My parents never fought. Argued, yes, but there was never any threat of violence. That type of confrontation wasn’t allowed in my house. Yet if you were to ask me to describe my mother, the first word that comes to mind is “angry.”
When I think of anger management, I think of people like Robert DeNiro’s character in the movie Anger Management who have a hard time controlling their temper and act out in a range of abusive behaviors from yelling to attacking someone. Their rage is visible. In their presence, my brain reacts instantly, telling me to fight back or get out of the way, fast.
Yet the type of anger we see daily is not so apparent. Most people hide their built up resentment and frustrations. When the garbage can is full, the distress seeps out in passive-aggressive behavior or they numb it with alcohol and drugs.
THE PROBLEM: Left unchecked, this silent desperation acts as a cloud in our relationships at home and at work. The pain shows up as biting sarcasm, withheld compliments, a lack of intimacy and friendliness, unreasonable conflicts, misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and the erosion of caring about improving anything.
THE BITTER TRUTH: Anger can poison any work group, from one team to an entire organization. It can suffocate a loving relationship. It can cause illness and physical ailments that could lead to death. According to Medical researcher, Dr. Candace Pert, in her book Molecules of Emotion, it is not the expression of an emotion that weakens our system and leads to disease, but the suppression of emotions. Psychologist Lydia Temoshok found that cancer patients who keep their anger under the surface recover much more slowly if at all compared to patients who are given the opportunity to express their anger. Some researches say that it is possible that the cause of cancer in many people is due to repressed emotions.
THE SOLUTION: From an insensitive bedside manner to a rabid customer, from a controlling boss to a sabotaging employee, from an emotionally-distant parent to a unforgiving spouse or irascible teenager, anger has become an epidemic. Yet the skills for dealing with anger? emotional intelligence, stress management, empathy, and assertive communications? are readily available. The prerequisite for overcoming anger is willingness.
BRAIN TIP: If you are aware that you end your days with anger, frustration, and depression (defined as anger turned inward), you can begin your journey by being willing to identify the unmet emotional needs, or triggers, that are feeding your feelings. Emotional intelligence is understanding what you really need but feel you are not getting, such as respect, appreciation, love, intellectual acknowledgment, positive attention, feeling in control, predictability (knowing what will happen next), support, a sense of meaning or purpose, or hope for the future.
The travesty is “that which you resist gets stronger,” meaning that your rage only grows if you don’t give it a voice. Then it is even more difficult to get your needs met since anger is the most efficient way to keep people away from you.
Yet, if you can learn how to ask for what you need with strength and compassion, or learn how to let go of a need if you find that it is unreasonable in the situation you are in, you will both satisfy your needs and create stronger bonds with those you live and work with.
Whether you find yourself angry in the moment, or you are carrying the emotional baggage of an ongoing, tense situation, you can defuse the mental and physical stress with self-awareness and communication skills. And as you become more adept at understanding your own simmering resentment, you will come to be able to hear the pain that is driving the behavior triggered by anger in others. You will sense what is triggering them, which leads to more meaningful conversations and conflict resolution.
You can find more specific steps to help you in my book, Outsmart Your Brain: How to Make Success Feel Easy.
Why should you care about anger management? If you want to breathe air that is free from the negative energy of others and you want to go home with peace of mind and body, you should make it a primary life goal.