Anger Manageme

Anger Management Techniques - Anger - right or wrong? What is it and what causes it?

by James A. Baker



If feel like such a failure. I lost my temper with my kids again last night. Every year I start out telling myself and my kids that this year is going to be better and I am going to get my anger under control. I am a single mom and sometimes I get overwhelmed and use that as an excuse to lash out at my kids. They are good kids, but they do normal irritating kinds of things, especially now that they are in their teens. It drives me nuts and sometimes I just lose it. I know it is bad to be this angry. What is wrong with me?

Momzilla in Amarillo

Dear Mom:

I am very sympathetic to your situation. It is hard enough to be a single mom just trying to get herself and her kids through life; of course there will be times when you fell overwhelmed and angry. Struggling with the guilt and shame over your anger issues adds even more pain. The good news is that there are answers and you can get better. However, I want to start by clearing up one common misconception.

Anger is NOT bad, it only becomes bad when we make bad choices as a result of being angry.

Contrary to popular opinion, anger is actually a neutral emotion - it is not automatically right or wrong, good or bad. This may seem to be a strange concept to some folks, but there is nothing wrong with anger. Many people have been taught to believe that anger is bad and should be avoided at all costs. Others - especially those who grew up with a rageaholic parent - know all too well the pain and destruction that anger can produce, so they may try to avoid situations where anger is being expressed. There is no doubt that anger - improperly expressed - can do real damage. But that doesn't mean that anger is, in and of itself, bad.
The first thing you need to understand about anger is that it is usually a secondary emotion; anger is an emotional reaction to a stronger and deeper emotion that got there first. The primary emotion is fear. If you have ever been angry because someone almost ran you off the road then you know what we mean. Before you were angry, you were terrified that you were about to die. Your anger now is the result of the initial fear of imminent personal injury!

Of course, this is a pretty obvious example. However, fear can be a subtle component in many situations connected to problems such as:

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of shame
  • Fear of rejection
  • Fear of being blamed or punished
  • Fear of loss of status or esteem
When we feel threatened in one of the above areas, especially if we feel that someone else has done or said something that puts us at risk of losing status in the eyes of others or even our own eyes, (this is often called being placed in a “one-down” position) we may use anger to retaliate against that person in an attempt to “get back on top,” or at least put that person in a “one-down” position, too.

Not only is anger a secondary emotion, it is neutral. This means it is not good, it is not bad, it just IS.
Have you ever dropped something heavy on your foot - say, like a brick? If you have, you know it hurts. Is that pain right or wrong? It is neither - it just is, and you can't stop the pain even if you want to. The pain is the result of an incident that should cause pain.

The same is true with anger. You generally can't control whether or not you get angry; anger is automatically triggered by fear of something at some level. Anger is the emotion that prepares us to defend or protect ourselves from any threat - real or imagined. And, while it is true that a great deal of the anger people may feel might be irrational - that is to say, not based on a genuine threat - the angry, emotional response is still automatic. It is very hard not to cry out in pain if someone drops a brick on your foot, and it is very hard not to feel an initial rush of anger when you face something that appears threatening. In some instances, changing certain aspects of your belief system can reduce certain fear responses. However, once you feel fear, you very often feel angry.

For this reason, whenever anger begins to rise up, instead of treating it as an enemy it is better to treat it as an indicator, much like the oil pressure light on your car's dashboard display. The light came on to tell you something: there is a problem under the hood and you need to check it out! In the same way, when anger lights up in us, we need to pay attention because it is trying to tell us something, too. Generally, it is letting us know that we are very hurt or worried or afraid about something. Whatever it is, we need to face it and fix it.

Here are two important points about anger you need to get straight from the very beginning.

" One: feelings of anger are normal and unavoidable. Anger is a valuable tool we need to help us get through life. Anger, by itself, is not the problem.

" Two: it is the inappropriate expression of anger that causes problems. When we use our anger as an excuse to treat others abusively and disrespectfully, that is where all the trouble starts.

It is very appropriate for you to be concerned that you are expressing your anger in ways that are hurting your kids. This needs to stop. Anger management training can help you learn better techniques for stopping those hurtful, angry outbursts. However, you also need to ask yourself, “What am I really afraid of that is causing me to get angry in the first place?” Your kids are not making you angry; their behavior is only tapping into deeper fears and anxieties you already have. You need to find the source of those fears and work on that, too. You will feel more at peace and your kids will thank you for it, too.

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