We all know people who express their anger loudly and aggressively. They think that’s the best way to handle it and society as a whole has supported that notion. ‘Let it all hang out’ was the treatment of choice for angry feelings since the olden days and it seems we’ve been stuck there. Until now.
Recent research insists that a more regulated expression of anger is best. Dr. Jeffrey Lohr, a psychologist at the University of Arkansas explained this to an incredulous NPR reporter:
“The more you get angry, the angrier you get. And, so, researchers across the nation are now on a campaign to recast our view of anger expression. Sadly [!], even screaming is now out of vogue because arousal just increases your arousal. So no more screaming at your family.”
“Now, to be clear, Lohr isn’t pro-repression. Repression, he says, can also be bad for you. The key is to speak out your anger without getting emotional about it. Basically, we’re not supposed to yell at anyone anymore. In fact, Lohr claims the immediate sense of release we get after screaming or breaking plates is an illusion.”
Therefore you would think that asking your loved one to express their anger more reasonably is a good thing. But what if they don’t buy it and go on screaming anyway?
Whenever we have relationship problems we think: “If only he/she would do thus and such, everything would be great.” Not likely to happen. Our power to change anyone but ourselves is teeny-weeny. So we get frustrated, maybe even angry, and the stress and tension in the relationship gets even worse.
What we do have power over is how we respond to anger expression. So here we go…
Understanding why your loved one is angry is not necessarily to excuse it. It may be important to you, however, to consider whether his/her anger is situational or chronic. In other words does he get mad only when he reads the headlines about the economic crisis or does he appear to be irritable about anything and everything? Irritability is a major symptom of depression. Taken in the context of other signs and symptoms you may weigh the options of either talking directly about his possible depression or if he is not receptive, getting the help of a mental health professional for yourself. Depression is a serious condition in which potential harm to self or others is best evaluated by an expert. Please keep this in mind as you read the rest of this article.
How was anger handled when you were growing up?
How comfortable we feel with the expression of anger is largely the result of how we were reared. No surprise there.
When I was a kid my family was one of those where anger was suppressed behind tense politeness until the pressure grew intolerant. Then the anger erupted with crying, yelling and slamming doors. After the explosion, with a false sense of resolution, the atmosphere would freeze over until the next time.
As a result when someone said they were angry with me I’d get very anxious and go into turtle mode anticipating an explosion.
Take a look at your history and ask yourself: In the face of anger, what’s my response style?
Without an effective way to handle anger we can become…
• The Turtle: Silently going behind thick emotional walls until the storm is over.
• The Cornered Rat: Not at all pretty. We become them. Yelling, nagging and shoving back in defense.
• The Ostrich: Denying the existence the anger. Sometimes people can be so good at the ostrich response they don’t even recognize anger in themselves.
• The Chicken: Running away from anger as quickly as possible.
If your response to anger is measured and reasonable, taking responsibility only for yourself, expecting others to behave reasonably, if you express your anger directly in firm, civil tones, good for you! You are a more highly evolved creature than most of us. You are our role model.
How can I improve my response to anger?
• Make protecting your self-esteem your top priority.
• Take responsibility for your own anger and take charge of how you react to your partner’s anger.
• Resist the urge to take his/her anger personally no matter how much he/she provokes you.
• Do not escalate an argument by getting defensive, raising your voice or retaliating.
• Stay reasonable; keep your tone on the quiet side. A whisper can often be a bigger attention getter than yelling.
As long as the person venting their anger is under control (they can stop if you ask them to) and not directed at you, it may be good to listen and allow our loved one to talk it out. Often the person venting (sometimes it’s us) is grateful for the ear and they feel better being validated.
During a time of great stress, my husband needed to be able to talk about his anger about a situation at work. To be a good partner I had to learn to not to give into my turtle instincts, control my anxiety and hear him out. Venting, if done well, can be a useful exercise, like thinking out loud, not just pointless ranting.
Guidelines for being on the receiving end of venting:
• If you get anxious, quietly breathe slowly and deeply while you listen. You don’t have to say anything.
• The point is to listen; do not to feel you have to FIX IT.
• Assure the angry person you ‘get’ why they are angry. Reflect back their frustration, “Yeah, it stinks, I understand why you feel that way.”
• Don’t try to cheer them up.
• If the venting lasts longer than fifteen minutes or so, or if it escalates to yelling, it’s time to call a time out, suggest a change of subject, a walk around the block or shift to problem solving mode.
Are you in danger of physical, verbal or emotional abuse?
All bets are off if you feel seriously threatened. If you are afraid for your physical safety you must get help. You may be confused about whether of not you should be scared. Get a reality check immediately. Talk to a trusted friend or a counselor to get some perspective. Be sure you and everyone else in the house are safe. Have an emergency plan in place in case you need to get away quickly.
Take all the pointers in the other Mad As Hell Series of articles and apply them. Find help from a professional counselor or a self-help group like Al-Anon. You are not alone.
Dealing with this economy basically means we are all in recovery. Anger relapse will happen when the media hits us with the next financial horror. When that happens remember to forgive yourself, get back on the wagon and recite with me:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.