The Article Published in Bombay Times (Anniversary Issue)

ANGER MANAGEMENT

Anger is undoubtedly a self-defeating and self-destructive emotion. It can cause physical problems like disturbed sleep, tiredness, hypertension, heart problems, ulcers, stiffness in the joints, and other physical complications.

Expression of hostile anger is also destructive to relationships, leading to guilt feelings and self-directed anger for causing hurt and pain to others, and also isolation and alienation from others due to the damaged relationships. This in turn, leads to immense loneliness and extreme mental and emotional anguish, leading to depression, which can sometimes end in suicide.

Anger when out of control can lead to violence against someone you are close to, leading to physical injury and even fatalities.  You may say or do things that you cannot undo.

Relationships get damaged, sometimes irreversibly. The victim may either retaliate, or then withdraw, giving in to the fight or flight impulse. In either case, the relationship suffers, as the relationship finishes at the emotional level.

The question often asked is whether anger is only a reaction to an unsolicited and  unwanted action on the part of the other? The answer is No.  Frustration by itself does not cause anger, it is the way you view this frustration, that causes anger. Extreme anger results when things don’t happen the way you want them to, and believe that they ‘should’, happen. Thus, it is your irrational beliefs, i.e. ‘demanding’ that you ‘should’ have your way, and viewing it as ‘awful’ and  ‘unbearable’ if you don’t have your way, that causes the anger. Also, that you must find someone to ‘blame’ and ‘punish’ because you have not had your way, is another irrational idea that causes anger.

Fury is a result of accumulated, unexpressed anger, which has been bottled up because of the fear of confrontation. This bottling up results in a disproportionate blow-up, and the conflict which was being avoided so far, is unleashed in a manner that is shocking for the one who blows up, and also for the one at the receiving end.

This blow up can be avoided by stating your views in an uninhibited manner regularly to each other, through effective dialogue.

Anger can be overcome by –

§        Doing something about problems before they get out of hand.

§        Asserting yourself in a level-headed manner.

§        Asking the other for their point of view.

§        Negotiating a solution

§        Analyzing your own irrational beliefs.

This brings us to the ‘key’ of anger management. The “only way” to truly resolve anger is through an open and honest two-way communication, which means not only freely and frankly expressing your thoughts, but also listening to the other in an open and non-judgmental manner.

Often, confrontation is inevitable and also healthy, as there are bound to be differences of opinion. However there are certain rules of confrontation that need to be followed, so as to bring about a win-win closure to the issue on hand. These rules are as follows:

  • Stay with the subject – This means that the argument must stay focussed on the subject matter of discussion and not deteriorate into a free-for-all, where histories are raked up, other matters taken up and personal attacks are made.
  • Identify the real issue – Very often there are deeper underlying issues which manifest as certain symptoms e.g. anger is merely a symptom of underlying hurt, fear, frustration, pain or low self-worth. It is therefore unintelligent and foolish to argue without identifying and acknowledging the real issue.
  • Use the ‘I feel….’ format – instead of the accusatory ‘You always…’, ‘You never….’, You are….’ format. It is wiser to say ‘I feel rejected because you choose to spend most of your free time watching cricket instead of doing activities with me’, instead of ‘You never spend time with me’ or ‘You are so self-centred’ or ‘You are always glued to the television’. You have to talk about what is really going on inside you and have the courage to give a voice to your innermost feelings.
  • Know when to stop – There may be times when you are so driven by your anger, that even though the other has given you what you want i.e. an acknowledgement of his/her contribution to the problem, a validation of your feelings or an apology, you fail to recognize that you have already got what you wanted. You go on and on venting your anger, and what started out as you feeling hurt and angry, now turns into the other feeling hurt and angry, only because you do not know when to stop.
  • Simply state your point – Every issue or disagreement does not always require a thrashing out. Even if you are in the right, sometimes it is wise to simply and confidently state your point of view or your feeling without anxiously waiting for a response. Differences of opinion should not be taken as an attack to your self-worth requiring immediate and aggressive defense.
  • End in a win/win scenario – How you end your disagreement is unbelievably important in determining not only the outcome of the topic of disagreement, but also the outcome of the entire relationship. This is particularly important when you are on the right side of the facts and the other is clearly wrong. If the attempt of the other to defuse hostilities and de-escalate the tension is accepted and he is allowed to retreat with dignity, then the disagreement would have served to strengthen your relationship in more ways than one.

Though healthy communication is the way to defuse hostilities, it sometimes can be hard to think rationally when anger is getting out of control. To help in such times, here is a check-list of the systematic steps to take:

§        Acknowledge your anger; don’t deny your feelings.

§        Admit that it is irrational.

§        Take responsibility; recognize that you are creating it.

§        Acknowledge any personal states (exhaustion, worry, alcohol use etc) that trigger or aggravate aggressiveness.

§        Don’t moralise about the fact that you are angry.

§        Interrupt your anger by using the time-out technique, relaxation or other distractions to calm down.

§        Talk in an assertive manner about whatever you are unhappy – explain your concerns, find out the other’s point of view, and negotiate a solution.

§        Self-analyze the irrational thoughts that created your anger in the first place.

The above mentioned steps can be condensed into 6 key words which will help you transcend anger – Be AWARE of your anger, ADMIT it is irrational, ACKNOWLEDGE the role you play in creating it, AVOID self-condemnation, ACCEPT responsibility for changing it, and take ACTION to change it.

[Author Dr. Minnu R. Bhonsle is a freelance feature journalist and a Consulting Psychotherapist & Counsellor practicing at the ‘Heart to Heart Counselling Centre’, Mumbai. She conducts training programs in Personal Counselling (Client-centred Therapy and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy). She also conducts workshops in “Stress Management”, “Art of Listening”, “Couple Therapy” and “Communication Skills”.]