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Needless Angers: Can They Be Eliminated?

Anger poisons relationships, yet anger can easily become a too-frequent habit.

Key points

  • Anger generally arises when we don't receive something we want—"Give it to me!" Or do receive something we don't want—"Stop it!"
  • Anger alerts us to a problem. Addressing problems in anger may get compliance but generates negative feelings in the receiver.
  • People can end their needless anger with a relatively simple three-step strategy and possible amygdala reset for less emotional reactivity.
 (c) paffy/fotosearch
Anger poisons relationships whether its intensity is low as in frustration or irritation or high as in fury or rage.
Source: (c) paffy/fotosearch

Anger rises within people in two circumstances. People generally feel mad when they (a) are not getting something they want—appreciation, affection, or anything they are desiring—or (b) are getting something they don't want, like criticism, blame, mean comments, or feeling left out.

Angry feelings arise for an important purpose. Like a blinking red light, a feeling of anger alerts people to a problem. By contrast, dealing with that problem angrily generally proves to be toxic. Because angry voices, words, and actions generally feel bullying, demeaning, and hurtful to the receiver, they do serious damage to your ability to enjoy positive relationships.

Does speaking in anger invite defensiveness, resentment, and counter-attacks? Most of the time, yes. That's generally true even when people who sound angry internally are feeling something more benign like anxious or overwhelmed.

While the receiver of anger may comply with angry demands, anger almost always begets angry feelings in return. Anger begets anger is generally true even when people who receive anger act as if nothing is wrong. Within themselves, they may be storing up anger that at some point is likely to erupt.

When Is Anger a Needless Anger?

In an emergency, like a child running out in the street when a car is coming, an angry-sounding voice may be life-saving. At the same time, in virtually every non-emergency conflict situation at home, at work, with loved ones, and even with strangers, talking cooperatively yields better solutions—and at the same time builds relationship goodwill, appreciation, and affection.

How Can a Habit of Needless Anger Be Brought to an End?

The following further information on needless angers, that is, on anger in situations that would be better handled calmly, is quoted from my book on sustaining positive relationships, The Power of Two: Secrets to a Strong & Loving Marriage. While the book focuses specifically on marriage examples, the principles apply to all relationships—at work, in parenting, with those whom you love, and even with strangers.

From The Power of Two

"Do you often feel angry? If so, you may have a case of the needless angers, my term for anger in day-to-day situations that do not warrant getting steamed up. Save acting in anger for rare major emergencies. For daily life, be nice. Niceness gets you more of what you want without hurting your loved ones or poisoning their feelings toward you.

Interestingly, when children who treat each other angrily are told, 'Children, be nice,' they almost always know what 'nice' is. Adults who find themselves responding to day-to-day frustrations with needless anger may be equally surprised to discover that if they tell themselves, 'Wait a minute. Be nice.' They are likely to get resolution of the problem and a far happier household.

Three-Step Plan of Action for Eliminating Needless Angers

All you need to get started is a place to write down a list.

Step one: Become aware.

To identify your needless angers, keep a list for a week of all the incidents to which you responded with anger.

Note that I did not say "incidents that made you mad." Incidents, and people as well, don't make you mad. You choose or have developed a habit of responding with anger.

Make your list as specific as possible. That is, rather than just "mad at Johnny," list mad when Johnny kept hitting his sister even after I told him to stop. Or, mad in the mornings when I'm trying to get the children out the door to school on time and they keep going back to their room for things they forgot.

Step two: Identify similar situations.

Once you have created a full list, notice patterns in the situations. Do you spout anger in response to minor mistakes, yours or others? Do you speak angrily when someone in your family doesn't do what you want? When someone does something you don't like? When you are tired, hungry, anxious, or overwhelmed?

Step three: Create new solutions.

Imagine and write down one or more new ways to handle each of the formerly anger-inducing situations. Be creative. There's always a better way.

The tone is all-important. Figure out how you could have handled each of these needless angers in better humor. Could you have explained your concerns? Asked the other person about their concerns instead of insisting on your way? Could you aim to fix problems instead of affixing blame? Next time could you go to Johnny and, in a kindly way, switch his attention from his sister to talking with you? Could you devise a new system for gathering in the evenings what the children will need to bring to school the next morning? Their already-prepared backpacks then could sit by the front door for easy morning departures.

Much-Improved Future, Free From Needless Angers

If you sense that you act on your anger too often and too intensely, check out the following amygdala reset procedure. Which I explain in an earlier post on this blog.

With the help of an energy healer or other practitioner of muscle kinesiology who is willing to view the video, this procedure is surprisingly quick and easy. It does, though, need to be repeated several times (weekly at first, then increasingly less often) to consolidate its results—much as if your brain were to learn anything else new. Like a sport or a language.

There is no need to be perfect when you start to implement your new ideas for dealing calmly with the problems your anger has alerted you to. Remind yourself that "mistakes are for learning."

How much anger is ideal? Best to aim to find ways to handle one hundred percent of potentially anger-inducing situations without even a hint of irritation, criticism, blame, or a loud voice. You'll then be on a surprisingly gratifying pathway to a happier, calmer, and more satisfying life.

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