Fail. Negative Loops happen
A does something that annoys partner B. Partner B’s response
is to do the very thing that annoyed partner A in the first
place. Now partner A is again annoyed, because s/he expected
that what s/he did would decrease, not increase partner B’s
annoying behavior. Not having much insight, partner A does
the same thing again to stop partner B’s behavior, only this
time powered by greater frustration. Partner B likes this
response even less the second time around, but responds with
his or her same behavior, this time having more frustration on
board, too. Each does the same thing, but at each level there
is more frustration, hence escalation. This continues until
one of the partners “goes BOOM!” This is when something bad
happens. I call this a Negative loop because both partners
play off the other negatively, making things worse, not better.
Identify the specific feeling you experience. Sometimes
angry behavior is not about anger. More likely it is about
feeling hurt, but hurt is fundamentally a different feeling.
Unfortunately, when hurt is expressed, it looks like anger
because it is more explosive, hence the confusion in the
recipient. The way to clear up this problem is to find
adequate feeling words and use them liberally to verbalize your
emotions. If you don’t know enough words, I have a list of the
nine major feeling words in the back of my Ebook, The Five Steps
of Assertiveness. I have almost eight hundred
synonyms for the nine feeling words, including about 122 just for
Most people get angry about things that tend to repeat.
Sometimes that’s a specific behavior, sometimes that’s a category
of behaviors. For example, some people get mad when people cut
in line. In this case, the category is “rudeness” or
“inconsideration of others.” It might not matter that the
“cutter” is 90 years old and will probably not live out the day.
A rule is a rule. If this is your experience, examine the rules.
They are just another form of expectations. Check out how
embedded your feelings are with respect to those rules; in other
words, what is your level of attachment? Are you trying to get
someone to change? This approach probably won’t work. These
are the factors that you have to make conscious. In this case,
you clearly recognize the value of the rule, but how in need are
you of having to rigidly adhere to it? Would empathy for the
“cutter” give you a better feeling? Would this “offense” still
be in your memory in five years?
Be Creative. Find alternatives. If your daily commute
through traffic leaves you in a state of rage and frustration,
give yourself a project—learn or map out a different route, one
that's less congested or more scenic. Or find another
alternative, such as a bus or commuter train. If you are stuck
using only one route, use the commute time to listen to books on
tape. Learn another language while watching hi-expectation folks
“flip off” other drivers (and then marvel at your understanding of
expectations and attachment…)
Employ humor. "Silly humor" can defuse rage in a number of
ways. It can help you get a more balanced perspective.
For example, when you get angry and call someone a name or refer
to them in some imaginative phrase, stop and picture what that
word would literally look like. If you're at work and you think
a coworker really is a "dirt bag" or a "single-cell life form,"
picture a large bag full of dirt (or a big fat amoeba) sitting at
your colleague's desk, talking on the phone, going to meetings or
going on a date. Do this whenever a name comes into your head
about another person. If you can, draw a picture of what the
actual thing might look like. This will take a lot of the edge
off your fury; and humor can always be relied upon to help unknot
a tense situation.
There are two cautions in using humor. First, don't try to
just "laugh off" your problems because that is probably denial at
work. Stuffing feelings creates an emotional time bomb, so don’t
rationalize the process by making something superficially funny.
Rather, use humor to help yourself face things constructively.
Second, don't give in to harsh, sarcastic humor; that's just another
form of unhealthy anger expression.