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Dealing with anger and rage

May 14, 2010

Gary's hand was sore from punching the hole in the wall. "The problem with walls is, the wall always wins," he mused. In additions to his bruised knuckles, his outbursts had created a hidden cost. His children and wife were afraid of him and walked on eggshells.

Then there's Jen. Though she rarely blows up, her sarcastic tone and sulking posture come through loud and clear. People detour around her instead of talking to her in the hall at work or in the grocery store line. She doesn't understand that her anger pushes people away.

If Joel were a pot on the stove, you'd say he's constantly simmering. It takes very little for the heat to be turned up and he expresses his anger through yelling at his kids or wife for nothing more than spilled milk or an accidental dent on the car.

Louis L'Amour, a world famous author of Western books once stated, "Anger is a killing thing: It kills the man who angers, for each rage leaves him less than before - it takes something from him."

Will Rogers once said, "People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing."

What L'Amour and Rogers didn't say is that explosive anger damages your health in every way. And it also kills your relationships, and may interfere with or cost you your job.

Most often anger has a root and that root of anger sometimes goes back for years. I've known abuse victims who experience anger because of their victimization. That's how the cycle of abuse continues and that's why it simply must be stopped.

I know of a man whose dad verbally abused him, telling him he was worthless and wouldn't "amount to a dime." His mother was passive and allowed it to continue, and deep-seated anger took flight when he married and had his own children. Instead of being different because of the abuse he endured, he retaliated against his abuse by becoming an abuser. His own sons heard those same words and his wife was physically and mentally tormented in an effort to gain control of a situation that happened decades prior.

Author Cynthia Geisen offers some ways to help yourself or someone you love who is suffering from anger:

n Be honest. Anger is a strong emotion. When we're angry, we feel powerful. Anger is particularly empowering when we feel that our fury is justified. All of this makes it hard to acknowledge the many downsides of explosive anger.

n Understand how anger works. Anger is part of life. Along with sadness, joy, shame and fear, anger is a basic emotion that everyone experiences. We may feel several emotions at the same time in response to events, circumstances and our interactions with others. Feelings are akin to emotional thermometers; they register what we are feeling and how strongly we are feeling it. For instance, the intensity of anger varies from mild irritation to rage.

Anger is also tricky. It is considered a secondary emotion. We feel angry only after we experience sadness, fear or another emotion. For example, one man was afraid when his daughter was late for curfew. He was worried about her, but when she got home, he punched a hole in the wall instead of admitting that he had been afraid.

Often anger is an attempt to shield us from painful emotions such as fear, shame or sadness. However, understanding why you are angry is not a license to blame someone else for "making you angry."

This is a response used often in domestic violence. This is the "head game" used by perpetrators of domestic violence. They deflect their anger upon their mate or family members. The victim is made to feel responsible for the anger and often continues in "pleasing mode" in order to appease and "fix" the other person. However, anger begins to take root in the victim also, though it may not be expressed as explosive anger.

It is good to remember that often depression is anger turned inward. Sometimes depression is a chemical imbalance and medication is necessary. However, there are many depressed people out there whose anger is rooted from violence physically, mentally and/or in passive/aggressive form.

Passive/aggressive anger is more difficult to recognize unless you've been "schooled" by one proficient in it. Passive/aggressive anger can be words with hidden meaning, or possibly a real injury from a "play" fight, a remark that inflicts pain but said in jest, or an "accidentally on purpose" kick, scratch or door slam among many other options.

Anger management experts suggest the following coping mechanisms:

n Choose your battles. Save your emotional energy for issues that really matter. Having to wait for a stop light hardly compares to losing your job.

n Calm yourself instead of stirring your anger. If you are "over the top" angry, take a time-out before you say or do something you later regret. Then you can redirect your energy into something else.

My goal is to teach my kids (and myself) to exert some energy in productive ways when they feel anger. Shooting hoops, waxing the car, exercising, or just venting through some physical activity will dissipate some of your anger energy.

Physical activity is likened to lifting the lid on a boiling pot, it vents some of your anger. There is a Chinese proverb that says, "If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow."

n Learn to identify and recognize when you are becoming angry, and then interrupt your path to rage. Count to 10 (or 100 if need be), take deep breaths or write down what happened and how you feel.

"Putting your feelings on papers," says Geisen, "will give you some needed distance from the situation." As soon as your anger energy lessons, talk with the person (if it is a person) with whom you have a conflict. Always do this lastly instead of first. Avoid pointing fingers, name-calling or ultimatums. The goal to verbalizing is to find a mutual solution.

"Recruit help. Particularly if you are having major explosive events, you need help from a mental health professional. A professional can help you try to understand your outbursts. So very often, explosive anger is linked to depression or unhealed emotional wounds that were inflicted long ago. A trained counselor will help you: identify the underlying feelings that trigger your angry outbursts; recognize cues that you are becoming angry; learn calming techniques; and hone your communication skills so you can verbalize your feelings in ways that will strengthen, rather than damage, your relationships," says Geisen.

If you live with someone whose anger is explosive, know that you are not the cause of their anger. Everyone is accountable for his/her words and actions. Also, trust your gut. If you feel afraid, remove yourself from the situation. Immediate help is always available by dialing 911. Also, create a safety plan before an explosion. Do this even if you have not been hit or pushed. The frequency and intensity of explosive outbursts will increase. Though there is often a calm before a storm and a charm after the storm, there is always repetitive violence and it is never acceptable no matter how sorry an individual is. Sometimes a crisis will bring a violent person to themselves, but even if it does not (and honestly, it usually does not), you and the rest of your family should break the cycle of abuse and anger. If not, you will surely see it again in the lives of your children. Either they will become like the exploding individual or they will marry a person just like the abusive one.

Breaking the cycle is key to not only survival but to the peacefulness God intended you to enjoy. No one should ever go to bed afraid, wake up afraid, or endure threats or an impending explosion of someone else. (Domestic Abuse Hotline: 800-799-7233)

However, whichever side of the explosions you are on, Know that you are loved with an everlasting love. You are not alone. Get help immediately and break the cycle of anger, rage and explosions so you can maintain and enjoy your relationships. God is awaiting with open arms to deliver you from explosive anger.

Romans 8:37: "Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us."

(Kimberly Short-Wolfe, MA, is a homeschool mom and the grief counselor/bereavement coordinator and chaplain for Mountain Hospice. To contact her, e-mail or call 304-823-3925, ext. 136.)



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