Some Suggestions for Taking a Positive Approach Toward Anger

– The most important thing one can do to manage anger is to get to know this emotion, and to know it well. Ask yourself the following questions. What triggers my anger? Are there any themes in these triggers (for example, feeling condemned, feeling controlled by others, feeling rejected)? What happens in my body when I’m angry? What are my thoughts when I feel angry? What actions do I feel compelled to take? When you know your anger, you can have a more controlled response to it. This puts you into the position of having more choices in how you handle angry situations.

– Our thinking influences the feelings we have about certain situations. Examine the automatic hostile thoughts you have about these situations. For example, when a friend ignores you, do you automatically begin to have negative thoughts about this person? These negative thoughts can ignite a process of angry feelings. But you can ward off these feelings if you change the negative thoughts to more positive ones. Perhaps your friend was having a bad day or didn’t know that you were trying to make contact. Taking a more compassionate, forgiving, and trusting stance toward the world can give us a sense of empowerment – where we are in control, not our anger. Even if we are insulted or rejected, isn’t it better to see what the problem is, taking a flexible attitude toward the situation, and solve the problem rationally rather than simply reacting to it in a way which could be destructive to everyone involved? When we examine the thoughts which lead to angry feelings, we raise our threshold for sliding into an angry response.

– Anger, used productively, is a problem-solving tool. Once we have learned to contain our anger and change our negative anger-provoking thoughts, we can then take an assertive position in dealing with problems. Assertiveness is logical and non-emotional. There is no uncontrolled anger in a truly assertive response. Rather than having an angry blowout with your friend, simply tell her that you felt frustrated and rejected when she failed to return your phone call. Then you will hear her side of it, and communication about the problem can begin. Assertiveness is a way of defining the limits of your boundaries. You can let others know who you are and what you expect (although this does not mean that they will do what you want). In taking an assertive response, you solve the problem rather than letting it fester into destructive anger.

– It is better to be close than right. Striving to be right has caused many wars – and few wars have produced real winners. Most people involved in a dispute believe that they are right and the other is wrong – and both sides can usually muster up the evidence to support their case. Rather than falling into anger and taking an adversarial position when there is conflict, try using good communication skills to solve the problem. Learn how to listen to the other party. Speak in terms of “I”-statements rather than blaming others and putting them on the defensive. Don’t bombard the other person with a litany of past grievances – just address the issue at hand. Good communication skills can be learned in a therapeutic setting.

– Finally, there are a number of other methods for dealing constructively with anger. For example, if you have anxiety associated with anger, get some physical exercise to dissipate the anxiety. Take some calming deep breaths. Or write out your angry feelings (write in a journal, or compose a letter or email – but do not send it!). If an angry situation is getting out of control, leave the situation – give yourself some time to cool off. And above all, don’t take action when you are angry (repeat to yourself privately in an angry situation “Don’t take action. Don’t take action.”). Tell yourself, “I’m a loving and good person who has integrity – and I’m going to stay that way.”

“If your heart is a volcano, how shall you expect flowers to bloom?” – Kahlil Gibran

Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D., LMFT

San Diego Couples and Family Therapy serves the surrounding areas of Sorrento Valley Road as La Jolla, UTC San Diego, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, Poway, University City and Escondido.