Anger? Most of us get angry from time to time, but some of us struggle to keep our anger under control. It can rear it’s ugly head far too many times than what’s considered acceptable – not just by others, but by our own standards too.
I don’t consider myself to be an angry person and yet lately I’ve noticed my fuse getting shorter and shorter. What’s really started to concern me though is my reaction to my 6 year old daughter at night.
For some reason instead of being the loving, caring and nurturing mother I pride myself on being, at night I become some kind of she-devil and my fuse isn’t short it’s completely non-existent.
The other night my daughter had a nightmare. After already being up twice at 12:30am and 1:00am it was now 2:00am and to be honest I wasn’t buying the nightmare excuse.
I guess the crying and screaming ‘mummy’ should have confirmed the said nightmare, but for some reason I wasn’t feeling empathetic.
At first I tried to settle her down by cuddling and covering her back up, but all hell broke loose when I started heading back to bed. She started screaming and crying that she couldn’t shut her eyes because her dream kept coming back.
With my 17 year old step-son downstairs sleeping, I was trying my hardest to stop my daughter from waking him up, since he had an HSC exam the next day. No amount of rationale was settling my daughter down now and I was officially ‘losing it’!
Each time I would try to leave her room the screams would get louder and more desperate… Now from me not her. I’ve never hit my daughter and yet I felt so close to it, it frightened me.
In the morning I was incredibly remorseful for the way I reacted and vowed to be more patient and understanding if this should occur again.
But why am I so angry?
A number of my clients have been telling me that anger is one of the big issues in their relationships. Sometimes the anger is directed into the relationship and sometimes the anger is directed outside of it.
What’s interesting is that both seem to have the same negative effect.
Anger is a primitive emotion, useful to ward off enemies. It also has the ability to manipulate and denigrate those not as ‘angry’ and is often interpreted as power.
Studies have even shown that anger can add to perceived social status by feigning importance.
There’s little wonder then, that many of us think the only way to be heard is by getting angry. We’re hard-wired to accept anger as being more powerful, knowledgeable and superior and we’re more likely to give in to someone who’s angry towards us.
Underlying feelings of frustration, upset, hurt, worry, embarrassment or fright may be the cause of this anger and anger is the way in which these feelings are being expressed.
The problem with anger is that it has an inability to actually fix an issue without causing more residual negative feelings to arise.
Anger occurs when we feel something has been ‘done to us’. It’s an emotion that usually has an external component. Even when we’re angry with ourselves, the anger begins after something has happened to ‘make’ us angry.
The real problem with anger is if it isn’t managed properly it can have far reaching negative affects on both personal and professional relationships.
People with anger – management issues are more likely to get into verbal or physical fights, suffer with low self esteem, have anxiety or depression and alcohol or substance abuse problems.
The strange thing about anger is not everyone shows it the same way.
Some people express it aggressively. Yelling, screaming, destroying property, bullying, threatening, showing off, ignoring others needs and perpetrating violence are all examples of this.
On the other hand anger may be expressed in a passive manner. Being evasive, giving the ‘cold shoulder’, using psychological manipulation, being secretive, withdrawn or self blaming are all forms of this type of anger.
These might not be the stereotypical ‘movie’ type of anger we’re used to seeing in the media, but that doesn’t make them any more acceptable or less dangerous.
Actually I think sometimes these can be worse as they often last much longer than the violent aggressive type.
OK, so how should you (and I) handle anger?
Like everything, different people are going to find different strategies that work for them. The most important thing to do is take notice of the warning signs and take action immediately so you don’t end up escalating the anger and getting out of control.
If you feel your temperature rising, your face getting flushed, sweaty palms, a dry mouth, tense in your muscles or unable to hear what’s being said properly then it’s likely you’re experiencing the warning signs of anger.
Once you’re in an angry state then you may become irrational, illogical, impulsive, overwhelmed or out of control. This is when your decision making processes will be skewed, you’ll be more likely to participate in risky behaviours and violence whether passive or aggressive will ensue.
Here are a few simple tips to help reduce your anger when those warning signs are coming on:
- Take a deep breath in and count to 20. Close your eyes if possible and then slowly breathe out. Repeat this a couple of times and if there’s someone in front of you still wanting to be confrontational explain to them what you are doing.
- Take a ‘time-out’. Removing yourself from the situation can immediately alleviate your anger. Give yourself time to reduce your heart rate. At least 20 minutes is needed to do this so go for a walk, read a book or watch a movie. Remember to breathe deeply to get your blood flowing well again.
- Try creating a ‘happy place’. Some people find it helpful to have a place they love already constructed in their memory to go to when things get tense. Imaging somewhere you feel comfortable, safe and secure is best but even somewhere that’s fun is useful. I love snowboarding, so that’s always my happy place. Go there in your mind and suddenly the situation in front of you isn’t as bad as you thought.
- Use a script to control your thinking. When you feel your temperature rising start a positive self talk conversation with yourself. Say something like “This might upset me but I can handle it”, “I’m calm and in control” or “I have the power over my emotions”, over and over in your head until you believe it and you gain back your control.
- Communicate differently. Instead of blaming the other person or situation try to find what the cause of your anger is before you go on. If you need to take a few minutes to do that so be it. Ask yourself what you are feeling besides angry? Is it frustration, loneliness or sadness. Then figure out what the need is in you that’s not being met? This will give you time to calm down and you’ll be able to express what you’re angry about, rather than just being angry.
Your ongoing anger management may also benefit from doing some of the following:
- Give meditation a go. This age-old practice has been used for centuries to calm the mind and heal the body and it’s as relevant today as ever before. Our fast-paced lives leave little time for quiet reflection and we’re often just so busy ‘doing’ that we forget about the ‘living’. There are loads of great online programs for meditation and if you can get to a live class that would definitely benefit.
- Write down everything that makes you angry or upset. Some people like to keep a journal to re-read over what they’re feeling and some like to take the piece of paper and burn it. I’m a journal keeper, but I can totally see the benefits of destroying those feelings in writing. My clients who use that technique often claim they immediately felt a sense of relief and an ability to let go of what was bothering them. Do both and see what works best for you.
- Increase your exercise or take up a contact sport. I have to admit there’s nothing more satisfying than beating the life out of a boxing bag, especially when you’re angry. When I was going through a pretty rough patch boxing was my saviour. Twice a week I’d take all my anger and frustration out on the bags and mitts. Just getting outside though and going for a walk, jog, bike ride, horse ride, surf, swim or anything you enjoy will help flood your brain with positive hormones and get you feeling better about life in general. Plus you’ll be too tired to be angry. Big bonus there!
- Learn to communicate more effectively. Sometimes the reason we get angry is because we feel like we’re not being understood. I know I get incredibly frustrated and very angry with my daughter when I feel ignored. Learning to communicate using non-violent communication has greatly assisted us. We talk about our feelings, our needs and our requests of each other and although sometimes it can feel drawn out, it actually ends up being more efficient in the long run.
- Learn to relax. This might sound simple and yet so many of us have a complete inability to relax. With smart phones, tablets, laptops and the internet in our faces 24/7 switching off is becoming a real issue. Find something you enjoy doing or better still, try doing nothing at all. I realised about a year ago I missed dancing, not just any dancing but ballet. So I found an adult class and started up again once a week. I love it! It’s my time out from my responsibilities and I’m so busy trying to remember the choreography I totally forget about what’s waiting for me when I get back home or to the office.
So next time my daughter wakes up in the middle of the night and I start to lose my temper I know I have some tools in my belt to handle it. I’ll take some deep breaths and remember I’m a loving, caring nurturing mother.