There Can Be Only One Winner Between Your Anger and You
By Brent Flory
I’m a pretty emotional guy. I also grew up watching Walker, Texas Ranger. These two seemingly random facts combine to explain how I used to mentally cope with angry people when I worked in customer service.
If I was being berated by a customer, I would appear to listen intently, nod, and imagine myself giving them Chuck Norris’ classic spinning heel kick. Then I would reenter reality, fix the problem, and move on with my day.
There was just one problem: if someone really upset me, the spinning heel kick fantasy didn’t make me feel better for long. I would spend the rest of the day thinking about that person. My daydreams would alternate between yelling back at them, coming up with the perfectly witty response, or perfecting my spinning heel kick.
Are you finding your attempts to cope with anger about as effective as mine in the past? I wrote last week about how our anger can build into uncontrollable rage. Attempting to ignore or stifle our anger doesn’t work. Fantasizing about revenge, ruminating over what happened, and fiercely expressing your anger end up increasing it instead of reducing it.
Tips On How to Cope With Anger
When you shake a bottle of soda, even slowly, the pressure will build and build within it. If you take the cap off quickly, the soda will explode everywhere. We work the same way. If we try to ignore our emotions, they will build within us until we eventually explode. In respect to anger, this explosion results far too often in disaster.
When something or someone upsets you, you have to learn how to relieve the pressure gradually in healthy ways.
Here are some of the ways to cope with situations that evoke anger.
1. Identify what you are feeling as anger.
This first point may seem simplistic, but if you tend to avoid or fear your emotions, you may struggle to identify your feelings. Being able to say, “I am feeling angry right now,” is important for several reasons.
- Knowledge is power. You have to know what you are dealing with in order to do anything about it. Understanding accurately what is happening within you is a crucial step.
- It makes you responsible to make a change. Anger assigns blame onto others. Let me be clear, being responsible for your anger doesn’t justify how someone may have wounded you. But if you want to learn how to process your anger in a productive, healthy way, you must take responsibility for it.
2. Deal with your anger before it builds.
In the past I’ve written about how the way our bodies cope with anger is similar to the process of a skyscraper being built. When you are having a difficult day, your anger stacks on top of itself, and can get to the point where a seemingly minor transgression can send you spinning into outrage.
A key aspect of taking responsibility for your anger is choosing to not allow it to build. This means my aforementioned Walker, Texas Ranger strategy is not a healthy option. Fantasizing, ruminating, and other such techniques that keep you replaying the offending event through your mind time and time again don’t calm you down, they make you angrier.
3. Find healthier ways to feel empowered.
Yoda: But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the force, are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever it will dominate your destiny…
Luke: …Is the dark side stronger?
Yoda: No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.
–Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
As Yoda points out, anger is quicker, easier, and seductive. It feels very empowering, which is a great part of its allure. Again, anger is not necessarily a bad thing. But working through anger properly is very challenging.
One of the best ways to feel empowered in relationships without losing control of your anger is learning to use assertive language. Assertive language enables you to share your feelings and needs while maintaining your composure.
- Use I statements (“I feel hurt when…”)
- Address behaviors (“I feel hurt when you don’t take out the trash.”)
- Are specific about what they want (“I would really appreciate it if in the future you would take out the trash when it is full.”)
Assertive language does not:
- Use you statements (“You always…”)
- Attack the person’s character (“You always screw everything up.”)
- Threaten (“If you don’t grow up, I will leave you.”)
- Criticize without giving ways to improve (“You can’t you get anything right.”)
4. Walk it off.
Going for a walk is a helpful in coping with anger in several ways. Walking allows you to:
- Separate you from the angering situation so you can begin to cool down, emotionally and physically.
- Create space to process how the situation is affecting you. *Consider how you should respond to the person who has upset you.
5. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
One of the most crucial skills to acquire in mastering anger is the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes. When you are wounded by someone else, your instinctive reaction is to think that they hurt you on purpose.
Instead of immediately reacting, taking a moment to pause and consider, “I wonder what they were thinking when they said that,” could be the difference between keeping and losing a meaningful relationship.
Nothing will destroy your life more quickly than uncontrolled anger. You must take responsibility for it and learn how to cope with it well. If you choose not to, it will take apart your career and family. However, with hard work and practice, you can gain mastery over it. And leave the spinning heel kicks to my favorite ‘90s TV show.