Expressing anger at your spouse, your boss F o, the driver in front of you may make you feel more powerful and less vulnerable—but only for a short time. It rarely resolves feelings and often intensifies them. Over time, anger can become addictive. You don't even recognize that you are angry or investigate why.
Even if you don't outwardly express your anger, it can be destructive. Repressed anger can be a root cause of anxiety, depression, overeating and other problems. To reduce anger...
1. GAIN CONTROL
The moment you begin to sense anger rising in you…
- Regain your physical equilibrium. Stop talking, break eye contact with the other person and/or breathe deeply.
- Avoid personalizing the situation. That cashier isn't just being rude to you—she is rude to everybody. If her parents, teachers and bosses couldn't teach her to be polite, how are a few words from you going to change anything? It's a waste of your emotional and intellectual energy to confront her.
- Gain perspective by placing your anger in a larger context. Imagine yourself looking back at the incident a year from now. Would it matter?
Example: I had a patient who had a wonderful new wife. She had a habit of talking to her friends on the phone late at night. He felt she was taking time away from him, and he would blow up at her. The next morning, he would apologize profusely, but she was left feeling wounded. He had tried asking his wife to spend less time on the phone, but she felt he was being unreasonable. I suggested that whenever he was in a rage, he write down five great things he got out of their relationship. This helped remind him of what was really important.
2. TURN A FOE INTO A FRIEND
Change your perceptions by thinking about what you can do to turn a perceived "enemy" into a friend.
Example: I had a patient who was furious because a particular employee of his kept showing up late for work. My patient saw this as a conscious refusal to be a team member and submit to the established channels of authority.
I suggested that instead of reprimanding the employee, my patient ask what he could do to help the employee arrive at work on time. It turned out that the employee was a single parent who was struggling with child-care issues but was too proud to admit it. My patient altered the man's working hours and earned an ally in his office.
3. STOP OBSESSING
Anger builds when you dwell on an incident, playing it over and over in your mind in an obsessive loop. Instead, direct your mental attention elsewhere.
Example: One patient was a hardworking manager at an insurance company. He was convinced that his boss didn't like him. The loop in his head kept saying, "You're going to be passed over for promotion." His resulting anger expressed itself in cold and distant behavior toward the boss. He turned down social invitations, kept conversations short and never smiled. In reality, his boss valued my patient's work but was turned off by his curt actions. \When my patient realized how he was fueling this negative situation, he changed his self-talk. He told himself that he was doing a fine job and that his boss recognized it. He also became aware of the boss's needs and began to reach out to him and offer support. A promotion followed naturally.
4. TAKE THE HIGH ROAD
Avoid responding to an insult with an insult. It only escalates situations and can inflict long-term wounds. Realize that the other person is probably acting out of pain, fear or weakness. Respond with, "What do you need from me right now?" This cuts through the other person's anger.
Example: I worked with a couple whose arguments would escalate quickly and viciously. I suggested to the woman that the next time her husband insulted her, she not lash out but ask her husband what he needed. The next week, the woman agreed to meet her husband at a cocktail party after work. When she arrived, he snapped, "You're late." Instead of snapping back, she asked her husband what he needed. That stopped the argument cold. It turned out that he was angry because he had been uncomfortable waiting at the party alone. He didn't feel as capable as she did in social situations. He wanted her company and the warm, engaging manner in which she met people. Simply communicating this defused the anger between them.
5. LET GO OF A GRUDGE
We like to nurture old hurts because it legitimizes our ill thoughts or bad behavior.
Example: One patient had held a grudge against her husband for decades. At their engagement party more than 20 years earlier, her husband had commented in front of the entire family how beautiful her sister looked that night, but he hadn't commented on my patient's appearance. She felt deeply hurt and thought that forgiving her husband would mean she was weak and lacked self-esteem. I told her that dropping the grudge would be healing, giving her the freedom and clarity to improve their relationship. How to let go of a grudge…
- Think about times when you might have behaved in a similar way. My patient realized that she had hurt her husband's feelings in the past by talking negatively about him in front of his own family.
- Figure out what you need to do to release your grudge. My patient wanted her husband to acknowledge that she was beautiful to him.
Ask for what you want. Express your needs clearly. My patient discussed her grudge with her husband. He responded, "I think you are the most beautiful woman in the world!" After hearing that, her anger disappeared.