Anger in the Age of Entitlement

Cleaning up emotional pollution

Anger Problems: Going from Bad to Worse to Better

Is the message of anger improve or punish?
One way to distinguish anger problems from the ordinary experience of occasional anger is the amount of time it takes to move from focus on how bad things are to making them better. Staying focused on how bad things are greatly impairs your ability to improve them.

The distress that goes with prolonged focus on bad situations usually produces a compulsion to blame - if things are so bad, somebody must be at fault. With blame comes a motivation to punish - if somebody caused the bad situation, they should take the consequences.

None of these - focus on how awful things are, blame, or the motivation to punish - will improve the situation. More likely, they will do damage to relationships that were founded on compassion and support; blame and punishment seem to the blamed and punished like betrayal of a bond.

Anger, especially in the form of resentment, causes hyper-focus on one's own perspective, to the exclusion of everyone else's. Did you ever go out to lunch with someone resentful about something at work and try to change the subject? You could probably say, "I was thinking about killing myself last night," and you'd get a reply of, "But can you believe what she said to me this morning?" Hyper-focus on your own perspective will not only get a negative response from others, it is likely to put any solution you find in the class of turning off a lamp with a rock.

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Shift to Improve Mode
If you are angry or resentful, you are too focused on how bad things are. Focus instead on how to improve the situation or, if you cannot improve the situation, think of how you can improve your experience of it. For example, if you are stuck in traffic that's not moving, you will find yourself angry if you focus on how awful it is that you can't get to where you want to go. You'll get angrier if you blame the situation on the design of the highway or whether the traffic lights are properly synchronized or on those drivers trying to inch ahead of someone else. You'll get angrier still if you blame the fact that you are in traffic on your boss for delaying your departure.

Consider what would happen if you shifted focus to improving. You couldn't make the traffic move, but you could at least make the situation more pleasant for yourself, by listening to music you like, calling a friend, or using the adrenalin rush caused by the traffic to solve some problem at work that has been nagging you. The adrenalin rush gives temporary energy and focus. It's like a free Starbucks, if you don't waste it on blame and anger. Shifting focus to improving releases intelligence and creativity.

If you are in the habit of reacting to normal events with anger, you might consider a reconditioning program like HEALS. Practice of HEALS for six weeks will help you shift more or less automatically from useless anger/blame/punish to a solid motivation to improve your situation or at least your experience of the situation.

If you tend to focus on blame and punishment of family members, you will probably need help to replace the impulse to blame and punish with compassion and a desire to improve. Help is available here and here.

Steven Stosny, Ph.D., treats people for anger and relationship problems. Recent books: How to Improve your Marriage without Talking about It, and Love Without Hurt.

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