Preventive Anger Management

Anger Management - Preventive Anger Management

by James A. Baker


It seems like my husband and I do just fine until an “issue” comes up. We can't seem to talk about problems in our relationship without it turning into an awful argument. We usually just scream ourselves out, go to bed and pretend everything is okay that next morning. But it isn't and I don't want to go through this anymore. Should we both take anger management classes?

Burned Out in Sacramento

Dear Burned Out:

Sadly, one of the main reasons that people allow their anger to escalate to inappropriate, even dangerous, levels is because they feel they have no other options for being heard or understood. They are either afraid of being rejected, or they simply have no clue about how to say how they feel or ask for what they need. Effective communication is absolutely vital for controlling anger. It is also one of the most uncomfortable, even scary, new skills you will ever try to learn. But, in the end, it is a great idea, especially if you have a bit of courage and a good plan. The courage must come from you, but here is an outline for a good plan.

I. May I tell you how I feel?
When there are important issues at stake, it is very important to avoid starting the conversation by attacking, blaming or accusing the other party. Statements such as, “I have had it up to here with the way you waste money,” are not a good way to open a discussion. Such an approach will ALWAYS put the other party on the defensive.
A better way to begin the conversation is to say, “May I tell you how I feel about something?” This is polite, respectful, and, while it does signal that you may want to bring up an uncomfortable subject, your attitude makes it clear that you are not on the warpath.

  • Be sure you identify WHAT you are feeling - give it a name. Are you feeling discouraged, confused, disappointed, scared, rejected, betrayed, abandoned, hopeless, depressed, etc.? It usually doesn't work to say, “I have a problem, I am upset about it, and you need to fix it
  • Second, you must clearly nail down WHY you think you are feeling this way. Again, it won't work to just corner the other party and declare, “I am depressed and it is all your fault!” Briefly describe what you think the problem is. Here is an example: “I am feeling very depressed, and I think it started when you decided to sell the house without consulting me.”
  • Third, have some idea in mind of what kind of remedy would help improve the situation. Don't prepare some outrageous, punitive, pie-in-the-sky demand, and don't deliver it with hostility. Calmly state your idea: “I am not really comfortable with the idea of selling the house right now, and it would help me a lot if we could discuss other options for getting out of debt.”
  • Now you are ready to approach the other party with your request. If at all possible, try to choose a time when there are no obvious distractions and little possibility of being interrupted for at least 30 minutes.

II. Let me make sure I understand what you are saying
One of the main reasons conversations collapse into angry confrontations is because too often both parties are only concerned with getting their own way and protecting their positions. So, they only listen to the other person long enough to find an opportunity to jump back in and defend themselves or make another point for their side. Even when they are “listening,” they are usually actually planning out what they are going to say next. This attitude guarantees that no real communication takes place at all. People aren't talking to each other, they are talking at each other or over each other.

  • After you have explained your position, STOP TALKING. Give the other party a full and fair chance to respond. Even if their response seems to contradict or minimize what you have expressed, don't react or defend or explain or justify. DON'T PLAN OUT WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO SAY BACK TO THIS PERSON. Just listen until they have finished. Pay close attention to their thoughts, feelings, opinions and perspective, because your next step is to try to say back to them what they just said to you!!
  • After they have finished their response, begin with this request: “Let me make sure I understand what you are saying. You are saying that the reason you want to sell the house now is because and then try to repeat back to them, word for word wherever possible, exactly what was said to you. This is very important. Too often, we assume we know what the other person is going to say, and we react before finding out if what we assume is really true.
  • After you have repeated, or “mirrored” the other party's remarks back to them, give them a chance to confirm your interpretation of what was said. They will either say yes, that's right; or almost, but not exactly; or no, that is not what I meant at all!” Remember this: true communication will not, cannot, occur until all parties have a shared understanding of the MEANING of the message being presented. Keep working until you get it right.

If you have made it this far with no explosions, your chance of having an anger event has now been reduced to a fraction of what it could have been just a few minutes earlier. Most arguments are really about feelings, not facts. When people fear rejection, blame, punishment, shame or other painful losses, they get defensive and angry. You could almost say that the “problem” isn't the problem, how people FEEL about the problem is what causes most of the confusion. This approach to communication defuses most of the fearful feelings, and clears the way for effective problem solving.

“Anger is one of the great unconfronted addictions of our time,” explained James A. Baker, author of The Anger Busting Workbook. “We expend copious resources treating the symptoms and the causes, but sometimes we just need to help people get a grip.” As Founder and CEO of Baker Communications, Jim combines 25 years as a celebrated corporate trainer with many years in the recovery movement to create a powerful tool for helping anger addicts lead saner, safer lives. Jim founded the Anger Management Training Institute ( to aid anger addicts and the people who care about them.

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