Tips for How to Deal with your Anger ConstructivelyPosted: July 7, 2012
In response to my previous blog, “To vent or not to vent,” you may have found yourself wondering, “Does this mean that all of my anger is inappropriate or destructive?” …. In one word: No!
In fact, in measured doses and expressed in the right way, anger can be appropriate and effective, helping you to take action, solve problems, or in some way better deal with the situation at hand. But a big difference exists between feeling annoyed or somewhat angry for a brief period of time and having strong feelings of anger that simmer for days, weeks, months, or even years! This post will provide some guidance on how to know the difference and deal with your anger constructively.
Tip #1: Expect the Unexpected
Your expectations play an important role in determining your level of anger. Having unrealistic expectations about your world and the way other people should think and act, as well as demanding that they be more like you, adds to your anger level. If you expect everyone else to be totally honest and completely fair, you’ll probably wind up feeling more than a little angry most of the time, because your expectations won’t always be met.
Am I suggesting that you become a complete cynic? Not at all. Becoming realistic in your expectations doesn’t mean becoming cynical and untrusting. Not everyone out there is selfish, nasty, and only out for themselves. But other people do see things differently and do have priorities different than yours.
To assess the extent to which your expectations are in line with reality, answer YES or NO to whether you expect any of the following situations to happen in the near future:
- Somebody you know or care about will disappoint you.
- You will just miss catching your bus or train.
- Someone in front of you at the express checkout line will have more than the specified 10 items.
- Someone will play their music incredibly loud and disturb you.
- Someone you know will treat you unfairly.
- Someone will push their way onto your already crowded elevator, even though they know it’s totally full.
*Answering ‘NO’ to more than one or two of the above may suggest that your expectations of the world (and the people who live there) are not totally realistic. You are probably in for some surprises – and some anger! My advice: Expect the unexpected, and expect to see what probably will happen, given the world we live in.
Tip #2: Rehearse your Anger
Begin to anticipate which situations and circumstances may trigger some of your anger and plan ahead. These situations may be just before you’re about to discuss some point of disagreement or contention with someone, and you know that the person will be less than receptive or downright opposed to what you have to say.
Before the situation occurs, rehears what you will say and how you want to feel. Your goal, of course, is not to go ballistic or become excessively angry. Choose the words you think will work best. Also, imagine that the other person is getting angry and is close to getting you very angry in turn. Use your coping self-talk. Speak compassionately to yourself. Imagine telling yourself to calm down, not go for the bait, and keep your anger level low.
Rehearse this situation several times. Write out the script. Say it out loud. Use role play. The key here is practice! Rehearse this situation with a trusted friend or a therapist until you can do it with ease.
Tip #3: Look for the Funny Part
Exaggeration is a great way of diffusing a potentially stressful situation, robbing it of much of its impact. Try using the blow-up technique. Here’s how it works: Suppose, for example, you find yourself standing in line at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles waiting to renew your license. The line is moving slowly. Very slowly. You can feel your stress level creeping higher. Now, introducing a touch of exaggeration, you imagine that it will take forever before you reach the front window. You picture your family coming to visit you on Sunday afternoons, bringing many of your favorite snacks. You strike up strong friendships with others in the line. There is talk of taking vacations together. You start planning your first five-year reunion…
By imagining this or another outrageous outcome, you can create a different mindset that is less angry and more accepting of the foibles in life and failings of others.
These tips are adapted from the seminal writing of one of my inspirational teachers- Dr. Albert Ellis. I want to thank Dr. Ellis along with my patients, who have helped me tailor Ellis’ classic techniques to each individual.
If you would like to read more about how to handle your anger, I recommend Ellis’ book, “How to Keep People from Pushing your Buttons.”