My "very own" mother used to tell me I was an "angry young man" at certain times. She would send me out to chop wood to get it out of my system. Looking back on it, I know she wasn't too worried about what her "angry young man" would actually do because being out there chopping wood involved wielding a full-size axe!
Much later in life, as the father of two boys growing up in less of a "farm" environment (where there wasn't always wood to be chopped), I installed a large punching bag for them in the basement. I think it was a generally success as a way to let off some steam -- although I think their dad (me) was often the source of their frustration.
Unfortunately, I've never been one of the "cool heads" who just naturally lets things go and puts everything in proper perspective relative to the big picture. I have a strong sense of how things "should be" as opposed to accepting them as they are. The gap between the way things "should" be and the way things actually are would, frankly, often make me mad.
Sometimes I would get angry when my well-being (physical, emotional, relationship-wise, career, or financial) was being threatened. Some were immediate and obvious. Some of these threats were long term and/or subtle -- and it was harder to actually put my finger on why I was upset. In perspective, some weren't really even that important. Some didn't even turn out to be real because I had just blown the situation up in my imagination about what "could" or "might" happen.
There have also been many situations where things (some important and some just minor) didn't go well (didn't go my way) -- to say the least. Adding to this, I sometimes (often?) feel that life or some specific outcome isn't fair -- or I envy the good fortunes of someone else who has been blessed more than me for a promotion, raise, victory, etc. Blaming others or, even, a perfect and omnipotent God, isn't always beyond me.
I'll admit that I sometimes blow things out of proportion, hold a grudge, or ascribe evil motives to others' actions without solid evidence. I even expected myself or others to be "perfect" in some (or all) areas of life if I (or they) were going to measure up to my standards -- but I don't really do that one very often anymore.
While "angry" might seem a little extreme for you if you generally handle things fairly well, this article also applies to upset, miffed, peeved, mad, unhappy, perturbed and similar emotions.
If you can relate to any of this, you should probably keep reading.
Here are the things that will be covered here:
- Why am I (you) so angry?
- What should I do about it when I am angry?
Before letting any more time pass, it's important to quickly emphasize one of the key points about anger management that will be of great help: You don't have to let your emotions drive your actions or words. You can use your emotions to sense things and feel, but you don't have to (and shouldn't allow yourself to be) controlled by them. My hope is that you can avoid being an "angry young man" and, instead, become a "cooler head" who is calmer, steadier, happier, and can turn bad situations into opportunities and success -- like the guy pictured in the photo above.
What should I do about it when I am angry?
Logically, we should first look at "why am I so angry about this event or issue?", but, because the focus of this article is to provide quick help in times of need (instead of being something you are just reading for pleasure in your spare time), let's first address what you should do when feeling angry.
This is being provided in a checklist of bullet points rather than essay style because, when angry, you need something quick and clear. It applies to words, texts, posts, Tweets, and emails as well as actions. The acronym E-DRAW-SPAAH may help you remember these steps:
- Escape: Whether an everyday (normal) or rare (we hope) immediate life-threatening situation, err on the side of getting away to buy time and space so you can approach things most rationally and when the conditions can be changed to favor your success. When you are surprised or attacked, the initiator or attacker has the element of surprise in their favor and/or has possibly planned the encounter. Reacting quickly and forcefully while anger and adrenaline is highest could lead to physical success in life-threatening or combat situations, but it very well could be stepping further into a trap set for you. Generally, try to buy yourself some time to come up with a rational response.
- Decide: In advance, decide to be aware of your anger but to not allow your decisions, words, and/or actions to be determined by the emotion. Feelings of anger are signals, but you need to decide to decide (long before the heat of the moment) that you will use the anger signal intelligently and not let anger use you or decide for you.
- Recognize: Acknowledge and be OK with your anger as a useful signal. This is the opposite of suppressing, repressing or trying to ignore this feeling. Your anger is providing a helpful signal that something is being perceived (rightly or wrongly) and processed (rightly or wrongly) as a threat to your well-being or the well-being of someone or something you value deeply.
- Ask: Ask, “Please help me understand my anger and handle this situation positively.” Say this ten times — or until it finally sinks in. This is like counting to ten, but the problem with counting to ten is that you are thinking of the numbers 1–10 vs. thinking about the solution. It will be much better to repeatedly ask for guidance and a solution than to merely count to ten. Personally, I would say this as a prayer and ask God, Jesus, and the Holy spirit to help me — but repeating this in a secular form will still be very helpful to you.
- Work/Exercise: Engage in strenuous constructive physical exercise or physical work while you are "hot". Keep it up long enough until you are somewhat "spent" and think about your situation while exercising or working.
- Run (even if the weather isn't good -- or maybe especially if the weather isn't good), walk, hit some tennis serves, layups drills, lift weights, use a punching bag, rake some leaves, shovel some snow, chop some wood, trim some bushes -- anything that involves physical exertion and will have a positive impact.
- Pick something that is positive as opposed to hurting yourself or others. Do this instead of yelling at someone, shooting someone "the bird", fouling them in sports, throwing something, driving off in your car in a huff, binge eating, slamming your fist into a wall, running out on your girlfriend/wife, being extra hard on your kids, drinking too much alcohol, doing drugs, quitting your job on the spot, etc.
- Don't just sit and brood or stomp around in a circle. Do something positive and do it long enough that the steam is no longer coming out of your ears.
- If you stop and you are still "hopping mad", find an additional activity and do that.
- If you were just a little bit angry, the work/exercise step won't take as long.
- Worst case, work/exercise will help you get in better shape or have a neater lawn. Best case, you will have dissipated some excess adrenaline and put the issue into better perspective vs. your initial anger-fueled impulse.
- Sort: Using some or all of the ideas below, diagram the situation as you think about it to sort it all out and develop a plan of action.
- Ask yourself why this has upset you so much -- and write out the answers. See the 'why I'm angry' section below to help you understand where the anger may be coming from.
- You should then start by listing all of the possible positives associated with any situation or person. There is almost always a bright side or opportunity -- even if it is a "character building" opportunity for you. You should be able to find/list some significant positives associated with almost all people you associate with -- even if they have crossed or disappointed you in a particular situation.
- Use a "Ben Franklin" T-Chart with pros and cons of your situation or the person involved. Simply put "Pros" in one column and "Cons" in the other. Put the good things about the situation/person on one side and the negatives on the other -- forcing yourself to look at the positive or opportunity side as well as the negatives.
- Similarly, create a set of T-charts covering each of the the various alternative courses of action you may be considering. Make sure you are being realistic and that revenge, getting even or just satisfying your anger aren't high on your lists of "pros". Include some alternatives with the following elements as drivers:
- Opportunity mindset: How can this situation be turned into a positive?
- Win/Win: Creative out-of-the-box solutions where both parties win.
- Golden Rule: Doing unto others as you would have them do to you.
- Forgiveness as you would like to be forgiven.
- Apology (genuine -- not the kind politicians voice on TV).
- Love: What is the most loving thing to do?
- Storyboard your plan of action to help visualize how it will go.
- Role play with someone you trust (not of the same sex if it is a marital or girlfriend situation -- and not someone in your own company if it is a work situation). Set the situation up and walk through the exact dialog -- saying the words you are going to use vs. explaining what you are going to say. Get feedback without being defensive.
- Video yourself saying what you are planning to say or do. View the video and see what you think.
- Pause: You may be in a hurry to settle the issue, but anxiousness to act could, actually, be a warning that you may need to cool it. Give it a rest for a little while -- especially if you are still a little angry or have an uneasy "gut feeling". Let a key email response rest at least overnight ("sleep on it") and print it to proof it. If it seems like retaliation, your emotions are still too high. Pray about it. Read some seemingly unrelated motivational or spiritual inspiration. Meet with your mentors. If you don't need to make an immediate decision, use the time to improve your "hand".
- Adjust: Tone down the language. Check to make sure an alternative job opportunity is still available and documented in writing. Incorporate new ideas, approaches, alternatives.
- Act: Go ahead with whatever you have decided at this point. It should no longer be an emotionally driven reaction in anger. It should be informed by the "why am I so angry about this" sorting out the problem. You will have done enough work and let enough time pass to avoid the pitfalls associated with an emotional angry reaction. If you have done a good job of creative alternative actions through the lens of an “opportunity mindset” and “win/win”, these actions can be the first steps toward a better future.
- Happiness: So far, by following the nine steps above, you’ve probably avoided making a major mistake when faced with your anger situation. You're "even" or, possibly, a little ahead of the game relative to when you first encountered the "problem". What I would like to suggest as a final step is that you now look at how this can be turned into a future blessing or foundation for success. At the very least, you should chalk this up as a positive example of your growing maturity. The experience can leave you better prepared to face similar challenges in the future. The situation that you have encountered may have taught you a lesson that will launch you to greater success than you ever anticipated before. It may have freed you from self-limiting beliefs, habits, relationships, and/or job situations that you never would have changed if you hadn't encountered the situation.
Obviously, following all ten of the above steps meticulously is a lot of work for a simple issue. You’re not earning a “grade” for covering each step, however. That’s not the point — although working through each thoroughly just might keep you busy long enough to dissipate some intense emotion! Many problems you encounter won’t warrant thorough attention to all ten steps. You can often speed through the first four or five. Feel free to fly through any that aren’t really significant in a particular case if they aren't that helpful.
Regardless of your situation, you really shouldn’t completely skip the first four or five steps. You definitely don’t want to “act” first and, then, try to recover by working back up the list. You don’t want to put yourself in a position where where you need to, say, call for a timeout (pause), then start trying to sort everything out, then go blow off some steam because you have already screwed everything up, and, then desperately start praying for a way out. You don’t want to have to kick yourself for letting anger drive your actions, and, then, think about running away from the whole mess because you acted prior to working through E-DRAW-SPAAH.
So, let's say that you find out that your girlfriend has accepted an invitation to the Prom with your best friend. First, Escape (excuse yourself) if possible so you can get away to clear your head. This may simply mean postponing an impulse to immediately respond to a text/post or voice an opinion about the issue when you find out about it in the bathroom/dorm/fraternity. Decide that you aren't going to let your anger drive your actions. Recognize that the feeling you are having is anger and that it is a signal that something is bothering you. The exact nature of the “something” that is really bothering you may be obvious or a little bit of an enigma at first. Ask for understanding, wisdom, and calm multiple times until you are under control. Work/exercise off some steam by raking some leaves or running a mile or two. Sort out the problem to figure out why you are angry, note some positives about the parties involved (very few people are entirely evil), list some pros and cons of the situation, and brainstorm for solutions. Think about how this whole thing might be turned into an opportunity. Then Pause a few hours or a day. Adjust per any new insights or ideas. Then Act per your "cool headed" plan. Finally, see if you can actually turn the situation into a benefit for future increased Happiness.
Why am I (you) so angry?
Whether an event (real or from a memory or dream) supports or threatens your values, standards, goals, and beliefs is key to whether the emotion of anger is triggered -- and to what extent.
The psychology of emotions is complex and and can occupy professionals for their entire careers. This little section within this short Anger Management article isn't meant to replace all of the tens of thousands of books written on the subjects of emotions and anger. It is, however, meant to give a regular guy a quick helpful guide so you can handle your anger much more effectively.
Emotions are automatic (pre-programmed algorithms) reactions to thoughts (conscious or sub-concious) in/from some part of your mind. In computer terms, they are initially outputs. They are not the inputs (perceptions, thoughts) or the processing (decision-making algorithms). They can be fed back into your mind and used for further processing -- with us choosing how to reaction or respond to the emotion once we feel or recognize it.
Something (event, thought, dream) will be sensed by your mind when it happens in the external world or within our mind (as it churns away consciously and subconsciously day and night). As it is sensed, it is run through a very complex set of event-evaluating algorithms such as:
- Positiveness algorithm: Great, good for me, doesn't matter, problem/issue, threat, emergency, life threatening?
- Fairness/Deservedness algorithm: Lucky gift/blessing, fair enough, unfair, very unfair, horribly unfair?
- Envy algorithm: Got more than anyone else, even, less than the next guy, very little, essentially none compared to "them", none and "they" stole mine?s
- Success algorithm: Victory, road to success, initial baby steps, minor setback, leading towards failure, failure, disaster?
- Magnitude algorithm: Inconsequential, small impact, medium, large, huge?
- Immediacy algorithm: Distant future impact, mid-range, soon, immediate, now?
- Other algorithms: There are many more, but those above probably hit the high points associated with anger.
The outputs of these algorithms are a set of emotions. Anger is an emotion triggered by some complex combination of things that have the attributes listed near the far end of each algorithm above.
It boils down to something being considered to be a positive or a threat, it's magnitude and it's immediacy -- all relative to your fundamental beliefs about what you consider to be positive or negative in your life. Some examples might be:
- If you have a belief or value system that considers any small criticism to be "life or death", any "slight" will trigger anger.
- If you believe that your loved ones should be able to anticipate what you need and want without telling them, you will feel anger toward them as they constantly disappoint you.
- If you believe that "fair" means you should win every game or make every shot, you will be angry whenever you lose or don't make a basket.
- If you believe that you should never get sick or injured if God loves you, you may get quite angry if this happens to you.
- If you think you can marry someone and their bad habits will all go away, you may find yourself very frustrated and angry.
- If you think something or someone (including yourself) should be perfect to be considered "good", you may get angry quite often.
- If you think success and happiness can only be achieved when you are in the top X% of all earners, you may be angry during most, or all, of your career.
- What are some of your key potential anger-triggering beliefs?
- Are they reasonable and rational -- or are they far to to the right on the "perfect" scale? In which areas?
- Do you have a super-extensive list of relationship-breaker, 'take this job and shove it', 'I give up', and 'I'll quit if' all-or-nothing, my way or the highway, absolute, ultimatum-type items in your "standards"? Are they realistic? Are they necessary? Do they look at things from the other person's perspective?
- Deep down inside, or possibly right on the surface (that you voice to anyone within earshot), how many "should be" and "this is a really big deal" beliefs are you holding that "trigger" your anger?
Make yourself a four-column list of, "I get angry when __________ because I believe __________ . This belief is ___________ (correct/flawed) and it would be better if I changed it to ______________. "
If you think about your beliefs (which you should do from time to time), you may want to change some of them if they don't pass the reality test. Everyone is talking about "following the science" these days -- so how reasonable is it to assume that "everyone", "all", "never", "always", "absolute", "proven", and "perfect" can be included in our standards on many important life or societal issues? If your standards and values regarding the behavior of others, yourself, or situations include too many of these absolutist descriptors, you may find yourself constantly and unnecessarily angry.
As was stated above, whether, and to what extent, an event (real or from a memory or dream) supports or threatens your values, standards, goals, and beliefs is key to whether the emotion of anger is triggered.
You, however, may think through your beliefs in certain key areas and decide that, yes, you are right to hold these beliefs and standards. Having high standards can be a mark of high character and can keep you on the right path when tempted. They can help you stick to a critically important principle vs. wandering into dangerous "grey areas". If this is the case, then don't make changes in your beliefs just to try to avoid feeling angry. Standing strong against tough odds can be energized by righteous indignation.
Just make sure that you use the "E-DRAW-SPAAH" guidance above to handle situations when the anger is triggered -- whether you are right with your beliefs or they need some adjustment. Again, as a final note, remember that you don't have to let your emotions drive your actions or words. You can use your emotions to sense things and feel, but you don't have to (and shouldn't allow yourself to be) controlled by them. Hopefully, "I was so angry that I couldn't help myself and just had to..." can become a thing of your past in almost all cases.