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Learning to Live Again in a New World

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Before the year ends, I want to summarize the two books I wrote that were the focus of my blog and podcast. This week, I share some of the highlights from my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, which was released in January 2020. My blog posts and podcast episodes through June reflected the ways we can work through grief and begin to rebuild our lives.

When my husband died, the world as I knew it came to an end. I wrote about that ending and early days of grief in my first book, A Love So Great, A Grief So Deep, sharing the pain of losing someone I loved with my whole heart.

As a licensed counselor, I knew that if I stayed in that space of sorrow, I wouldn’t heal and instead would keep mourning without any hope of a meaningful life again.

I began working with others who had lost loved ones. We shared the struggle to let go and move on. There was a reluctance to do so – almost as if we would be devaluing our loved one if we did.

I started applying therapeutic techniques used by counselors to help clients work through difficulties. Those strategies enabled me to take back my life, re-identify myself and construct a plan of action moving forward. My book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, is a culmination of that work and shares methods and strategies to move from pain and deep sorrow to letting go and rebuilding.

Many things can increase the grief we feel.

For example, grief intensifies during the holidays. The uncertainties and isolation caused by the pandemic or other drastic changes intensifies that loss. High levels of stress, uncertainty and anxiety make it difficult to work through problems associated with it.

A variety of things in your life are changed. Your social circles are drastically altered. If you lost a spouse, you are now a single person in couple gatherings.

With the death of a child, you are no longer able to share with other parents the joys and difficulties of raising your children.

You may be required to re-locate or downsize. Your financial status might have been radically altered. I had to sell our newly built home and invest the proceeds to provide financial stability. Unexpected decisions created incredible anxiety as I struggled to make the right choices moving forward. Where should I live? What could I afford?

Why is it so difficult to let go?

We hang on to our loss because we struggle to accept that what was so important to us is now gone. Unconsciously, we want to believe that if we stay in that space of mourning that it will keep alive what we had. We fear the unpredictability of starting over again. We don’t know where to begin or how to begin. We don’t have a roadmap. We are forced to face ourselves, our fears and doubts and insecurities as never before.

Loss takes away the life and identity we had – how we defined ourselves.

It is in that conflict of loss, grief, and uncertainty that we are required to step out in faith and discover who we are today.

What does it mean to rebuild?

In the physical world, rebuilding means restoring something that was broken, damaged or destroyed.

In the internal realm, it is restoring equilibrium, hope, vision, and direction. It is repairing the great emotional rift. You can replace, strengthen, and reinforce your resolve. You can re-shape your future and put in place new goals that represent who you are today. You can re-assemble the broken parts and refashion them into a new you.

This requires making adjustments, sometimes radical, as you let go of what is no longer relevant to reclaim your ability to plan and create.

Throughout this journey, I learned

  • that we can not only heal and recover, but we can have a meaningful life with purpose again
  • that in letting go, I still maintained my happy memories – I could have both my memories and a new beginning
  • that we will experience anxiety, fear and doubts, requiring us to hang on to the promises of God
  • that when we step out in faith, we are given the strength and courage to move forward
  • that when I changed my focus from the past to working on a new tomorrow, life began to take a positive turn
  • that in working on a new future, I was not minimizing what I lost
  • that when I questioned my abilities, I was able to affirm them
  • that I could experience satisfaction and happiness again when I told myself, “Yes I can.” It became a new mantra. I could make it. I could recover.
  • that when I refused to let my loss take me down, I was given the confidence I needed to keep trying and succeed

In Learning to Live Again in a New World, I take you through what I consider four basic phases of recovery and rebuilding.

In Phase I, I share the pain of those early days and months and offer suggestions on how to work through this intense time period.

In Phase II, I address the struggle to accept and let go and close the door to the past.

In Phase III, the chapters reflect how to re-define yourself – finding a new identity and a new path.

In Phase IV, you weave together what you have learned on your journey and develop a plan of action for your future – a new beginning. Each chapter begins with a vignette or personal story and ends with a personal reflection and application worksheet, with information, exercises, and methods to work through the pain and conflicts.

Change takes time. Healing and recovery take time.

You will experience anxiety, worry, concern, and deep sorrow. You may question your ability to succeed. You may experience other losses in quick succession.

But as you step into the face of pain and fear, you discover that you are becoming stronger than ever before. In the process, you develop confidence and trust in your ability to take charge of all aspects of your life. You learn that while recovery is never easy, you can make it.

As you let go of what had been, your heart and spirit begin to heal.

If you or someone you know has encountered a recent loss or are struggling to regain a new life after a lot of time has gone past, this book can help you find a path through and beyond. It is a book I recommend to anyone who may be struggling with the losses in their lives.

Next week I will recap my book, Make Stress Work for You, that was updated and released in spring of this year.

Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Four Catastrophic Traps Couples Fall Into

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Everything was going so nicely, and then life stepped in. There’s not enough money to pay the bills, the credit card debts are piling up, in-laws intrude with too many visits or too much advice, to keep my job I have to work longer hours and accomplish more.

Suddenly we find ourselves arguing more – tempers flare, anger rises beyond the norm, and the blame game begins. We go outside our marriage to talk about our spouses and get consolation, validation, sympathy, and support.

And the scene is set for more serious troubles.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work - John M GottmanIn his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman lays out in a practical format the seven principles for making marriage work, based on years of research and study in his Seattle based clinic, The Gottman Institute.

It is a book I highly recommend to anyone interested in developing an even more “harmonious and long-lasting relationship” with their spouse. The exercises as well as the information presented are easy to follow and exceptional.

The danger zone

When you become negative and sarcastic, you are venturing on the threshold of a danger zone. It is not just anger, but it is a simmering, ongoing dislike and rage. It is not just arguing or fighting – it is developing contempt for your partner.

Gottman describes four areas of negative interaction that precipitates the early demise of a marriage. He refers to these areas as the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling.

Do you recognize any of these four horsemen in your relationship?

1. Criticism:

These are words that denigrate or belittle the character or personality of your spouse. It goes beyond complaints which target behaviors. It belittles and scorns and vilifies.

2. Contempt:

An attitude of disgust, sarcasm and cynicism is built. You now consider your spouse either worthless or inferior and not worthy of respect. Whatever your spouse says or does, your response is to mock or sneer at them. This is an extremely toxic brew that you have allowed to ferment and develop.

3. Defensiveness:

Because you have allowed negative thoughts about your spouse to simmer and stew without resolution, no matter what your spouse says, it is immediately construed as an attack. You are constantly on the defensive and ready to counter-attack and blame your spouse for anything and everything that happens, putting a negative spin on even the slightest indiscretion, lack of judgment or tact. There is no problem-solving or negotiation – just attack and defend.

4. Stonewalling:

As this destructive cycle continues, individuals caught in its sequence begin to stonewall, refusing to cooperate, avoiding questions and deliberately creating delays.  Their persona indicates they could care less what the other person says or does. They are no longer interested in discussion, negotiation or resolving disagreements.

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

—Oscar Wilde

Is there any hope?

While these may be predictive signs of a potential breakup, when two people really want to change and work together, they can do so. Sometimes we think if we just leave and start over again our lives will be different and we will be happy. We forget, however, that we take with us the remnants of previous broken relationships and unless we work through them, we repeat previous behaviors.

Dr. Sue Johnson, clinical psychologist, and creator of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples, has found three key factors relationships need in order to be truly healthy. As they argue and battle, she believes in the back of all these battles, what they are asking is the following: “Are you there for me?”

She postulates the following three things that are needed to be present in order to receive a “Yes” to this question.

Known as A.R.E., these are Accessibility, Responsiveness, and Emotional Engagement.


When people feel their partner is accessible in some way to them, they feel more secure, less anxious and validated. To become accessible, pay attention to what your partner is sensitive to. Instead of immediately continuing a fight, stop and extend an olive branch instead. Listen – really listen. Validate how your partner is feeling.


When your partner comes to you, respond – be there – let them know you are there for them. This is especially important when you are in the middle of something. Let them know you sincerely want to talk and set a time when you can come together and have a discussion.

Emotional Engagement:

Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships,“Love is really an emotional bond more than anything else,” says Dr. Johnson.

In her book, Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships, she writes that research is increasing our understanding of emotions and how they apply in neuroscience, psychology, and biology and how important it is to “care about your partner’s emotional experience.”

Let them know you care. “The more emotionally engaged partners are with each other, the stronger their bond.”

Next time you find yourself fighting, stop, take a deep breath, and ask yourself what you are really fighting about.

What is really important?

Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comMy Make Stress Work for You bundle will help you:

  • Identify the personal stressors that create high levels of distress in your life
  • Learn how to identify problems and find ways to solve them
  • Replace unhelpful thinking with constructive and practical ways to lower levels of fear, worry, and anxiety

The book bundle includes:

  • ebook
  • audio recording of each chapter’
  • companion Study Guide & Personal Application Workbook
  • Four bonus guides

Click here for details and to order

12 Ways to Promote Good Communication

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Communication is a skill that is learned and developed over time. When we recognize what isn’t working, we can replace it with something that will work.

We communicate all the time. We cannot not communicate. With our facial gestures, postures, words, or attempts to change the other person, we need to know how to become the type of communicator who respects ourselves and others.

Knowing yourself is vital in becoming a good communicator.

You need to know what triggers your stress buttons or emotional upsets, your fears of being hurt or looking stupid. Finding ways of dealing with adversity are often hidden from you until you are willing to accept yourself unconditionally, with both the good and the bad. When you feel okay to face your vulnerabilities you are taking charge of your interactions and your life, and that is reflected in your conversations.

Here are 12 things you can do that will promote good communication:

1. Check your internal states.

Lower anxiety levels and remain calm and open. Be attentive to other people and display this through your non-verbal behavior.

2. Be aware of both verbal and non-verbal communication.

Communication can be expressive. Be aware of your body communication as well as your words.

3. Think before you speak.

What message are you sending with the tone of your voice, your facial expression or stance? Remember that good communication is a skill. Like any skill, it demands attention to detail until habits are formed.

4. Check your perceptual filters.

How might your perceptions of problems or events become a distortion to your intent? Are you being honest? Are you speaking with a hidden agenda?

5. Know how to ask for wants and needs.

If you want something, ask for it – don’t assume the other person should or ought to know.

6. Respect the rights of others.

Respect their space, feelings, integrity, and intelligence. Even if you adamantly disagree, you can respect the opinions of others.

7. Ask for feedback.

Don’t assume the other person automatically understands what you are trying to say.

8. Use reflective language – validate feelings.

When people are upset or angry their emotions are heightened or mixed and they may feel guilty for feeling that way. Validating your listener’s feelings tells them you care, and that they are okay.

9. Let people know you are listening to them.

Use of mmm, uh-huh, and other verbal and physical responses can let the other person know you are listening.

10. Use “I” statements.

“I” statements tells others where you are at. It tells them how you feel, what you are thinking, and makes your wishes and wants known. Examples: “I think…   I feel…when…  I wish you would… I want…”

11. Eliminate “you” statements.

You statements blame, accuse, label, create defensiveness, judge and evaluate the other. You statements are saying the other person is responsible for how you feel and how you choose to respond.

12. Eliminate powerless talk.

Powerless talk is tentative. It hedges or qualifies (I think, or I guess). It hesitates or reverts to you knows. It involves a tag question, such as “sure is cold in here, isn’t it”? It involves disclaimers such as, “Don’t get me wrong, but…”and uses phrases that you feel you need to prove by showing or pointing out.

Good Listening Skills

12 Ways to Promote Good Communication | focuswithmarlene.com

Listening is as important as the message sent. Listening requires that you are there: physically, emotionally and intellectually. You are active in the listening process. It requires attention, effort, time, and focus.

It takes work to concentrate. It requires an open mind. When someone comes to you to talk, put down whatever you are doing and look at the other person as they speak. Give some eye contact. If you don’t have time to listen, let the other person know when you will have time to listen and set a time of agreement for that.

Before responding to someone’s question, comment, or suggestion, rephrase it in your own words to show that you have fully grasped what was said. Then ask for verification and let the other person take the lead again in the conversation.

If the other person’s statement sounds like a criticism, resist answering defensively. Clarification is needed instead.

“If I understand what you are asking, you need. . . so that. . . Is that correct?”

Ask open-ended questions.

There is a difference between a yes-no question and an open-ended question:

Yes-No: I expect you to have these chores done before dinner. Do you understand?

Open-ended: These are the chores that need to be completed. Can we talk about who will be responsible for which ones?

Or “Is there a problem we need to discuss?”

Or “What can I do to help you?”

Or “What information do you need from me?”

Or “So what do you think?”

During times of stress and conflict, use statements instead of asking questions in a snotty way. When you are tempted to classify something the other person has said as wrong, incorrect, or inaccurate, ask for clarification.

“This is what I heard (observed, etc.) Is this correct?”

How we respond matters as much as the information asked for. We can encourage people, or we can shut them down by issuing questions that sound like orders and are perceived as attacks.

Questions asked during times of tension, no matter what they look like on the surface, can easily be turned into one question: Okay, whose fault is this?

Don’t fire question torpedoes.

Instead of, “Who told you that you could play with that?” use a statement. “I see you believed it was okay to play with that. Am I correct?”

Here are 15 important listening skills to develop:

  1. Prepare to listen
  2. Control or eliminate distractions
  3. Find common areas of interest
  4. Listen for main ideas
  5. Keep an open mind
  6. Judge content, not delivery
  7. Delay evaluations
  8. Stay focused on what is being said rather than thinking about your reply
  9. Body language, one of voice and content should agree
  10. Don’t speak for the other person
  11. Don’t give advice
  12. Give feedback – paraphrase
  13. Ask for more information when needed
  14. Avoid analyzing
  15. Validate feelings

Next week we will conclude this series on communication.

Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comMy Make Stress Work for You bundle will help you:

  • Identify the personal stressors that create high levels of distress in your life
  • Learn how to identify problems and find ways to solve them
  • Replace unhelpful thinking with constructive and practical ways to lower levels of fear, worry, and anxiety

The book bundle includes:

  • ebook
  • audio recording of each chapter’
  • companion Study Guide & Personal Application Workbook
  • Four bonus guides

Click here for details and to order

That’s Not What I Meant: 6 Tips to Improve Your Communication

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“But you said. . . ”

“No, I didn’t. . . ”

“Yes, I heard you say. . . ”

“Well, that’s not what I meant!”

And so, it goes – round and round and round and we end up with two angry people who continue to find ways to attack, defend and destroy each other.

Anger builds as each continues to dig in their heels and insist they are right, and the other is wrong. You probably have had such conversations or have witnessed them. Discussions at this point soon move into the blame game:

“You always try to pin the blame on me. If you were here instead of out golfing, this wouldn’t have happened.”

“Oh, and how about you – out shopping again.”

The conversation has gone beyond misunderstanding and name calling.

When we find ourselves in constant conflict, we believe that if only the other person would listen and see our point of view, we wouldn’t be having such discussions. If you cared, wouldn’t you understand my needs?

The problem is that the other person is thinking the same thing. And since neither person is listening to the other, the conflict intensifies. We have left the realm of compromise, negotiation and understanding, and love and grace are kicked in the corner.

That’s Not What I Meant | focuswithmarlene.com

Communication travels back and forth from speaker to listener.

Messages sent and messages heard are often contrary or conflicting and at times, misleading. What sounded obvious to me in the words I spoke may not have been what you heard. Because the intent of our conversation is often unclear, communication becomes vague and ambiguous.

As mentioned in last week’s post, Relationships Under Stress, our communication, verbally and nonverbally, goes through a filtering system. A filter reflects life in the moment. The message sent and received is going through two filters. When we become aware of our filters, it can help us better transmit messages and listen effectively.

Here is an example of filters that make communication difficult:

You get up in the morning grumpy and tired from lack of sleep. Your mood influences how you communicate to others in the family. Add to that a bad day at work where everything went wrong that could go wrong, and you return home disgruntled, angry and even more tired.

Let’s say the kids are having a great day and are especially exuberant – but you see their running and rough housing as not caring about you or others in the home. When you speak to them, the words and tone of voice reflect that. If you have had underlying issues with your spouse, those unresolved issues will be reflected in the tone of your voice as well.

Perhaps your child, co-worker, spouse, boss, or anyone else you are conversing with is also having a bad day with unresolved problems and concerns. Your words ignite a desire to react with the same anger.

Or, they may be having a good day while you are having a bad one and are wondering why you sound so angry with them. What did I do?

Messages sent and received take on a whole new dimension and psychological impact when laced with frustration, anger, or irritation. Others aren’t aware of what is creating this harshness in your voice and comments. How you feel in the moment, your psychological state of mind, aches and pains, unidentified aggravations or annoyances will affect how you formulate your conversation and how it is heard.

Here are 6 quick tips and examples to remember about communication.

1. A good speaker states exactly what he or she is thinking, wanting or feeling.

“Based on what I know right now, this is how I view the problem.”


“I am really tired, and I need a few minutes to unwind from my day at work. I would appreciate about ten minutes of down time before we start dinner.”

2. Messages contain both content and emotional meaning.

“You made a commitment to go on a family outing this Saturday. I am upset that you have made different plans.”

3. Let people know you are listening.

Stop what you are doing and give your attention to the speaker. Use uh huh, I see, and other verbal and physical ways to let the other know you are paying attention.

4. Listen and validate.

A good listener makes sure the intent of the speaker’s message is understood. We do that by asking questions or giving feedback instead of just filling in the gaps with assumptions or guesses.

5. Give appropriate feedback through paraphrasing, clarification, and perception checks.

With feedback, you tell the speaker how you have interpreted the message sent.

Paraphrasing is repeating exactly what was said.

This is especially useful when instructions are given. It prevents resentment, irritation, and incorrect inference about motives if instructions are not carried out usually because the person either did not remember or heard incorrectly. The person is not being disrespectful or insulting.

Clarification is stating what was said in your own words. It explores the meaning of what you heard:

“I heard you say _____________ . Is that correct?

“Did you say __________ ?

“Do you mean _____________?

Perception Check is describing how you observe the other person’s feelings. A perception check is not used to express disapproval or approval but simply conveys the desire to better understand how the other person is feeling.

“I get the impression you are angry with me when you become quiet. Are you?

“Am I right that you feel frustrated when your mother always criticizes us?

“I am not sure what I have said that is consuming or if you are just angry with me?”

6. Time Out

If the conversation turns into an argument, ask for stop action or a time out. A stop action is a request to check on feelings, intents, and impacts.

“Let’s stop a minute. I think we are getting away from the problem.”


“Wait, stop. I’m getting upset. How are you feeling right now?”

The next time you are in a conversation and you find yourself getting irritated, check your feeling state and what is going on in your life right now.

Check the things that might be making your conversation tense for potential misunderstanding.

Make adjustments.

If you are a listener, do the same and then use the skills of paraphrasing, feedback and confirming to nip problems in the bud.

Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comMy Make Stress Work for You bundle will help you:

  • Identify the personal stressors that create high levels of distress in your life
  • Learn how to identify problems and find ways to solve them
  • Replace unhelpful thinking with constructive and practical ways to lower levels of fear, worry, and anxiety

The book bundle includes:

  • ebook
  • audio recording of each chapter’
  • companion Study Guide & Personal Application Workbook
  • Four bonus guides

Click here for details and to order

Relationships Under Stress

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Get caught up with all episodes in the “Make Stress Work for You” series

 So many things that contribute to high levels of stress in today’s world. Not having a job, home schooling while maintaining a job, unexpected financial concerns, trimming our budgets to bare bones, travel restrictions, and the inability to enjoy social functions, are but a few.

When the cares of the day max our ability to cope, we find that those high levels of stress can make it harder to maintain positive relationships.

A better understanding of how we can respond to things that stress us out is extremely important so we can put positive, preventive measures and coping skills in place (see my book, Make Stress Work for You , and its accompanying Personal Application Workbook).

We know that anxiety levels can dramatically rise as optimism flies out the window and worry about our future takes over. Anger, guilt, and shame are quickly activated. Learning to calm ourselves through slow, even breathing whenever stress levels rise is imperative.

We need interaction with people.

When positive and supportive, those interactions can have a quieting and reassuring effect as we discuss options and encourage one another. But when relationships are strained with conflict and the inability to communicate, it adds another layer to our already overloaded stress levels.

What does communication involve?

We cannot not communicate. It is an ongoing process – a two-way street that involves both speaking and listening.

  • A good communicator uses words that say exactly what they are thinking, wanting, or feeling.
  • A good communicator avoids, if possible, words or phrases that color, cast blame or distort the message.

All communication goes through a filtering system.

The speaker’s message goes through his filters and the listener hears the message through their own filters.

Filters are anything that alters or distorts the message being sent or heard.

Our messages are influenced by how we feel physically and psychologically in the moment, both as a speaker and a listener. Our perceptions of the world, experiences, beliefs, expectations, and assumptions all color our communication.

Typical communication filters that may distort our speaking and listening ability:

  • Perceptual factors – how you make sense of the world
  • Attitudes, beliefs, and thoughts
  • Your past experiences
  • Your needs and wants
  • Cultural and ethnic differences
  • Gender issues
  • Temporal and environmental factors

Different cultures will use similar words that have a different meaning. For example, we call the trunk of a car a “trunk.” In England, they call it a “boot.”

These things can distort the message so what was intended may not be what is said or heard.

Communication breakdowns

Communication is sending and receiving messages we hope are understood. It involves both verbal and nonverbal language. It involves our body stance and facial expressions.

Communication becomes a problem when people don’t say what they mean, or aren’t really listening to what is being said or aren’t checking to see if what they heard was correct.

As speakers, we assume the other person understands exactly what we are trying to say. A listener receiving your words needs to be sure they understand the intent of the speaker and don’t fill in the gaps with assumptions or guesses.

They ask for clarification by paraphrasing or doing a perception check:

“To be sure I understand you correctly, this is what I understand you are saying to me.”

You repeat back what you heard and what you believe the intent to be.

Communication breaks down because:

  • We don’t know how to articulate and use the words that adequately define what we want to say
  • We attack/defend/blame or use heavily laced emotional words
  • We assume a listener will understand what we are trying to say
  • We are unaware of things that interfere with our communication: our biases, how we are feeling at that moment, our overall emotional well-being, our beliefs and attitudes, feelings we may have about the listener, etc.
  • We are unaware of our listener’s state of being

Communication is circular and involves thoughts, feelings, attitudes, beliefs, and ideas, as well as facts conveyed between individuals.

We are affected by the message we hear, and the other is affected by our responses. As conversation goes back and forth, we make connections, both in our thinking, modeled behavior, and our verbal and nonverbal exchange.

Words alone don’t give us adequate information.

Non-verbally, we communicate with our body posture and stance, facial expressions, tone and hand gestures, etc. While words can be manipulated, most of our non-verbal communication is automatic.

We can use words to conceal, distort, confuse, and deceive, but it is much more difficult to deceive through body language.

And even if we rehearse our body language, it is difficult to maintain that polished version for any length of time.

Whenever there’s a conflict between verbal and non-verbal, we will attend to the non-verbal first. Nonverbal cues are closely tied to our emotions. Studies show that only 7% of emotional meaning comes from the words themselves.

Non-verbal communication isn’t always accurate, either.

Relationships Under Stress | focuswithmarlene.com

People who fold their arms may be interpreted as shutting you out or putting up barriers. There are other reasons why people may fold their arms that have nothing to do with what is being spoken. We get into trouble with both verbal and non-verbal communication when the cues that are triggered are inaccurate or we guess or make assumptions.

Breakdown in communication usually occurs when:

  • We believe we already know how to communicate
  • We are too busy to take time to listen
  • We avoid what is difficult – we get bored and lazy
  • We don’t know what it is we really want and/or don’t know how to ask for it
  • We don’t know how to organize and plan our conversations
  • We don’t feel confident with our communication skills and fear reprisals
  • We are afraid we might be misunderstood
  • We rely on assumptions and expectations
  • We don’t want to be responsible
  • We want to avoid conflict
  • We form opinions and resist change

During the upcoming week, take time and mentally observe your speaking style.

  • Are you someone who uses a lot of facial expressions?
  • Do you speak with animated gestures of your hands?
  • Are you aware of your stance – how you sit or stand?
  • As a listener, do you stop what you are doing and look at the other person?
  • Do you verify your understanding of the intent?
  • How do you check to be sure what you heard was the actual intent?

We aren’t used to thinking about these things when we talk to one another. Becoming aware can reduce a lot of misunderstanding and conflict.

Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comMy Make Stress Work for You bundle will help you:

  • Identify the personal stressors that create high levels of distress in your life
  • Learn how to identify problems and find ways to solve them
  • Replace unhelpful thinking with constructive and practical ways to lower levels of fear, worry, and anxiety

The book bundle includes:

  • ebook
  • audio recording of each chapter’
  • companion Study Guide & Personal Application Workbook
  • Four bonus guides

Click here for details and to order

Three Important Relationships to Nurture

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Get caught up with all episodes in the “Make Stress Work for You” series

We gather together with others because we find some commonality with them. We have a human need to socialize and bond. The support we receive is more than just having fun or a sense of belonging. The people we hang out with over time become a statement, a reflection of who we are, our views, values, and beliefs.

Besides the relationships we form with others, the relationship we have with ourselves and God are essential. All three are important to living a life with purpose, integrity and meaning.

Develop Relationships with Others

The relationships we formulate have a deep impact on our lives. Because of that we need to ask ourselves whether we want to commit to or remain in certain relationships.

  • Do I spend a lot of time with people who do things that go against my values?
  • Have I taken time to formulate and define my values? Why do I believe what I do?
  • Am I constantly making excuses for myself and others with whom I spend time?

The life we choose to live reflects who we are, our principles and values.

Values are things we believe have merit and worth and importance.

Principles are ways of conduct we believe are appropriate.

When our actions are in conflict with those core beliefs and values, we find ourselves uncomfortable, conflicted and stressed. If the friends we choose to hang out with do not share the same values, we are faced with choosing between those values or compromising them.

We can be in social settings with people who have different opinions or points of view and we can agree to disagree. But within our personal friendships, it is important to ask, who am I hanging around with and why? What do we have in common?

Develop a Relationship with Self

When asked who is in control of your life, most people automatically say, “Well, I am, of course.” Yet these same people complain about all the things that go wrong and how they are simply a victim to whatever is happening. “I can’t do this because. . .  or If life had treated me differently. . . or I was born poor so there was no opportunity.”

Believing in yourself and in your ability to make goals and find ways to accomplish them requires a willingness and resolve to learn and try.

It requires personal honesty and a “Yes, I can” mindset. It doesn’t mean you won’t get discouraged or depressed. It does mean that you refuse to remain in that space.

A positive relationship with yourself accepts both your shortcomings and strengths, and takes responsibility for what you do.

  • You refuse to be a victim even when life throws you hard curve balls.
  • You don’t play the “blame game” where everything that goes wrong is somebody or something else’s fault.
  • You focus on the facts involved and then on an appropriate response.
  • You challenge your motives and rely on your ability to make tough choices.

Recognize when you make excuses. Recognize when you need to ask for assistance but fail to do so because of pride. Recognize when your lifestyle isn’t reflecting your values, beliefs and principles. Clarify them and make the choices and changes that mirror them.


Having a positive and productive relationship with yourself is reflected in your self-talk. There is an internal dialogue that goes on 24/7. When that is consistently and constantly negative, without reflection of the things you can do, the improvements you can make, the attitudes and mindsets that you can establish, you will not have a very positive relationship with yourself or others.

The association we establish with ourselves will be reflected in our relationships with others.

We can set boundaries.

We can apologize when we have hurt someone.

We can forgive the transgressions of others and offer them grace and offer grace to ourselves when we have done something offensive or wrong. Grace doesn’t dismiss our mistakes. It simply says, Ok, I screwed up. But I have learned something valuable that I will apply going forward.

Building a positive relationship with yourself means you are willing to examine your lifestyle, habits and ways of thinking and acting in order to grow and become responsible.

It stops and considers the values and principles you have chosen that identify who you are.

When beliefs and values are compromised, you compromise yourself and your worth.

Sometimes the choices you are confronted with are not easy. But if you want to live your life authentically and honestly, your choices will be based on the commitment you make to live those values.

We are a combination of many things, not just either/or. Our strengths can trip us up with pride just as weaknesses can trip us up with discouragement.

Cultivate Mentoring Relationships

Three Important Relationships to Nurture | focuswithmarlene.com

Find mentors who will encourage but will also be honest with you. Good counsel will take you out of the ordinary and give you the opportunity to become extraordinary in your everyday life.

Seek out and cultivate relationships with people of good character and strength of conviction who are not just successful or accomplished, but who you respect for their integrity and measured wisdom. They have learned humility along with confidence. They are God-fearing and apply ethical principles in their business, work, and home life.

Develop a Relationship with God

Why do I need God in my life? Why do I need to establish a personal relationship with Him? As we recognize our vulnerabilities and weaknesses, we better understand our need for God, who loves us, embraces us, and gives us wisdom, strength, hope, and peace.

In the darkness of the night we struggle to believe and understand all the things that are happening to us. We do our best, but it never seems to be good enough. The losses in our life continue to mount up until we are left exhausted, curled in a fetal position, unable to move, without hope or motivation.

As we face truths about ourselves, our lifestyle, insecurities, and inabilities we may want to withdraw and isolate ourselves because we do not want others to see our vulnerabilities or our brokenness.

We build walls around our spirits and psyches to protect them from further hurt and disappointments. Yet when we do, we are walling in the acid of pain that gradually erodes our mental, physical, and emotional self.

It is there, in the darkness of our night, that we wrestle with ourselves and God. All the unwanted changes produce a darkness in our soul. And we question not only the decisions we have made, but our values and core beliefs about God and life in general. As the struggle intensifies, we try to put some perspective on what we are experiencing. It is not a comfortable place to be.

Yet it is there, in the darkness of our night — in  the brokenness of our spirit — where God reaches out to us with a word, a symbol, a person, a long forgotten biblical truth, a remembrance of the many times He has shown us His face.

Surrender Brings About a New Perspective

And we find in that surrender to Him, not only peace, but a new energy, a new strength, a new perspective. We have wrestled and came through to the morning of new understanding, faith, and hope. In that surrender and acceptance, we are not only given peace and a new insurgence of energy, but joy.

It is in the scriptures where we discover more about our God. He is Holy, Almighty and all powerful. But He is approachable and never abandons us, even when we abandon Him. He loves and cares about us and meets us where we are – in the messiness of life.

He has a goal and plan for each of us as well as for the world. He gives us free will and forgives us many times. But He demands obedience and insists we put Him first.

In his intro to the Book of Joshua, Eugene Peterson writes in The Message:

“God’s great love and purposes for us are worked out in the messes, storms and sins, blue skies, daily work and dreams of our common lives, working with us as we are and not as we should be.”

And it is in the messiness of my life that I come to Him and ask for grace, forgiveness, strength, wisdom, and hope and receive so much more.

Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comMy Make Stress Work for You bundle will help you:

  • Identify the personal stressors that create high levels of distress in your life
  • Learn how to identify problems and find ways to solve them
  • Replace unhelpful thinking with constructive and practical ways to lower levels of fear, worry, and anxiety

The book bundle includes:

  • ebook
  • audio recording of each chapter’
  • companion Study Guide & Personal Application Workbook
  • Four bonus guides

Click here for details and to order

Relationships: Who Needs Them?

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 We enter relationships because we need people. We need what a relationship can bring, such as social activity and interactions, but we aren’t always ready to work on making that relationship valuable and meaningful.

We want to be loved and accepted for who we are in spite of our shortcomings. We want to be heard and understood.

Moving in and out of relationships is not very satisfying over the long term. So, understanding what we bring to our relationships and how we communicate with one another is important.

Perhaps you have experienced misplaced loyalty, broken commitments, and trampled expectations from those you considered friends, colleagues or spouses. If you have been hurt in relationships, you may ask: Relationships – who needs them? Wouldn’t I be happier staying out of any serious relationships?

We are social animals and require social interaction to survive.

Relationships: Who Needs Them? | focuswithmarlene.com

Research is showing evidence that we are hardwired to connect with each other and “that healthy relationships actually soothe our brains.”

Technology is allowing us to see what is happening within our brains as they work and respond to life. We were not meant to face “the trauma and difficulties of life” by ourselves. Creating secure bonds is important for our health.

Consider the following statistics:

Socially isolated people are two-to-three times more likely to die prematurely than those with strong social ties. The type of relationship doesn’t matter. Marriages, friendship, religious and community ties all seem to increase longevity.

Divorced men (before age 70) die from heart disease, cancer, and strokes at double the rate of married men. Three times as many die from hypertension; five times as many commit suicide; seven times as many die from cirrhosis of the liver; and ten times as many die from tuberculosis.

The rate of all types of cancer is as much as five times higher for divorced men and women, compared to their single counterparts.

Poor communication can contribute to coronary disease. One Swedish study examined 32 pairs of identical twins. One sibling in each pair had heart disease, whereas the other was healthy. Researchers found that the obesity, smoking habits, and cholesterol levels of the healthy and sick twins did not differ significantly. Among the significant differences, however, were “poor childhood and adult interpersonal relationships,” the ability to resolve conflicts and the degree of emotional support given by others.

The likelihood of death increases when a close relative dies. In one Welsh village, citizens who had lost a close relative died within one year at a rate more than five times greater than those who had not suffered from a relative’s death.

Do we need each other? Yes, I think we do.

Relationships begin in our childhood

Relationships: Who Needs Them? | focuswithmarlene.com

What is the earliest memory you have as a child and the relationships you had? Were they pleasant or sad? Did you feel rejected or accepted? We are shaped and molded by the people in our lives as we grow up. The experiences we had as a child affect our relationships as an adult.

Traveling Light for Mothers by Max LucadoIn Traveling Light for Mothers, Max Lucado wrote about a “wedding reenactment” they did at his church. In this staged drama the thoughts of the bride and groom were revealed to those watching as they stood before the pastor and the altar. Each had armloads full of “excess baggage” of “guilt, anger, arrogance, and insecurities” they were bringing with them to this new relationship.

Each believed they were marrying the person who would help them carry or relieve them of their load and would take care of them. As they stood before the congregation, their “baggage,” typically unseen, was piled high around them.

What did you bring with you to your significant relationships?

What did you learn as a child? Did you learn to trust, have faith, how to give and take and get along with others?

Did you feel loved and accepted even when your behavior didn’t warrant it?

Or did you learn that nobody cared, you were helpless to make any changes, and were told over and over again how worthless, stupid and insignificant you were?

Did you learn to shrink in the background so you wouldn’t be noticed?

Did you learn that no matter how hard you tried you were never quite good enough and would never amount to anything?

Did you learn that relationships were just constant arguments and fights and power struggles?

Moving Beyond Depression by Gregory L Jantz In his book, Moving Beyond Depression, Gregory L. Jantz, PhD, wrote about the importance of reviewing the family dynamics we grew up with.

When we can identify relationships that were unhealthy and destructive, we can also begin to identify those that were supportive and significant and work on strengthening those. That includes the relationship we have with ourselves.

If you have been in some troubling relationships, here are some questions you might like to ask:

  1. What was your best relationship and what made it successful?
  2. What was your worst relationship and what made it so bad?
  3. What do you want in a relationship? What do you give and what do you expect in return?
  4. What relationships are destructive in the long term and you are now ready to let go of and which ones do you want to strengthen?
  5. What kind of relationship do you have with yourself? With God?

Relationships are important.

There is so much we can do to both establish and strengthen good relationships as we let go of those that might feel good in the moment but are destructive over time. Even when experiencing difficult relationships in our youth it doesn’t mean we can’t develop positive and sustaining relationships as adults.

As we build on our relationships today, we recognize that relationships are never easy.

Troubled relationships have been with us for centuries.

From the beginning of time we have written testimony of contentious relationships. Consider the brothers, Cain and Abel, in Genesis. Or Job and his not-so-helpful friends.

But within the Bible we also find examples of helpful and positive relationships. David and Jonathan (I Samuel 18:20) or the instructive relationship of the Apostle Paul and Timothy in I & II Timothy. Or the beautiful story of Ruth and Naomi, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. And the most important of all was Jesus and his relationship to all of us – we were loved so much he died for us.

Next week we will review our communication skills, how to say what we mean without attacking, and conveying to the other person what we want.

Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comMy Make Stress Work for You bundle will help you:

  • Identify the personal stressors that create high levels of distress in your life
  • Learn how to identify problems and find ways to solve them
  • Replace unhelpful thinking with constructive and practical ways to lower levels of fear, worry, and anxiety

The book bundle includes:

  • ebook
  • audio recording of each chapter’
  • companion Study Guide & Personal Application Workbook
  • Four bonus guides

Click here for details and to order

Five Easy Ways to Express Anger Effectively

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

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I have spent extra time on the topic of anger because it is so prevalent in our world, and we see the destruction it can have.

Like summer wildfires, the results of anger unleashed and unchecked by logic or reason can leave behind destroyed relationships and ruined lives. Left unrestrained, our lives can become tinder boxes ready to explode with just a spark of irritation.

Anger, like fear, is a great stressor when it becomes the norm for dealing with life’s problems.

As therapists, we see the effects 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.

In this series on stress, as I move from the topic of anger to the topic of relationships and communication, I want to leave you with the following.

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 quality time with your kids playing and just being with them?

If you grew up with constant turmoil, conflict, and anger, you may be repeating those patterns with your children.

We are not doomed to repeat patterns that are destructive. Knowledge gives us power to change directions, heal and put in motion a different set of guidelines.

Find a good therapist who can help you unravel the roots of your anger.

Here are 5 simple ways to express anger effectively and channel it appropriately. It is a learned skill.

Five Easy Ways to Express Anger Effectively | focuswithmarlene.com

1. When you feel angry, STOP.

Don’t immediately react. Take some slow, even breaths. Count to ten if necessary, to calm down. Then ask yourself if the anger you feel is appropriate for this situation. If not, what hidden issues are being triggered making this worse?

2. When you are feeling calmer, ask yourself what you want to accomplish.

What do I want to have happen? Will an angry outburst give me the result I want? We don’t have to be afraid of our anger; we just need to weigh carefully the outcome of how we use it.

3. Shift from feeling to doing.

Move from anger to a clear plan of positive action. Don’t just feel hurt and angry. Do something constructive. Start a conversation. Evaluate and problem solve.

4. Avoid accusations.

Shifting blame or using accusatory statements only increases the problem. Take responsibility for what you do and say.

Instead of saying, you make me so angry, say something like, I get really angry when this is happening. You are now owning your anger.

Then state clearly and simply what you would like to have happen. Focus on what you want versus putting a guilt trip on someone else. Be willing to negotiate or compromise a solution. My upcoming blogs will give more examples of this.

5. Listen.

Each of us comes to confrontations and conflicts with our own set of rules, perceptions, and agendas. Unless we can listen and discuss we will continue to be in our battle zone.

Learning any new skill takes time and practice.

Put in place a prevention plan to reduce the possibility of anger outbursts. Here are six things that will help.

1. Recognize your trigger points.

Keep an anger diary and record the times you feel angry, what you are thinking and what your first impulse reaction is. After a week you will see a pattern of situations and typical responses.

As soon as your anger is triggered, ask yourself, is this really what I want? Challenge that thinking. Then replace angry thoughts with constructive problem-solving thoughts. Remind yourself you do not have to be reactive.

2. Have someone model appropriate coping strategies for handling stressful situations and anger.

Rehearse them and get feedback. Practice these new skills as often as possible.

3. Use relaxation techniques to reduce your stress levels during the day.

Mentally visualize yourself reacting in a way that will meet your goals.

4. Become aware of those times and places when your anger gets triggered.

Avoid them if possible. Learn effective communication and conflict management skills. Ask for what you want and listen to the other person’s point of view.

5. Clarify your values to reduce irrational thinking.

Expand your frame of reference. Replace negative thinking with constructive problem-solving, empathy, positive self-talk, and affirmations.

6. Re-direct your anger.

Put it into constructive action. Turn it into humor.

Believe in yourself. Ask God for the strength and courage to be honest with yourself.

When we can acknowledge our vulnerabilities, fears, and perceived weaknesses, we will discover how freeing it can be, and it helps us to be more gracious and understanding of others. But if we continue to hide our vulnerabilities, they will rule our life and we remain a prisoner of them.

Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comMy Make Stress Work for You bundle will help you:

  • Identify the personal stressors that create high levels of distress in your life
  • Learn how to identify problems and find ways to solve them
  • Replace unhelpful thinking with constructive and practical ways to lower levels of fear, worry, and anxiety

The book bundle includes:

  • ebook
  • audio recording of each chapter’
  • companion Study Guide & Personal Application Workbook
  • Four bonus guides

Click here for details and to order

Anger: Yours, Mine and Ours

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

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It’s Okay to be Angry. It is Not Okay to be Aggressive.

You may have been led to believe that anger is never good and when you get angry you should quickly censure it. As I described in my earlier posts, anger has a purpose and we need to pay attention to what it is telling us.

Aggressive behavior often accompanies anger out of control, but anger and aggressive behavior are not necessarily synonymous. You can feel angry without being aggressive.

When we feel we have little control over our life and anger becomes our predominant way of resolving conflict or problems, it can lead to aggressive behavior.

Whether you are a man or a woman, understanding your feelings of anger and what triggers it is important. The inability to understand its origins can result in hostility, silent rage, or passive-aggressive behavior. Understanding and becoming accountable for our emotions allows us to assert ourselves responsibly.

How do we distinguish between assertive behavior, passive-aggressive behavior, and aggressive behavior?

Passive-aggressive individuals typically:

  • Have difficulty expressing thoughts and feelings and will hide or deny their feelings
  • Deny conflicts when they occur
  • Ignore their own needs and then blame others
  • Manipulate others to get their needs met
  • Allow others to make decisions and choices for them and then become resentful
  • Use subtleties, manipulation, and veiled hostility with others
  • Are difficult to be around and use subterfuge and deceptive ploys in their interactions with others

People who exhibit aggressive behavior:

  • Talk in an aggressive tone and behave aggressively
  • Get their needs met at the expense of other people
  • Do not respect the rights of others
  • Overinflate their own abilities to cover their insecurities
  • Feel people don’t care about them; therefore, they do not need to be concerned about others
  • Angry/hostile people do not hear or listen rationally
  • Unable to have a rational conversation when angry

Anger is a physical experience.

Strong emotions trigger powerful body changes as it prepares a person to fight or flee. An aggressive, angry, or hostile person in your face is prepared to fight. Anger can quickly escalate to physical aggression, abuse, or destruction of property.

When anger becomes rage, we see hostility.

A hostile person will explode over seemingly simple things. Responses are blown out of proportion to events that triggered them. Hostile language includes yelling and screaming, in your face, sarcasm, and expletive words (obscenity or profanity). Anger spews out like acid on unsuspecting victims. An angry, hostile person does not hear or listen rationally.

Dealing with angry and aggressive behavior in others

Anger directed towards us often triggers an angry response in return. If we don’t know how to respond appropriately, we might believe the alternative to anger is being passive, or never getting angry. However, anger, like any of our feelings when not acknowledged or denied, goes underground.

When a natural expression of anger is smothered or suppressed, we get a false sense of comfort with the belief that if I block out or keep a tight rein on anything that smacks of anger, I will be okay and won’t lose control.

When we don’t acknowledge and deal calmly with our anger we are headed for trouble.

Anger: Deal with it, Heal with it, Stop it from Killing YouRepressed anger creates a larger problem, especially in our relationships. As Bill DeFoore, Ph.D., in his book, Anger: Deal with it, Heal with it, Stop it from Killing You, eloquently said, “To be passive means not to be active.”

When we live life passively, we “let things happen instead of making things happen.”

We don’t accomplish things, our relationships begin to fail, and we struggle to feel confidence and be in charge of our lives. In the words of Bill DeFoore:

“Buried feelings, like buried vegetables, don’t just lie there. They get hot and generate energy, which has to come out one way or another.”

When we exhibit passive behavior, we deny our own self-expression. Being assertive allows you to express your feelings in a direct but calm way.

9 things to do when faced with anger and aggressive behavior

Anger: Yours, Mine and Ours | focuswithmarlene.com

1. Do not return anger with anger.

Don’t try and have a conversation when you or the other person is angry. People who are angry and venting do not hear what is being said. You cannot have a rational discussion.

2. Take time to calm down.

You might say something like, “I can’t talk when you or I are angry. I want to hear what you have to say. Let’s both cool down and come back in a half hour (or set a time) and have a conversation.”

3. Separate your inner self from the anger.

When another’s anger is directed at us, our initial response is to get angry in return. Keep your inner self calm. Don’t focus on the anger. Focus on observable data or a definable problem, but not personalities or insults.

4. Validate the person’s feelings.

“You seem to be very angry right now. I want to hear what you have to say. Let’s wait until we both calm down.”

5. Clarify the problem.

“This is what I understand the problem to be. Do you agree and have I understood your position correctly?”

6. Focus on the facts.

We tend to get off track when angry and end up not addressing the problem itself. Gather facts as you can observe them.

7. Leave if your anger keeps rising.

Set a later time to discuss. Honor that time reset.

8. Admit when you are wrong – even in face of insults.

Find some tiny bit you can identify with.

9. When necessary, answer assertively – not aggressively.

Stick to facts and not emotional responses to what is being said.

If you are the recipient of anger and abuse on a daily basis from a partner or spouse, please seek help from a trained counselor. You will not be able to change or fix that person’s anger problem simply by being more accommodating.

Responding to Criticism

Positive criticism is directed toward behaviors and not the person.

People who are criticizing may not be able to articulate that. Thank the person for the information. You need not defend yourself or your position.

If there is anger and criticism, validate feelings and find something to agree with. “You’re right. My behavior was incorrect. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.“

Explain yourself when appropriate. Explanations are not apologies. If you feel you must apologize, keep it simple and short. Most criticisms don’t deserve an apology or an explanation.

Over the course of years, I have read many good books on anger that people could benefit from. While the ones I have listed below are all beneficial in understanding and dealing with anger, I know there are others as well. If you find yourself constantly getting angry or are in an angry relationship, the information offered can be helpful.


DeFoore, Bill, Ph.D., Anger: Deal with it, Heal with it, Stop it from Killing You, Health

Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, Florida, 1991

McKay Matthew, Ph.D., Peter D. Rogers, Ph.D., Judith McKay, R.N., When Anger Hurts:

            Quieting the Storm Within, New harbinger Publications, Inc., 1989

Lerner, Harriet Goldhor, Ph.D., The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the

Patterns of Intimate Relationships, Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1985

Harbin, Thomas J., Ph.D., Beyond Anger: A Guide for Men, Marlowe & Company, New York,


Tavris, Carol, Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion, Touchstone Press, 1989

Ellis, Albert, Ph.D., Anger: How to Live With and Without it, Carol Publishing Group, 1990

Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comMy Make Stress Work for You bundle will help you:

  • Identify the personal stressors that create high levels of distress in your life
  • Learn how to identify problems and find ways to solve them
  • Replace unhelpful thinking with constructive and practical ways to lower levels of fear, worry, and anxiety

The book bundle includes:

  • ebook
  • audio recording of each chapter’
  • companion Study Guide & Personal Application Workbook
  • Four bonus guides

Click here for details and to order

8 Warning Signs of an Anger Problem

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

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Anger, like all emotions, has a purpose. It is neither bad nor good on its own. When managed and expressed appropriately, it can be an important ally and friend.

The energy that anger creates can help us make important changes. When used as a motivational force it gives us the motivation to change our lives for the better.

Left unchecked, however, it simmers beneath the surface, ready to explode at any moment. Anger then focuses on everything that is and has been going wrong in our lives. It keeps us from seeing anything good.

It is to our benefit to find out how we acquired an angry-aggressive habitual response before it becomes a wildfire that burns everything in its path. When we react without restraint or before we accurately identify the problem connected to it, we not only inflict pain on others, but to ourselves. When it becomes our typical response to anything annoying, we have a major problem.

The Good, Bad and the Ugly

Our emotions change depending on the situations we find ourselves in and the interpretation we make at those times. While there are some hereditary differences in temperament that can influence our emotional responses, they are just that – a predisposition. There isn’t an anger gene any more than there is a smart gene.

When anger becomes our first response to events, it may have its roots in the past when we had been angry but were not allowed to express it in any way. Perhaps we had been treated unfairly and our good intentions and sacrifices were dismissed as nothing. We begin to look for meanings attached to what people say or do and put our own negative spin on it. Wounds from childhood run deep. While they may be buried in our sub-conscious, we continue to be influenced by them.

Reactive vs Proactive

When you are reactive, you react emotionally to whatever is happening in the moment. When you become proactive, you look for potential problems and ways to resolve them before they happen.

When reactive, you believe your feelings of distress are a result of what others are doing. You become defensive and go on the attack. Behaviors are motivated by impulse rather than thoughtful choices.

In fact, you don’t believe you have any legitimate choices. Opportunities are for other people and you are simply a victim of circumstances. You don’t believe you have any control over your life, and you are constantly looking for someone or something to blame.

Reactive people often become aggressive.

Developing an Anger Habit

8 Warning Signs of an Anger Problem | focuswithmarlene.com

Like any habit, anger, when overused, can soon become a habit. We are the ones who decide whether we will develop an anger problem.

Like any habit, anger can be reduced and replaced.

8 warning signs of an anger habit:

1. Triggering event.

Anything that we perceive as emotionally threatening in some way. Within families, it is that immediate reaction to a child’s temper, talking back or ignoring the rules. Or hypersensitivity to anything your spouse says. We can change our response at this stage.

2. Warning signs – emotional or physical.

What are some of your first emotional responses? Become aware of what they are. You may be feeling hurt or anxious, threatened or fearful. There’s often a combination of emotions that go unnoticed at first until we train ourselves to become aware of them. Go back to times when you got angry. What were your feelings just before that anger kicked in?

3. Thought patterns.

Feelings don’t happen on their own; they are a response to our interpretations and perceptions. Ask yourself, why am I getting so angry? Is this incident worth getting angry over? Has anger worked for me in the past, and if so, did it actually resolve my problem or create another problem? Is there another way I can solve this problem? What was accomplished when my anger went unchecked?

4. Choices available to us when we are angry.

We can allow the anger to grow and fester. We can get angry and fight. Or we can choose to step out of our comfort zone and develop the courage to engage in a more constructive way. It takes courage to choose a different way to handle disputes. Courage is defined not just as the ability to conquer fear or despair but choose a course that is not easy but more productive.

5. Battle signs.

When we have allowed anger to go to the battle stage before considering alternatives, we have put ourselves in a fighting mode. We gear up to destroy an enemy and defend ourselves. The problem is the battlefield involves our families and neighbors and colleagues and friends. The enemy in this battle becomes our loved ones. Is this who we want to do battle with?

6. Engagement.

As we become embroiled with anger, we lose control of our emotions and ourselves. We are reacting and not thinking. At this junction, we are no longer in control of what we are doing.

7. Consequences.

When anger has spent its emotional power, we can see the devastation it has produced and those who have been wounded. Sometimes the wounding can be fatal in terms of our relationships. When we choose our responses to life, we are choosing the consequences as well.

8. Recovery and evaluation.

When the battle is over, emotions calm down and you have an opportunity to examine what has happened. If you take time to do an assessment and are really honest with yourself, you will be able to answer the following:  Did I get the outcome I wanted? If you do not assess the consequences of your actions, you will continue to repeat the same pattern. Only the fallout gets worse.

We can change directions, replace habits and discover different ways to resolve problems when we recognize our patterns of response to circumstances, when we ask pertinent questions and when we take time to prepare ourselves for different responses.

Instead of following the typical old pattern of getting angry and responding without thinking, we can do the following:


  • stop avoiding your problems or denying they are there
  • stop rationalizing
  • stop pushing problems away
  • stop medicating with drugs or alcohol to dull your pain and underlying fear

Allow yourself to feel your emotions. Then ask yourself:

  • why do I feel this angry?
  • what am I supposed to be learning here?
  • what is my anger trying to tell me?

Identify the problem and look for solutions.

  • what constructive options do I have?
  • what responsible behaviors can I apply?
  • what positive changes do I want to have happen?
  • What problem solving strategies can I use to bring about a positive conclusion?


Anger has a purpose. Connect with its message and all the other emotions that are often buried with it: fear, guilt, pain. Work through them to healing.

If you have had a problem with anger, seek out a good professional mental health counselor to help you through underlying long-held issues attached to it.

Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comMy Make Stress Work for You bundle will help you:

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  • Learn how to identify problems and find ways to solve them
  • Replace unhelpful thinking with constructive and practical ways to lower levels of fear, worry, and anxiety

The book bundle includes:

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  • audio recording of each chapter’
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