Dealing with anger in yourself of another person is a bit like a bomb exploding – and there is often collateral damage. Also, at times, the fuse is long…othertimes, there seems to be no fuse at all. It is a wise and worthy aspiration to learn how to deal with anger effectively. “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.” (book of Proverbs 14:29)
Anger takes on many outward expressions. Physically, a person may clench their jaw, shake, sweat, or get a stomach ache. Inwardly, they may feel like striking out or resentful. But anger is not always so aggressive. Some people implode. They feel overwhelmed or like they want to escape. A person who is becoming angry may raise their voice or slam a door, but they may also lose their sense of humor, get quiet, or become sarcastic.
Anger is an Anesthetic
Here’s the picture I like to use (which I have shamelessly borrowed from my boss, Chris Legg). Anger functions like an anesthetic. It makes less powerful emotions feel better. I feel more powerful when I’m angry than when I feel rejected, alone, or insecure. Anger eases the pain of the difficult underlying emotion. What this means is that anger very rarely exists all by itself; a good question is “what emotion is fueling the anger?”
As a counselor, I try to give a language for what people feel. This is best done in emotionally neutral times. It is important to engage in meaningful conversation when you’re not doing damage control. Here are a few practical ways you can do so. Daily or weekly, ask about highs and lows of the day or week. Some great times for these are car rides, at the dinner table, or at bedtime. Get to know what’s most important to them. Don’t assume that your priorities are their priorities. I like to use a little game called Would You Rather for this. You basically make up two scenarios and ask the other person to choose. For example, “Would you rather have an ugly scare across your face or lose 15 points of intelligence?” or “ Would you rather be respected but not well liked or well liked but disrespected?”
However, attempting to understand the underlying emotion is very helpful in the heat of the moment. Here are 5 skills that are great diffusers in the heat of the moment:
- Relaxation – Make sure to use breathing, stretching, loosening muscles. We tend to do teach this well with small children. “Take a deep breath. Tell me what’s wrong.”
- Self- examination/ Self-awareness – It is a skill to be able to answer the questions: What am I feeling? What’s most important to me? What’s good and bad in my life right now?
- Communication – Again, we teach this well with small children. “Use your words. I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s wrong.” Being able to say what you feel and what you need to someone else in a calm, but assertive way is a skill.
- Problem solving – We can get stuck in a rut when it comes to anger. Run scenarios with them. Give them ways to cope when they feel themselves getting upset.
- Evaluating – The importance of follow up. You might say something like: Do Over! Let’s rewind. How can you say that differently? If we could go back to that moment, how might you handle it differently? Evaluating after we’ve done something wrong helps us learn how to do it better.
So what does that look like in the heat of the moment? First, and foremost, you must keep your own anger in check. Make sure you and the other person are safe. If they are acting aggressively or dangerously, use the least amount of force necessary to get the situation under control. Take a time out – not for punishment, but for reflection. You might say something like this: “I can see this is very important to you. I want to hear what you have to say and it would help me if you (lowered voice, came and sat by me, slowed down). If they can’t do that right away, give them a chance to cool down and immediately follow up.
Let them throw up on you (emotionally anyway). Do not reason with an angry person. Do not argue with an angry person. In other words, don’t dismiss their emotions. This is an exercise in futility. First, LISTEN. Then listen some more. Put down what you are doing. Give them your eyes and your ears. Reflect both words and emotions back to them. (You felt dismissed by me. You felt unsure when I asked you to do that task.)
After you’ve listened, then questions are appropriate. (What would help you feel like you could tell me when I’ve hurt you? What would make you feel accepted by me? Was there something specific you were hoping for?) Use questions to clarify or ask for feedback.
Third, reassure them. Appeal to the vulnerable emotion underneath the anger. (I don’t like when you feel rejected. I know you feel that way, but I am not rejecting you. You are very important to me and I’m not going anywhere.)
Those of you reading this who are parents, this is very important. Listen first, then questions, then reassurance, and finally instruction. This is another topic for another time, but many young ladies I have counseled who are cutting themselves remember the day they stopped talking to their parents. They say their parents don’t listen. “They just lecture me.” Use instruction/advice poorly and you will lose your platform for influencing your kids.
It seems counterintuitive, but learning to control your anger is actually a demonstration of the greatest power humans possess: the power of self-control. Master this art, teach your children to master this art, and you have equipped them greatly.