COLUMN: Anger — does it manage you?

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By John Lapp

That question looms strong in the lives of many people: young and old, male and female. And, if you don’t learn the most effective “tools” and methods to manage your anger, it can either explode, with the potential for hurting others — physically and/or emotionally — or it can implode, go inside of you and cause physical/emotional pain, even a serious disorder.
You or a member of your family may be experiencing the kind of anger that gets out of control. If this is the case, today’s column may benefit you and also let you see that the anger can be managed.
Well, what actually describes the term anger? A basic definition is that it is a feeling an individual may have when he/she cannot get what is wanted, believing that it is deserved, and somehow he/she is being deprived from getting it.
Other descriptions include that some people have occasional periods of anger, while others have more persistent, long-standing anger, described as “states of anger” vs. “traits of anger.” This is one of the many evaluations of anger that are used in my practice and authored by Spielberger (1995) the STAXI-2, the State Trait Anger Expression Index.
I have used this tool to help individuals define the type and level of the anger presented to me in therapy.
We all have anger. Even some little newborns viewed in a hospital nursery display fists and feet punching and kicking. That frustration is already felt, while others in the same nursery are laying there, calm and peaceful, with little to no display of emotion. Many authors have said that emotions are what we are born with, along with facial and body features resembling either or both parents.
So, since we all have anger, of some sort and level, a few metaphors can explain why some have stated that it needs to be emotionally discharged: “letting off steam,” “reached my boiling point,” a “slow burn,” “burned up,” “blew my top,” “made my blood boil,” “tied up in knots” and the list goes on. You probably have your own expression, maybe expressed in ways that would be in language not printable in this column.
Now that we have presented the basics of anger, let’s proceed with what is included in the title of today’s column: the management of this normal emotion.
First of all, start at the beginning: You need to admit that all angry expressions, both good or bad, are the direct result of choices. Maybe you, for example, were raised in a family where your father had a tendency to explode in rages, although he was also, at times, easy to relate to. Maybe it seemed a sudden dark mood developed and even over, what seemed like, minor problems, he could explode into rages and tirades and caused fear in family members. You might think, “I personally tried to persuade myself that I would never feel anger like that.” What you really meant was that you would never come to express that feeling.
The ultimate conclusion to that could be: “If this is what anger can lead to/provoke, I will do whatever it takes to not be that way.”
Well then, what will you do with this feeling that you are experiencing? How will you manage it in a way that is healthy versus unhealthy and frightening?
There are many ways to manage/handle anger. Each person handles it differently than another.
Each of us is of a different temperament and has different circumstances with which to cope. How we manage our anger will differ widely one from another, but there are better ways than others which produce better results over the long-haul.
Some ways are better because they lead to success, while others tend to perpetuate the anger and perhaps lead to rage and/or abuse of self or others.
Many people hesitate to even admit that they have anger. Remember what was previously stated — we all have anger. Although some people seem to always externally display a calm demeanor, I wonder what will happen when the steam builds up to an explosive level.
Frankly, I prefer not be present when this happens. This person never wants to appear rattled or weak, so they present to the onlooker that they exist above problems associated with anger. They pretend to feel no tension at all. They may have developed an unhealthy position of “I can’t afford to express what I feel; it would destroy the image that others see in me.”
They may be suppressing their anger in a vague attempt to present a mindset of moral superiority. I’ve met some Christian people who assume that only heathens become angry, forgetting that it is written in the Bible, in the book of Ephesians “be angry and sin not, let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” The phrase which begins that verse, namely “be angry,” is in the imperative mood of the Greek language, meaning that anger is a requirement. The bad part of anger is when it gets out of control and can become wrath, meaning rage, explosiveness, etc.
To be frank with you, I don’t believe that I am part of the riffraff of society because I show anger, but I also don’t want to be known as an out-of-control, “rage-aholic” who cannot, or will not manage this feeling.
I know you’re disappointed that we didn’t cover the whole topic completely, but that would have been a monumental task too extensive to be covered in one session so, as they say in show-biz, “stay tuned” because next week we will conclude this topic in more detail.
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