Why have I spent so much time on the topic of anger?
Because it is so prevalent and we see its destructive powers everywhere. Like summer wildfires, the results of anger unleashed and unchecked by reason leave behind a path of destruction. Our lives, too, can become tinder boxes ready to explode with just a spark of irritation.
As therapists we see the results of growing up in homes where anger is out of control. The wounds and scars run deep.
Unless recognized, addressed and changed, the patterns of behavior repeat themselves from one generation to another.
Shame, guilt, fear and sometimes downright terror often keep us from getting the help we need. Yet getting that help is the most freeing thing you can do.
Listen to what your anger is telling you. Maybe it’s time to review your priorities and goals. What is most important in your life – your career or your family? Do you spend time with your kids? If you grew up with constant turmoil, conflict and anger, you may be repeating those patterns with your children.
We are entering the summer fire season, when everything becomes tinder box dry and all it takes is a spark to set in motion a wildfire that can wipe out acres and acres of trees and homes in a short amount of time.
Last summer we saw the devastation of such an event in the eastern part of our state.
If caught in time, fires can be extinguished. If not, they soon become a raging, out-of-control inferno.
It is also time when families take summer vacations, kids get grumpy, parents are stressed to the max and the well of patience has dried up. Even minor irritations become tinder boxes ready to ignite. Once a “wildfire” begins, it quickly feeds upon itself.
The Anger Habit
Anger can become a habit. But like any habit, it can be replaced. We can easily become addicted to anger as our first response to situations. We are the ones who decide whether to get angry or laugh, problem solve or walk away.
Anger – I don’t like it! I don’t know what to do with it! I don’t want it in my life!
In my last blog entitled, “Do you have an Anger Problem”, I listed a series of questions that can help identify an anger problem.
If you think you have a problem with anger, don’t be afraid of it. Recognize the symptoms and redirect the energy to finding solutions.
What should I do if I have a problem with anger?
•First, go over the list of symptoms in last week’s blog. Do you see yourself there? If you think anger may be a problem for you, admit that possibility and take the next step.
•Keep a dairy for at least a week. Mark down every time you get angry. What triggered your anger? What did you say to yourself? What other feelings were you experiencing? What was the first action you took after your anger was triggered? Did it resolve the problem or conflict?
I’m going to be the guest on a live call-in radio show today, Thursday, May 28, 2015 at 4:30 p.m. PDT/7:30 p.m. EDT.
The show is called “The Word for Today Is… and the host is Stephanie Hill Williams.
We’ll be discussing what it means to be a counselor and life coach, and what led me to the publication of my book, A Love so Great, A Grief so Deep, and my upcoming book, From Winter to Spring, with time at the end for questions from listeners.
I hope you’ll tune in! Click the link to listen starting at 4:30: Marlene Anderson, MA LMHC, NCC-Author, Speaker, Counselor, & Life Coach
Bill DeFoore in his book, Anger: Deal with it, Heal with it, Stop it from Killing You outlined symptoms of an anger problem.
The following questions are based on that list and might help you become aware of whether there is a more serious problem than just resolving ongoing irritations.
•When you get angry, do you get over it or do you continue to stew about it? Do you build a grievance that makes you bitter and vengeful?
•Do you never have feelings of anger? Is getting angry simply something you would never allow yourself to do? What other emotions are you repressing as well?
•Are you constantly feeling frustrated, irritated, disappointed, etc? Do these feelings feel safer and more acceptable than getting angry?Have you become “cynical” and “sarcastic” of others and yourself?
I’m sure you have known someone personally or have lived with or around someone who has an “anger problem”. You may have experienced angry outbursts that were like venom and came to the conclusion that being angry is wrong, destructive and serves no purpose.
Yet anger is a normal, natural emotion – just like being happy. It is part of our survival system.
Anger and aggressive behavior are not synonymous. You can feel angry without being aggressive.
It is not anger that is the problem – it is what we do with it that can become a problem.
We often have mixed feelings about this potentially explosive emotion. If we think anger is wrong, scary, frightening, or uncontrollable, we might choose to deny it or carefully hide it behind acceptable cultural masks. But it has not gone away; it just festers underneath the surface.
I am a supporter of self-help. I am also an advocate of therapy. Both are needed. Even when we recognize that a good counselor may be needed to help sort through the tangles of emotions, behaviors, thoughts and experiences, there is a lot we can do both beforehand and during therapy such as reading credible literature available to us.
“Anger, Deal with It, Heal with It, Stop it from Killing You,” by Bill DeFoore, Ph.D., is one such book.
Whether you struggle with your own quick reaction to events with anger or know someone personally who continues to flash anger in your face, reading about a subject that we all come in contact with at some time, can give us both understanding and grace.
Bill DeFoore’s book is easy to read and gives us a good description of some of the many aspects of anger, such as:
Anger not dealt with can soon become a pressure cooker – a roaring fire out of control. Unchecked it becomes an explosion waiting to happen.
When our lives get out of control, we can feel like that pressure cooker. Our emotions are under pressure, and we feel as though we could explode at any moment.
And yet anger is just an emotion. It is there to give us information. It is neither good nor bad on its own.
Anger lets us know when we have been offended or taken advantage of or threatened. It is there to help us survive, build appropriate boundaries and protect our “vulnerable inner child.” It helps right wrongs.
Anger is an emotion and like all emotions, it has a purpose.
It helps us survive and motivates us to take action and make important changes. It protects us when life threatens us psychologically or physically.
Left unchecked, however, it becomes toxic and corrosive. And when we react without restraint to its powerful rush of energy or without identifying the problem connected to it, we not only inflict pain on others, but on ourselves.
It is up to us to seek out the meaning behind the anger we may be experiencing and discover its underlying issue or problem.
There are many books I have acquired over my career written by professionals in the field about major issues we all face. The authors of today’s two featured books help us understand a very difficult problem we see all around us today. They help clarify the underlying causes of anger and rage so we can apply constructive and positive solutions.
The first book featured today, “The Dance of Anger, A woman’s guide to changing the patterns of intimate relationships” by Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D., is one of those books written many years ago, but is timeless in its understanding of a major problem we all face.