Tips for Taming That Temper

March 15, 2014

By Joan French LCPC, NCC

Anger is a normal emotion, and is usually one we feel when we sense we have been hurt or threatened. When we get angry we are looking to be heard, to get our needs met, or to solve a problem. Positive expression of anger can be an indicator of healthy self-esteem. However, many people struggle with managing anger in healthy, productive ways. The costs of untamed anger are great, including having potentially devastating effects on your health, your self-esteem, your relationships, your children, and the workplace. Here are five of my favorite tips on managing anger:

1. Imagine yourself as a fly on the wall.

anger managementIt can help to imagine that you are an observer, and not a participant, in the situation that has your blood boiling. It makes sense – you get a chance to take a more objective perspective. Researchers in Ohio studied this and found that taking the observer role helps to control aggression, and helps you have a deeper understanding of the situation. This works better than stewing in your own emotionally overloaded brew and counting to ten, which is more likely to end with aggressive or contemptuous behavior.

2. Gimme a break!

Make sure that you get breaks throughout the day – especially during times which may be particularly stressful. Be sure to honor your scheduled lunch or break. The work will still be there when you get back feeling a bit refreshed, fed, and hydrated. Also, break times can be used to participate in deep, diaphragmatic breathing. “Time-Outs” can also be called when you feel emotionally flooded during a heated interaction with another. This will help you to avoid saying or doing anything which you might regret later.

3. Fine-tune the forecast

The forecaster is calling for “high expectations with a chance of disappointment” tomorrow. How do we avoid this unfavorable relationship weather pattern? You can do this by adjusting your expectations. While it’s ok to have expectations of others, often we do so without considering that our expectations might be unreasonable. Others may have limitations we don’t understand, and most importantly, you can’t control others. It’s true that we cannot control how other people behave, and people won’t behave in certain ways just because we think they SHOULD. Angry feelings are often triggered by a difference in what we expect from others and what we actually get. What you do have control over is how much “shoulding” you do (i.e. he/she should do that) and deciding if the level and type of expectations you have of others is reasonable.

4. Stop! Collaborate and listen

anger managementEffective communication is the main ingredient in managing anger. Learning to give and receive messages more effectively is something that can help you manage anger and improve the quality of your relationships. Dr. John Gottman, professor emeritus in psychology, and a respected researcher who extensively studies couple relationships has identified four major communication patterns that can predict divorce and partner conflict. They are: stonewalling (avoidance), criticism, defensiveness, and contempt (the worst one!) Other harmful communication patterns include passive-aggression and aggression. The good news – there are antidotes to these patterns – ways in which you can work to avoid using them in communication. Read more about this on the Gottman blog.

5. To err is human, to forgive…

…is a gift to yourself. Forgiveness is a choice and a process. It won’t (and shouldn’t!) happen overnight. It can help us heal, find peace, discover meaning, and can be empowering. What doesn’t forgiveness mean? It doesn’t mean you forget the offense. It doesn’t mean that what they did was OK. It doesn’t mean that you actually have to TELL the person you forgive them. It doesn’t mean you will trust that person again, or like or love that person, or even have a relationship with them. And, you don’t have to do this forgiveness thing all at once. Forgiveness is not a simple thing. It cannot adequately address it completely in a short blog post. But, it’s sincerely worth looking into.

I’d also like to say that if you’re struggling with managing anger, and need a bit more help than these tips can provide, I strongly recommend receiving help from a professional skilled in providing anger management counseling and/or classes.

Hoover & Associates’ team of licensed psychologists, counselors, and social workers is here to offer you help and guidance. We’ve been providing mental health services in the southwest suburbs of Chicago since 1985. We’re conveniently located at 16325 S. Harlem Ave., Suite 200 (2nd floor), Tinley Park, IL, 60477. Our offices are conveniently located near Orland Park, Orland Hills, Homer Glen, Mokena, Frankfort, Matteson, Country Club Hills, Flossmoor, Homewood, Hazel Crest, Markham, Oak Forest, Midlothian, Crestwood, Palos Heights, Palos Park, and Palos Hills. Call to make an appointment: 708-429-6999.
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