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Want to Be Happy? 5 Ways to Handle Anger

Are you too angry? Or not angry enough?

“Anybody can become angry- that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way- that is not within everybody’s power and is not so easy”- Aristotle.

Handling Your Anger: Anger has a power, like money and sex. When used well, it’s a good thing. When used poorly, like in a painful divorce, it’s destructive. If you are never angry, there is a price to pay. If you are angry too often and too intensely, you can hurt the people you love.

Here are some questions to ask yourself about anger in your life.

One: "Better Mad Than Sad!" Don’t stuff your anger; it’s a good way to get depressed.

People do hurt you and a passive response can make things worse. Often, healthy anger helps you to mobilize and get out of harm's way. Anger gets you going, and may lead you to better things to come. And, if you feel victimized, anger can give you the power to change things.

Example: Dana is enraged at David, her boyfriend - he’s got caught up at work and had to cancel their date, again! Arrgg. It’s happened too many times. Dana reacts and lays into him; David gets the message.

From the Couch: Instead of just feeling second best, Dana expressed herself, and got her resentment out. She let David know that this is not the way she’s to be treated. By speaking frankly, Dana recaptured her dignity.

Later, she mobilizes more. Instead of being depressed and miserable, Dana decides to take a kick-boxing class in order to go out, release her energy and get healthy while doing it. David may be in her future, but maybe not. The key is that Dana got mad, expressed herself and made changes that felt good.

Two: Anger Comes From Hurt or Disappointment. Anger is often a response to pain, like the involuntary way you lash out if someone pokes an open wound by accident. It’s usually about self protection. So, anger is not primary; hurt or fear is primary. Your hurt or fear can be from what’s happened with the person in front of you right now, or it can have its origins in your past.

If you’re triggered into anger, stop a moment, and ask yourself if you’re hurt or feel in danger.

• Has this person disappointed you before?

• Has this person scared you before?

• Does this disappointment come from your past?

• Does this fear come from your past?

Example: Christine’s husband, Charlie, often upsets her - and she blows up in outrage. It actually feels good, yet it’s useful to look for the hurt - or fear. In one instance, Charlie commented about Christine’s dress; and Christine thinks he’s saying that she’s fat. Christine sees red. And, Charlie feels attacked needlessly.

From the Couch: Christine needs to take a step back and think about it. Why is she so angry? What’s the cause? Turns out that Christine had a narcissistic mother who criticized her no end. She was NEVER thin enough for mom. She was ALWAYS judged. So, now with her husband, Christine’s triggered to rage, but it’s really about an ancient hurt. Charlie doesn’t deserve it.

Here is what Christine (and others like her) can do: once she calms down, Christine can help Charlie understand what just happened. This can actually be a bonding experience for the two of them.

Plus, this may be an indication that some psychotherapy may be helpful. All intimate relationships bring out past worries and concerns. This is the Field of Intimacy. It is my clinical experience that people start to love and enter a field where they can feel great, but also experience danger.

Love is a gamble. But, most of us want it nevertheless.

Three: Anger is to be Expressed - and not Indulged. There are people with emotional dysregulation who easily fly off the handle. They are emotionally reactive. It has its origins in childhood, but also may be in one’s brain. Depressed people, Bi-polar patients and others can be reactive as well. Anger can slip past frontal lobe functioning; and this is rarely constructive.

Example: Andy borrowed Jason’s car, only to crack it up. Andy offered to pay for the deductable, but got involved with other things. Jason is seething. First, his car's busted for no good reason. Second, he has to take time from work to get it fixed. Third, Andy appears to have forgotten. Jason loses it. Andy responds, “stop it, no problem, I’ll take care of it.

Andy apologizes, pays the deductable, but Jason won’t let go.

Every night he ruminates about Andy’s “betrayal.”

From the Couch: Jason has every right to be angry. Yet, how long should a person hold onto anger? A week? Ten weeks? If every time he sees Andy, Jason feels bitter, it’s not good. Either, it’s time to move on to another relationship; or he just has to let go of the pain. If Jason can’t let go, it may be his problem and not Andy’s. I recommend a good therapist.

Four: Remember that you’re Dealing with others when Angry. Depression and anxiety are often personal experiences. Anger, on the other hand is usually a public experience. John Gottman studies marriage and divorce and coined the term The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; which are four ways that couples handle anger poorly. For instance, some people hold onto anger and withdraw; it’s called Stonewalling. But, contempt may be the worst.

Contempt can damage all relationsihps. It can infect parenting too.

Example: Sharon is in the mall with her 11-year old daughter, Rebecca, who is goofing around. Sharon is triggered and yells at the top of her lungs at Rebecca.

“You get over here right now!"

"Stop acting like an idiot!”

Rebecca breaks down sobbing.

From the Couch: Now, it's one thing for Sharon to be angry. It's fine to feel the need to correct her daughter, but to announce her contempt to the whole world is overkill. Plus, it injured Rebecca, who will remember this incident as a public humiliation. Sharon may forget this incident the next day. Rebecca won't.

Five: If you are in a Relationship, Prepare Your Partner for Anger. Sometimes you must let her know that you are pissed off. Give her a chance to hear what you said without blowing her away. It’s narcissistic to think only of yourself. If she takes steps to make things better be appreciative that your anger served some good purpose. She will hear you out more in the future as well. Anger can cement a better bond with a partner or be a source of separation.

Example: Wayne and Trisha went at a dinner party with a bunch of friends, and Trisha spent a lot of time talking to a handsome guy from the office. Wayne fumed inside, feeling neglected. On the ride home, Wayne picked a fight and yelled at Trisha; really yelled. It was about something else, but Wayne knew why he was upset; he was just too proud to admit it. Trisha coldly turned away in tears.

From the Couch: Wayne did everything wrong. He did not give Trisha the benefit of the doubt. He was triggered and didn’t ask himself what was going on. He unleashed anger to make Trisha suffer, when he could have done so much better.

First, it’s wise to talk about fighting before the iron is hot. Wayne might share with Trisha that he has a jealous streak, and can easily over react. Two, he can wait to talk to Trisha after he cooled off; this is what maturity is all about. Three, the couple can find a way to fight fairly, perhaps consult a couples counselor or simply talk a lot when the iron is cold. Four, he can let Trisha know that he’s angry before striking out at her. “I am feeling upset right now. I don’t want to over react. Can we talk about it? This sets the stage for a good talk, which can feel supportive to both of them.

Are You Too Angry or, Not Angry Enough? Anger is a human experience and is not, by itself, a problem. You need to be angry to change things that are wrong. Anger is powerful in mobilizing people to change things for the better. And, anger can get you out of a funk.

But, understand the power of anger. If you are easily angered, ask yourself why? You may have been hurt by your partner or your parent in the past. Perhaps you're still upset at an old lover? Be careful not to impose withering anger on undeserving people just because it feels right.

Finally, couples enter the Field of Intimacy. They are thus vulnerable to each other. This can make you more susceptible to being triggered by your partner. It also means that he or she can hurt you more than anyone else. So, take the lessons to heart. Find a way to talk about anger constructively. If not, get some help from a good couple’s counselor.


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