Science and Sensibility

A psychological potpourri

Protect Yourself from Anger

Learn to boost confident composure

Marcus Aurelius, the stoic Emperor of Rome, once said, "How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it." He was talking about anger trumping reason.  

Unlike a natural anger, that is a defense against real danger, ego anger froths with irrational demands, recurs, and lingers. That's the enemy. When anger rules reason, disaster may follow in the form of physical violence and relationship losses. When expressing anger, people may tune into your emotion and ignore your ideas. If you seethe for years, over one thing or another, you risk coronary heart disease. If you find yourself in anger traps, change course. Exercise your reason. You are then likely to move like a well-tuned racecar that reason steers and emotion fuels. You can do this with confident composure.

With confident composure, you recognize that you can directly command only yourself, and you choose to do so. You don't demand that the world change for you, and you don't need it to. With this softer but stronger view, you can better influence the controllable events that take place around you. Your psychological resources are available to defuse or finesse conflicts. Let's start this journey with the blame-anger factor and the anger-anxiety-procrastination cycle. We'll finish with a way to boost confident composure.

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The Blame-Anger Factor

Buddha presumably said, "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else."

The road of life is rarely smooth; similarly, the road you drive on has conditions that can evoke frustration, blame, and stress. You run over a pothole and blame the town for not filling it. You blame the tire manufacturer for poor tire construction.  Whatever the cause, you're inconvenienced and frustrated.

It is normal to blame those you believe caused the harm.  However, you exaggerate when you condemn and try to punish people for inconveniencing you; that condemnation is like Buddha's hot coal. By building confident composure, you drop the coal. This confidence comes from the belief that you can take charge of yourself and contend with adversity.

When your mate -- yet again -- dents a fender on the family car, you have options. You can stress yourself. You can choose to work on confident composure.

Since confident composure doesn't come naturally, you work at it.  Although you initially feel stressed with anger, you fix the problem by getting the fender fixed.  You escape denting your relationship by showing empathy and cementing your relationship.

When a driver pokes along in the passing lane, you ordinarily take this as a violation of the rules of the road. Today, you don't seethe, brood, or tell yourself the driver is a jerk -- well, maybe you utter the word, jerk, once. Instead, you choose to control the things you can control -- your own reactions. You refuse to play bumper tag or flash your headlights.  You may do deep breathing exercises. You buy time to calm down. You also can into the faster moving travel lane.

You can develop confident composure in other ways. (1) Examine your angry assumptions. Maybe you assumed you must not suffer inconvenience, and think that highway slowpokes should be eradicated and you are the person to do it. (2) Switch from ego anger to an enlightened perspective. Instead of muttering under your breath, you experiment with perspective. Perhaps the slower driver recently suffered a life tragedy and felt preoccupied by grief. Perhaps the person was floating down the road in a world of fantasy (unlike us angels). Even if the person is passive-aggressive, why play the game? With a new perspective, you arrive at your destination safe and relaxed.  (3) Accept reality. "Hey," you tell yourself, "the situation is as it is.  I'll get to my destination a few minutes later."  By making your impatience the target for self-correction, you steer toward a destination of confident composure. You let go of the hot coal. Now, where did your road rage go?

The Anger-Anxiety-Procrastination Connection

Buddha has another message:  The mind is everything. What you think you become.

Linda has a serious case of confrontation anxiety. She sees normal disagreements as confrontations and she fears them. She believes she can't control her anger. She fears that others will retaliate against her should she express her opinions angrily. She resents that she must squelch her anger to get along. She suppresses, stresses, and stifles herself.

Linda gives herself one excuse after another to avoid addressing her confrontation anxiety. She procrastinates by doing unrelated activities like watching television or playing solitaire. Her hot coal lies in putting off overcoming her confrontation anxiety. Tired of this pattern, Linda chooses to try confident composure -- or at least to act as if she has it. First, she observes people who calmly express their views. She sees that these role models have difference in opinions and yet don't become angry at each other. She chooses to follow their examples. 

Instead of blaming herself for having a problem, Linda chose to stop procrastinating by first accepting that she could (1) change course; (2) break her challenges down into chewable bites; (4) develop  a can do form of reasoning; (5) accept her emotions without squelching them; and (6) change her behavior by acting as if she could exchange opinions without argument and anger.

Linda put her new views into practice. She started by sparingly stating minor differences of opinions with her friends. She surprised herself when she first experienced a profound sense of confident composure. She got positive feedback. One friend said, "Linda, you seem different. I like the difference."

Boosting Confident Composure

"Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way... that is not easy." (Aristotle)

Anger connects to a perception of power. In primitive times -- as in some prisons -- power and aggression may have been safer than flight. Ego anger is different. It's triggered by erroneous expectations and irrational demands. This anger may seem automatic. However, scratch the surface and you'll see you have a choice to think, feel, and act differently. Believe that you can respond reflectively and effectively, and you can do what you believe.

No one is perfect. At times, you won't feel confident or composed. It helps to remember that this is an opportunity to get back to practicing steering a steady life course with confident composure.

For more information and solutions for anxiety, see The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety

For more information and solutions for procrastination, see: End Procrastination Now or The Procrastination Workbook.

For how to think your way out of emotional muddles, see: REBTnetwork.org.

Dr. Bill Knaus, Ed.D. & Dr. Irwin Altrows, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Bill Knaus, Ed.D., is the author of more than 20 books; one, "Overcoming Procrastination", was co-authored with Albert Ellis.

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