My previous few blogs have looked at the work of Harriet Lerner on anger. Harriet looks particularly at womens’ anger. Another highly recommended read is Beating Anger by Mike Fisher, an anger therapist who runs anger management workshops in the UK and who focusses especially on male anger.
Mike Fisher explains that though anger may seem like a solitary emotion, it is wrapped in a tangled mix of other emotions, often fear and shame. And the guilt and shame that often come with unhealthy anger can cause us to feel bad about ourselves, and can even contribute towards depression.
He suggests the following ways to manage anger:
Stop and look at the bigger picture
When you are very angry, stop, stand back see beyond your own anger and look at it from a 360 degree perspective. See how other people are reacting to you.
It’s OK to have a different opinion
Mike says that we live in a world “where people are seen as right or wrong and anyone who doesn’t agree with your should shut up”! When we invalidate someone’s experience it will create conflict – we need to accept that other people have different realities and that is totally fine.
Listen to the other person
Listening when angry is pretty impossible. We quite literally have tunnel vision and become totally focussed on proving that we are right and the other person is wrong.
Look for support if we feel we have an anger problem
If we realise that anger is making our lives and the lives of those around us extremely difficult, it’s important to seek help. Confiding in a good friend, attending an management workshop or going to one to one counselling can all be helpful.
Use an anger journal
Writing down our thoughts can also be very helpful because it helps you to not let the anger take space in your head. Some people write an angry letter or email to the person they are angry with (but don’t send it – this is purely for yourself).
Underlying beliefs about anger
I also find that helping people to examine their underlying beliefs about anger can really make a difference. They may have lived with these beliefs for so long that they accept them without question, but it is important to question them to help overcome anger. Here are some examples of these unhelpful beliefs and ideas on how to challenge and question them:
Belief 1: “I can’t control my anger, my father was angry and it is something I inherited from him.”
This is the idea that anger is something you can’t change – that it’s in your make-up, something you were born with. This is an excuse that lets you off the hook in controlling your anger. We know that some people are born with tendencies to be more emotional, fearful, angry or sad. The way we react to these emotions however is learned, and we can tackle our own angry behaviour by changing the way we respond to events and people.
Belief 2: “If I don’t let my anger out I’ll explode.”
It has long been a popular belief that some emotions build up, like steam in a pressure cooker and need some way out or else they become harmful. If you hold this point of view losing your temper could be seen as something healthy. But we know from research that people are often left feeling much worse after losing control of anger. Shouting, hitting, slamming doors can all increase and strengthen feelings of anger.
Belief 3: “If you don’t show anger you’re weak and pathetic and people will walk all over you”
This is an example of black and white thinking and not helpful. The best way to deal with situations, both for yourself and those around you, is not to be angry and out of control, but to be firm, sure and in control – to be assertive. To see your anger as something that people fear which stops them taking advantage of you may possibly have been correct at a particular time of your life, but if you continue to think this way it can cause problems.
Belief 4: “I need to be able to show my true feelings”
Good friendships are not formed on fear. You will be unlikely to have good friendships and relationships if your behaviour is angry. It is also likely to backfire, where others with problems of anger will see you as threatening and possibly pick fights with you.
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!