"I don't seem to be able to control my temper. I get very irritated and sometimes see red and then it all comes spilling out. I am ashamed to say that I often shout and say horrible things when I am really angry. I don't mean them and I feel awful afterwards. Bottling it up makes me feel worse because I then find myself sulking. I have a high-stress job and think that might have something to do with it, but it's no excuse. Please help - I feel I am not a very nice person." - Dan
Step 1: It's normal to feel anger
Anger is an important emotion, yet one we are taught from an early age to repress. Our cultural fear of emotional conflict distorts what is an essentially healthy feeling into one that, if displayed, meets with disapproval and punishment. We learn to fear anger in ourselves and in others and are not taught constructive means of communicating our internal tension authentically, so it uncontrollably ruptures, fracturing both ourselves and those we inflict it on. Yet rage can be both natural and justifiable: it alerts us when something is wrong; for example, when someone is unjustly threatened or attacked. It can also indicate when our toleration of frustration has been exhausted. Perhaps we are struggling with too many demands and not giving ourselves time to unwind; this may well be the case for you in your stressful work environment. It is important to acknowledge that anger is part of the human condition. It is not a "bad" emotion, but what we do with our anger can often make it feel that way.
Step 2: Distinguish between aggression and passive-aggression
Impulsive, uncontrolled anger communicates: "I matter and you don't." After the initial rush of spleen-venting subsides, we often feel ashamed and regretful. In our hearts, we know that we have made the other person feel insignificant and wounded. We often apologise and try to make amends, but once we have started expressing anger habitually in this way, it becomes addictive, by both releasing our frustrations and making us feel more powerful. Alternatively, when you avoid overt fury, you find yourself in the insidious world of passive-aggression. The message here is: "I matter and you don't, but that's my secret." The classic passive-aggressive response to the question "What's wrong?" for example, is an icy "Nothing." Instead of revealing our wrath, we attempt to conceal it with furtive poison barbs and acts of martyrdom.
Step 3: Use anger constructively
We can channel the energy that exasperation releases into being assertive rather than aggressive. Constructive anger communicates the essential truth: "I matter and so do you." Being assertive acknowledges to ourselves and others that it's healthy to articulate our desires and we don't need to punish in order to do so, even if there is the potential for disagreement. Assertiveness allows us to authentically express what we want and negotiate skilfully to arrive at a resolution.
Step 4: Breathe, think, choose
Anger surges violently through the body, preparing us for conflict. When you feel its intial surge, pause and breathe deeply. Focusing on breathing will slow down the destructive "seeing red" reaction, allowing blood to divert back to the brain so that we can think clearly. These moments of reflection create the opportunity to choose the most effective way of communicating: "We both matter, so let's sort this out." When you become enraged, take a deep breath, think about what is really going on and then choose to do something constructive. s
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