This is the fourth and final part on my series on anger, apersonal control and anger management. I believe there are several major beliefs one needs to appreciate when it comes to understanding anger, angry people and controlling anger and other emotions – let’s call then the “secrets of anger.” An important definition to remember before we discuss these secrets is that when something happens that causes us to have strong emotions, the thing happening is referred to as a trigger.
The “secrets of anger” are:
1. Things don’t make you angry; your thoughts do. This is a basic belief in the journey towards anger management. The main idea here is that our brain is working at all times. Some of our thoughts are on a conscious level – meaning we are fully aware of those thoughts – and some of our thoughts are on a sub-conscious level – meaning we are not aware of them but they are there and continuously affect our feelings and behaviors. When something happens to us the brain immediately transfers thoughts about that situation – whether we are aware of the thoughts or not. It will become critical to understand that these thoughts cause the feelings and actions, not the trigger. I will explain this further below.
2. There is more than one way to look at the world. You never know what the other person can see unless you ask. Our perceptions are what we think we are seeing, hearing, feeling, etc. Often those perceptions are not the same for everyone. You and I can look at two men who are extremely angry at each other and perceive the situation in two different ways. From your perspective, you might think the two men are ready to fight each other while I might see them standing in front of an acting school and know that these two actors often practice their skits outside. The only way to know what is true is by checking out the situation and basing our response on what we learn. Many misconceptions could be avoided in this way.
3. Most of the time anger will not help you. It may even stop you from getting what you want. This should actually read that anger will never help you. Look back, in an honest way and try to find a situation when anger helped you get what you wanted. It might initially seem that way, but in the final evaluation it wasn’t the anger that helped, rather in many cases it lead to bigger problems.
4. Thoughts that make you angry nearly always contain “thinking mistakes.” Correcting those mistakes will reduce your anger. This becomes obvious when you understand the points made above. When the trigger and misperceptions lead to mistakes in our thinking, which leads to negative thoughts, we cannot have positive feelings.
5. In the end, your anger is caused by you believing that someone is acting unfairly or that some event isn’t fair. By definition, when we have external anger, meaning another person is involved in the trigger we will have feelings of victimization. Think about the times you have become angry. You felt someone did something unfair or unjust to you, took something of yours, said something unfair to you or did something that made you feel like a victim.
6. “Getting even” almost never gets you what you want. It generally makes people want to get back at you. Revenge and retaliation simply means you have been sucked into someone else’s anger circle – and the circle continues without anyone feeling like a winner. It is only when one person can stop the circle that control happens and that person becomes proud and more confident in being able to control their emotions.
7. Frustration results from being let down. If you change your expectations you’ll be less frustrated. The definition of frustration is when I expect something to happen and then it doesn’t happen as I thought it would. Frustration is often a precursor to anger. In fact, anger is often a secondary emotion, meaning that there is another factor or emotion leading to it. If I expect someone to be on time and that person is never on time, my reaction is often to be angry at that person. However, if I realize (and tell myself) that the person is always late and this is out of my control and has nothing to do with me, I have changed my expectation and thus greatly reduced my anger at that person.
8. You can never ever change other people — only yourself. This is a critical reality. I once had a client who when told this responded, “this is what I’m paying you for – that is, to change me and make me less angry”. I explained to her that I cannot change her, she would have to do that herself. I could walk the walk with her, teach her theories, skills and strategies, but in the end, she would be changing herself. In so doing, the changes become more real and more valuable to the client.
9. If you believe you can walk away — you probably can. This is not necessarily to be taken literally. We cannot always walk away from an altercation, even if we know it would be the best for us. However, in our minds and in our thoughts, we can use more positive thinking to move away from the situation and move on in more positive ways.
In successful anger management, one must understand that some of what we have always done or the ways we have always thought need to be relearned so that we can approach situations, and our anger, differently. Knowledge is power – the power to make better decisions about ourselves and how we behave in various circumstances and towards those around us.
There is a sequence that we must understand in order to have the power to change the uncontrolled anger to controlled anger. It goes like this:
a. First there is a trigger when something unpleasant happens. That is, either an external or internal trigger pushes our “buttons.”
Now the series of reactions start.
b. Thoughts occur in the brain. We evaluate and think negative thoughts – about the other person, his ideas or thoughts – or we might evaluate and judge ourselves negatively.
c. The thoughts lead to feelings (anger in this case). We feel the way we think. This includes the emotions of being hurt, attacked, jealous, scared, angry, etc. This is critical to understand – we feel the way we think. It’s not the trigger that causes the anger but the thoughts that follow in our mind, consciously or unconsciously.
d. The final phase of the reaction is the behavior. This is how we act out our anger. We could run, fight, withdraw, attack, cry, take revenge, pout or yell or any other means of showing our anger.
e. Finally, after the series of reactions, we have the effect or the negative effects that escalate our anger. It is even possible for this effect to start the cycle over and act as the new trigger to repeat the sequence of uncontrolled anger.
It is only by changing our thought processes that we can change the uncontrolled anger sequence to a positive, controlled anger sequence. That would cause the negative thoughts, leading to negative feelings leading to negative behaviors, to change to positive thoughts leading to more positive feelings which, in turn, results in more positive actions or behaviors.
What is a puppet? It’s something that doesn’t think for itself, move by itself, have any control over its environment, present or future, and relies on someone else for everything. My question to people who are out of personal control of their emotions is simply, “are you a puppet?”
When someone else causes you to lose control, they have succeeded in drawing you into their anger circle – and you are now in their control. I know that most of us want to control our own destinies. We don’t want to relinquish our control to anyone else. However, until we learn to manage our anger, have personal control over our emotions, we are at the beck and call of the other person. Is that what you want for yourself or your loved ones?
Mr. Schild is the Executive Director of Regesh Family and Child Services in Toronto, Ontario Canada. Regesh runs many programs helping families and youth dealing with personal and family issues in their lives. He is currently open to speaking engagements. He can be reached at 416-495-8832 extension 222 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.regesh.com.