by Stuart Sorensen – RMN
Many people have difficulty managing their angry feelings. This can lead to difficulties in their relationships with others and can even result in acts of aggression and physical violence. Needless to say this can often cause many more problems than it solves, even though aggression or violence can sometimes make us feel better in the short term .Before we begin learning how to manage anger let’s think about what causes it – where anger comes from. Understanding what anger is, how it begins and the part we play in our angry feelings we’ll be much better equipped to deal with it. Anger is the result of two main factors. The first is to do with the physical feelings we experience in the body – the physiology of anger. This is exactly the same as the physiology of anxiety – it’s only our thinking which makes the difference. The physiology of anxiety has been covered in another handout so I won’t repeat it here. For more information on this fascinating topic take a look at understanding anxiety management 1 in this series of handouts. The second factor is concerned with our thoughts and expectations, the way we think about and interpret the situation. This is the psychology of anger. For example if we see a man hit his son and believe him to be right in doing so we probably won’t get angry. On the other hand if we believe that he is being unfair or cruel we may well become very angry indeed at the thought. It isn’t what happens which makes us angry so much as the way we think about what happens. Many psychologists would argue that all anger begins with blame. We get angry at something. It isn’t always easy to work out exactly what we’re angry at but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Usually the focus of our anger is obvious but in some cases it takes a little work to find the exact root of our angry feelings. Most forms of counseling or psychotherapy are helpful here.
Blame can be divided into three main categories. To put it another way there are three main areas in which we can apply blame. These are:
1. The self – This type of blame is what we call guilt and not only leads to anger but also depression and a range of self-destructive behaviors.
2. Other people – This type of blame can result in many forms of anger as well as a wide range of relationship difficulties.
3. The ‘system‘ – By the ‘system’ we mean anything bigger than ourselves, from the laws of nature to the legal system. It can be something as simple as the weather we get angry about, blaming the clouds for raining on us when they ought to have made way for the sun. Remember that word ought, it’s one of a group of words such as should or must which we call imperatives. Without imperatives there can be no blame and without blame anger cannot exist.
This sounds like a simple explanation – too simple perhaps. Too good to be true? Please remember that simple doesn’t mean easy. There’s nothing ‘easy’ about learning to control anger however uncomplicated the idea may be. Anger management does become easy with practice but in the beginning it requires hard work and commitment. The chance to learn anger management is a very real opportunity to change your life for the better but, like most opportunities, it comes dressed in working clothes.
A good way to begin is to ask yourself where the imperatives are. Whenever you become angry listen to your own thoughts and look for sentences containing words like should, must or ought. Also watch out for injunctions like mustn’t, oughtn’t and shouldn’t. Once you identify these judgments you’ll find the blame. Then all you need to do is stop blaming.
Yes, I know it isn’t easy to stop blaming. Most of us have been brought up to blame ourselves, others or the system and it’s become a thinking habit. Don’t worry – there’s a simple system we can use based upon simple empathy and understanding.
Stop blaming others
There’s an old North American Indian saying which asks us never to judge another until we’ve walked a mile in his moccasins. To put it another way just bear in mind that if you’d been through what he had, been brought up the same way he had and learned the same lessons and had the same experiences that he had you’d probably react in exactly the same way. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything someone does, simply try to understand why he or she did it. Acknowledging another person’s faults is one thing – blaming them for it is quite another.