March 1, 2009
When you are able to replace anger with mere frustration and with the conviction that everyone else has the same freedom of choice that you do, you will raise your relationship satisfaction to a new level.
We have an epidemic of anger on our hands. It ranges from terrorism to partner abuse to harsh words. We see it a lot, and often feel it ourselves, even if we do not act on it. Anger is arguably the main reason for all the conflict and mayhem we experience in our lives. Anger poisons life and brings misery to everyone.
By anger here, we mean a feeling of intense dislike or hate toward a person or situation that brings us to complaining, resisting, or retaliating— inwardly or outwardly. We are not talking about anger used constructively to bring peace and harmony to this planet.
It Works Very Badly
When you get angry with people, many of them ignore you, get angry back at you, or listen to you with resentment. But people, even angry people, don’t like angry people. Sometimes we can get what we want by being angry. This becomes a positive reinforcement for a bad behavior. It’s like giving candy to a persistently whiny or angry child, who then learns to get more candy by whining and being angry.
Feeling and showing anger is very bad for the angry person. Anger is linked to heart disease, sleep disorders, immune system dysfunction, and other disorders, because anger is bad stress which drains energy and vitality.
False Justification and Demands
Many people feel they have a right to be angry, that they should get angry, because they are justified. This is based on the assumption that the world should be fair and just, and should be properly ordered for them. In fact, they demand it!
This is a self-deception, because the world and other people will do what it and they want to do, sometimes in spite of our wishes. The truth is, in civilized societies, we have free choice to do what we wish, as long as it doesn’t violate other people’s inalienable rights. When people make choices, we don’t always have to like it. Indeed, we can do what we need to do to get what we want— as long as it does not get us overly distressed, pushy, or demanding.
Low Frustration Tolerance
When we get angry, we are basically behaving like a 2-yr-old who throws a tantrum when frustrated. We encounter a driver who behaves stupidly; someone criticizes us; it rains on our day at the beach, or the restaurant meal is lousy. And so we might yell, complain, stew, or worse. Once in a while, really bad things might happen, brought on by an accident, the forces of nature, or people behaving badly. Really serious things require another level of personal courage.
However, most of the time we get angry over less than momentous events. We make them “big deals.” Learning to develop a higher frustration tolerance is one of the most important life skills that any child or adult can learn. It is the mark of saints, high achievers, and happy people. This is a skill that needs to be practiced every day.
Dealing With a Frustration
Instead of anger, there are three basic approaches to handling situations that you don’t like. They are: Accept It, Leave It, or Change It. They all require insight, skill, presence, courage, and determination. Not easy! However, these are the keys, and you have to begin somewhere. First, you accept the situation or event, with serenity and without resentment. Second, you leave the situation if it is truly toxic to you. Third, you take responsibility and do what you can to change it.
The basic indispensable social skill that replaces anger is assertiveness. You express your needs and wants while simultaneously respecting others’ needs and wants. You make your wishes known—respectfully. And you engage in assertively-matched actions that bring you what you desire. Assertiveness is expressed with quiet strength, which can be powerful. It is strength without aggression.
Here are some steps you can take right now to deal with any anger you have with anything or anyone:
1st To be better prepared to use effective ways to reduce anger, begin to figure out the what-and-why of your “hot buttons,” your family background, and your conditioning.
2nd If you have a long-standing problem with anger or irritability, seek help from a therapist who has expertise with assertiveness and anger management, and stress management.
3rd Meditate daily on the idea that this is a free country, and no one has to do what you want. In your mind, change your demands to preferences, and work assertively to get them met, and deal with it when they are not met.