11 Feb 2009 - Story by Sifu Lawrence Hochobeb
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WE all know what anger is, and we've all felt it: whether as a fleeting feeling of annoyance or as a full-fledged rage.
Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy, human emotion. But when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems at work, in your personal relationships, and in the overall quality of your life. And it can make you feel as though you are at the mercy of an unpredictable and powerful emotion.
Anger is an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage. When you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, as do the levels of your energy hormones and adrenaline.
Anger can be caused by both external and internal events. You could be angry with a specific person (such as a colleague or supervisor) or event (a traffic jam, a cancelled flight). Worrying or brooding about your personal problems could cause anger. Memories of traumatic or enraging events can also trigger angry feelings. The instinctive, natural way to express anger is to respond aggressively. Anger is a natural, adaptive response to threats; it inspires powerful, often aggressive, feelings and behaviours, which allow us to fight and to defend ourselves when we are attacked. A certain amount of anger, therefore, is necessary for our survival. On the other hand, we can't physically lash out at every person or object that irritates or annoys us; laws, social norms and common sense place limits on how far our anger can take us.
People use a variety of both conscious and unconscious processes to deal with their angry feelings. The three main approaches are expressing, suppressing, and calming. Expressing your angry feelings in an assertive manner is the healthiest way to express anger. To do this, you have to learn how to make clear what your needs are, and how to get them met, without hurting others.
Being assertive doesn't mean being pushy or demanding; it means being respectful of yourself and others.
Anger can be suppressed and then converted or redirected. This happens when you hold in your anger, stop thinking about it and focus on something positive. The aim is to inhibit or suppress your anger and convert it into more constructive behaviour. The danger in this type of response is that if it isn't allowed outward expression, your anger can turn inward on yourself. Anger turned inward may cause high blood pressure or depression.
Unexpressed anger can create other problems. It can lead to pathological expressions of anger, such as passive-aggressive behaviour (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on) or a personality that seems perpetually cynical and hostile. People who are constantly putting others down, criticising everything, and making cynical comments haven't learned how to constructively express their anger. Not surprisingly, they aren't likely to have many successful relationships.
Finally, you can calm down inside. This means not just controlling your outward behaviour, but also controlling your internal responses, taking steps to lower your heart rate, calm yourself down, and let the feelings subside.
"When none of these three techniques work that's when someone - or something - is going to get hurt."Ã‚Â
The goal of anger management is to reduce both your emotional feelings and the physiological arousal that anger causes. You can't get rid of, or avoid, the things or the people that enrage you, nor can you change them, but you can learn to control your reactions.
Some people really are more "hotheaded"Ã‚Â than others are; they get angry more easily and more intensely than the average person does. There are also those who don't show their anger in loud spectacular ways but are chronically irritable and grumpy. Easily angered people don't always curse and throw things; sometimes they withdraw socially, sulk or get physically ill.
People who are easily angered generally have a low tolerance for frustration, meaning simply that they feel that they should not have to be subjected to frustration, inconvenience, or annoyance.
They can't take things in a stride, and they are particularly infuriated if the situation seems somehow unjust: for example, being corrected for a minor mistake.
Strategies to keep anger at bay:
"Ã‚Â Relaxation: Simple relaxation tools, such as deep breathing and relaxing imagery, can help calm down angry feelings. There are books and courses that can teach you relaxation techniques, and once you learn the techniques, you can call upon them in any situation. If you are involved in a relationship where both partners are hot-tempered, it might be a good idea for both of you to learn these techniques.
"Ã‚Â Cognitive Restructuring: Simply put, this means changing the way you think. Angry people tend to curse, swear, or speak in highly colorful terms that reflect their inner thoughts. When you're angry, your thinking can get very exaggerated and overly dramatic. Try replacing these thoughts with more rational ones. For instance, instead of telling yourself, "oh, it's awful, it's terrible, everything's ruined,"Ã‚Â tell yourself, "it's frustrating, and it's understandable that I'm upset about it, but it's not the end of the world and getting angry is not going to fix it anyhow."Ã‚Â
"Ã‚Â Problem Solving: Sometimes our anger and frustration are caused by very real and inescapable problems in our lives. Not all anger is misplaced, and often it's a healthy, natural response to these difficulties. There is also a cultural belief that every problem has a solution, and it adds to our frustration to find out that this isn't always the case. The best attitude to bring to such a situation, then, is not to focus on finding the solution, but rather on how you handle and face the problem.
"Ã‚Â Better Communication: Angry people tend to jump to - and act on - conclusions, and some of those conclusions can be very inaccurate. The first thing to do if you're in a heated discussion is slow down and think through your responses. Don't say the first thing that comes into your head, but slow down and think carefully about what you want to say. At the same time, listen carefully to what the other person is saying and take your time before answering.
Remember, you can't eliminate anger - and it wouldn't be a good idea if you could. In spite of all your efforts, things will happen that will anger you; and sometimes it will be justifiable anger. Life will be filled with frustration, pain, loss, and the unpredictable actions of others. You can't change that; but you can change the way you let such events affect you.
Controlling your angry responses can keep them from making you even unhappy in the long run.
People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing.
- Will Rogers.
Sifu Lawrence Hochobeb is the founder and chief instructor of Namibia Wing Chun Kung Fu Academy. He can be contacted at: 0812782121.