Anger Management – Part Two
Last month, we looked at how our basic brain physiology explains some of the problems when we become very angry. The “lower” part of our brain takes charge, and the thinking, reasoning part of our brain practically goes “off line”. Hence the need to first calm ourselves so that we can actually think straight.
We also learned about the “pillow method” of looking at a conflict from four different aspects: “I’m right, you’re wrong”; “You’re right, I’m wrong”; “We’re both right and both wrong”; and finally, “It doesn’t really matter after all”.
Often when we become angry, we are thinking in ways that are self-defeating. We feel “wronged”, and we focus on blaming the other person. We may even believe that they are deliberately causing our distress. So what are some ways that we can calm ourselves and tame our angry thoughts?
One. Pause and breathe deeply. This is the simplest strategy of all, yet it can be very effective. When we get angry, we get “revved up”. Our fight or flight response is triggered, and we tend to impulsively react, rather than thoughtfully respond. By taking several slow, deep breaths, we give ourselves a chance to think (remember the old “count to 10” strategy?) We also calm our nervous system, so that we can get out of our fight or flight mode, or at least turn it down.
Two. Tame the angry thoughts. As Steven Stosney, Ph.D. says, “Don’t trust your judgment when angry. Anger magnifies and amplifies only the negative aspects of an issue, distorting realistic appraisal.” We tend to interpret the other person’s words and actions in the most negative way possible when we are angry. When we calm down enough to actually listen to the other person’s point of view, often we will find that even if we disagree, they are not deliberately trying to make our lives miserable. In fact, a lot of times when we stop and truly listen, we find that we’re not really as far apart as we thought.
Three. Rather than focus on blame or proving the other person wrong, how about focusing on a solution? If you are arguing over whose fault something is, or who is to blame, you will never get anywhere. This will never lead to a solution, it will only lead to more arguing and bad feelings. Can you be a big enough person to let the other person be right sometimes? It can be very liberating to let go of the need to always be right! The other person will appreciate it and be much more willing to work with you if you can allow them to be right sometimes, too!
Four. Take responsibility for your own angry reaction. It may be a new thought, but the other person is not responsible for your anger – you are. When you realize that you are in contol of your anger and your emotions, not the other person, it’s actually quite liberating. You have a choice about how you view a situation and how upset you get (or don’t). We may not have control over everything that happens to us, but we do have the ability to control our reactions. It may take thinking about things from a different point of view, and some practice, but it’s a very powerful feeling to be more in control when things don’t go the way we would prefer. Instead of wasting a lot of energy trying to get the other person to change, we can begin to actually communicate and resolve conflicts, improving our relationships and feeling more in control of our own lives. Worth the effort, I think.
Dr. Catherine Aisner is a Psychologist in South Lake Tahoe, helping individuals and couples improve the quality of their lives. She can be reached at 530-541-6696 or online at http://www.CatherineAisner.com.