Anger is a natural reaction – to life, to situations at home or in the workplace, even to something watched on television or read about in the news. But all too often, it can grab hold of you, and immerse you in its ensuing destructiveness.
Adults need to learn how to handle anger – the key being to express the emotion without hurting yourself or your loved ones.
Consider the following guidelines:
• Do not fly into a rage. You may damage yourself, your relationships or even your property. When you start to feel rage, walk away. Leave the house. Get a glass of water. Count to 10. Punch a pillow. Do whatever it takes to prevent an explosion and become calm.
• Do not suppress your anger. This may sound confusing. First, I caution you against flying into a rage, then I say you shouldn't suppress your feelings. However, suppressing your anger may hurt you both emotionally and physically, perhaps even prompting you to turn against yourself. A heart attack, stroke or gastrointestinal disease can be caused by anger and stress.
There is a middle ground, a way to constructively express anger without losing control. The ability to express your feelings grows out of trusting those you love to be there for you in good times and in bad.
• Do examine your anger. Ask yourself, am I angry at my spouse, children, friends or colleagues because of something they said or did, or am I angry at the situation, i.e., unemployment or underemployment, divorce?
Anger will tend to make you oversensitive. You're liable to misinterpret even the most harmless words and tone of voice because you're on the defensive. Having lost your means of livelihood or self-esteem, you get angry at the whole world. No one can do right, as far as you're concerned. But are they really doing anything wrong?
• Do accept the anger of others. Like depression, anger is contagious. Family members are likely to respond to your anger in kind. After a while, they will tire of sparing your feelings.
Remember, your family may be just as distressed at the situation as you are. True, you feel loss and pain. But other family members see your unhappiness.
If the issue is income, in all probability, the family lifestyle has had to be modified to fit the shrinking financial resources.
The key here is dialogue, open communication. Call a family meeting, and ask each member what they are angry about. Tell them about your own feelings and ask them to express their own, even if this may hurt you.
Once you've opened the door to talking, anger is likely to be diffused, and the family will make every effort to make a habit of talking things over. They will come together rather than pull apart.
Anger also can be a source of energy, motivating you to get up and fight, to show the world that you're still worthwhile. It can even influence you to change your life.
• Do use your anger to set goals for yourself. Write goals down, make plans to reach them, then write down your plans as well. Date this list, setting a deadline for reaching your goals and a date for reviewing your progress.
You may come to the realization that a career change is in order. Or perhaps your avocation can become your vocation. Examine your options and the possible rewards of taking a chance.
Constructive anger can be a whole new beginning.
Gunter David, MFT, is a retired family therapist and former senior administrator in Johnson & Johnson's employee-assistance programs.