Saturday, April 9, 2016

Seeking Balance in Coping with Anger


How do you feel when others do not meet your expectations, or when you do not get what you want? Do you “bite your wife’s head off”? Do you lose your voice yelling at your kids? Do you secretly obsess and seethe at something your neighbor did, wondering how you can get even?

Depending on many complex factors, we can react in many different ways. Sometimes we are simply irritated, frustrated, or impatient. Other times we rage, at least on the inside.

Anger brings with it a great deal of physiological arousal. Your heart beats faster, your breathing rate increases, your pupils constrict, and your blood flows more to your active muscles - all signs that your adrenal glands are pumping more hormones which signal your body to go into “fight or flight” mode.

Here are a few tips to help you cope in a way that can diminish the damage that poor anger management does to both you and those around you.

1) Delay your response. It essential to break negative automatic and habitual ways of expressing your anger that hurt others and yourself. “Counting to 10” is age old advice that really does serve a purpose. It helps you engage the thinking portions of your brain so you can evaluate the potential consequences of the angry comments you would like to make.

2) Resist acting out anger inappropriately. This can be verbal or non-verbal behavior. Saying or doing things intended to hurt others will only escalate your problems. Be slow to speak. This is the path of mature, responsible adult behavior.

3) Listen attentively and objectively. What is the other person really communicating? How is the person feeling? Seek to really put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Research shows the high value of empathy in overcoming habitual expressions of anger.

4) Consider the offense before responding. Focus on the big picture, rather than reacting on impulse. Attempt to understand their reason for offending you in the way they did, or if they even meant it as an offense. What is really triggering your feelings of anger? How might your response affect your future relationship?

5) Release the anger before the day is over. Holding on to your anger is not worth it on many levels, including your health. Research has even shown it increases pain and depression levels. Seek to release the anger as quickly as possible.

6) Tell yourself “I am not easy to offend.” And believe it. You really can modify your habitual ways of thinking.

7) Avoid a victim mentality. Even if you are a victim of unfair treatment, you do not want to get stuck there. Instead, look for ways to empower yourself and take responsibility to manage your life and relationships in healthier ways. Considering your situation from the position of an equal rather than from a superior or inferior position can help you negotiate relationship conflicts and work toward win-win solutions.

8) Develop assertive communication skills. You can use the anger to motivate you to assertive, but not aggressive, action. Assertiveness includes open, honest communication that expresses your concerns and what you want. Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s non-violent responses are examples of healthy assertive action that brought about positive change. You can do the same in your family, speaking the truth in love.

9) Evaluate and modify your thinking in the direction of being grateful for the blessings in your life. This is particularly true when we notice an underlying hostility from unresolved anger that is beginning to fester within us. Learning to let go of offenses and embracing our blessings has great value for our own health and the health of our relationships with others.

10) Forgiveness is fundamental. Understanding, accepting, and letting go of offenses is a process we go through in relationships we value. This is a process that takes time for some, but is something we are all challenged to embrace.

Ronald S. Newman, Ph.D. is a New Jersey psychologist at the Lakeview Professional Center on Route 30 who can be reached at:, or 609-567-9022. This article original appeared in the Hammonton Gazette, March 2016

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