Understand Other People

Better communication through a better understanding of behavior

4 Ways to Resist Rage

Your anger needs an outlet before it explodes.

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A recent Washington Post article cited research showing that the number of people who admit they feel “uncontrollable anger toward another driver" has doubled since 2005. U.S. News & World Report this winter reported on the phenomenon of "snow rage," a stress-driven epidemic that hit much of the country this year due to extremely cold and snowy weather.

There was a time when "all the rage" meant being up-to-date in fashion or knowing the latest dance step. Now, it can only refer to a raging anger bubbling just below the surface, waiting for someone to come along and do, or say, just the wrong thing to release it.

Why All the Anger?

Rage is a violent and uncontrollable anger that can be expressed in a variety of ways—bared teeth, yelling, or physically abusing someone, to name a few. It's mounting unhappiness and frustration that finally finds a release point and just lets go. When most people reach, and cross, that line, their rage has been building for some time and finally just can’t be restrained any longer.

Experiencing someone else's rage can be highly disturbing. When we're the target of such rage, or even just witnessing the person vent it, we can feel cowed and emotionally abused. We’re not quite sure how far they might go before they turn their rage down, or off.

Rage is often the polar opposite of depression in its expression, but its evolution stems from many of the same conditions: We feel helpless. Lost. Taken advantage of. We feel like we've come up short in comparison to others. We feel we haven’t been given what we deserve. We experience life as “not fair.”

The problem with extreme negative emotions like rage—and depression—is that they deplete us. They make us less able to cope with the ups and downs of everyday life. We can find ourselves walking around worrying about the next thing that might go wrong—that might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Rage is not a positive state for anyone—and the consequences can be long-standing if it isn’t diverted. Instead of allowing these emotions to build, and placing yourself in a potentially disastrous situation in which you've lost the ability to stay objective and balanced, take these four steps to deflate the rage balloon building inside you:

  1. Be aware of your triggers. What upsets you? What behaviors in others, experiences, or thoughts set you off? What ignites the fires that turn into negativity? Instead of repeatedly getting triggered or drawn in, step back and examine these conditions. Become conscious and watchful of them instead of being dragged down by them.
  2. Ask yourself, “Is this worth it?” As you feel you're about to lose your cool, get into a fight, or say something nasty to someone, let the voice inside of you be heard and stop you for just three seconds to ask whether what you're about to do is worth it. Will you feel better, or worse, tomorrow for having lost your cool tonight?
  3. Find another outlet. We can get so focused on what's upsetting us that we become fixated on it. If my neighbor’s shiny new car makes me feel like a loser because I'm driving a rusting lemon, I shouldn’t drive by their house and envy the ride in their driveway. If my daughter singing loudly in her room to music I hate upsets me, I shouldn’t stand outside her room and listen to it! These examples may sound silly, but they represent how we react to a variety of situations. We can be drawn to that which upsets us. So move away—and turn your attention elsewhere.
  4. Practice calming mantras and sayings. Have something handy in your mind that you enjoy—the lyrics to a favorite song, a poem, a speech from a favorite movie, a piece of scripture. When you feel yourself entering a state of rage, stop where you are and turn your attention to those positive, funny, or uplifting words so they can help you make a conscious choice not to head down that path. Don’t expect to be able to do this easily on the spot; prepare the phrases in advance for when you'll need them.

Beverly D. Flaxington teaches at Suffolk University.

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