The world can be an unfair place at times, with people seemingly conspiring to make your life difficult. When people do something to annoy you ‘losing it’ and venting your fury might seem like a good way of sticking up for yourself. But constantly losing your temper at the merest slight is only going to harm your relationships with work colleagues, friends and family, as well as your health.
Getting angry can be a healthy response when you need to assert your rights. But there’s a difference between healthy anger and the destructive rages that are accompanied by the uncomfortable feeling you’re always at war with the world.
Healthy anger vs destructive rage
Anger is a natural human emotion. And it can be useful when you need to spur yourself into action to solve a problem. But anger becomes unhealthy when it turns into verbal or physical abuse, hatred for other people and your thoughts turn to plotting revenge.
The reasons why you might react in either way are not because of what someone has said or done. But the way in which you have interpreted it.
As with the symptoms of social anxiety, unhealthy anger is driven by unhelpful, inaccurate thoughts. So the trick is to identify what they are and change them.
Why you get mad
There are common reasons why people get mad:
Someone breaks your personal rules about how they should think or behave e.g. pushing in front of you in a cue
Someone threatens your self esteem by being abusive or trying to humiliate you
Frustration when you’re blocked from achieving one of your aims e.g. one of the kids spills juice on your shirt making you late for work
Whilst these things have every right to annoy you, anger management is about controlling how you react by having a more flexible attitude to other people.
Unhealthy anger comes from unhelpful thinking
One of the unhelpful thought processes associated with social anxiety is that of rigid thinking, in which you think that you and other peoplemustbehave in a certain way to be acceptable. For example, you might think other peoplemustbe polite to you otherwise they’re a jerk. Rigid ways of thinking means that when people fail to reach your high standards of behaviour you feel you’re justified in getting mad.
The problem with rigid thinking is that the world isn’t always fair and other people have their own ideas about how they should behave. Whilst screaming at people because they’ve broken your rules might make you feel better in the short-term, the habit of ‘losing it’ at the slightest mishap is only going to push people away.
Learn to be flexible and have preferences instead of demands
Instead of living by a rigid set of rules that other people must abide by, you need to develop a more flexible attitude that accepts other people’s weaknesses. Think of your standards of behaviour as preferences, rather than demands written in stone.
Appreciate the fact that people are sometimes rude, selfish and make mistakes. If someone pushes in front if you in a cue instead of screaming obscenities at them try to think of their inconsiderate behaviour as reflection of their values and not a personal slight against you.
Remember that it’s not other people who make you lose your temper in an unhealthy way, but the way in which you interpret their behaviour.
Use your anger to assert yourself, rather than self-detonate
If someone is rude or inconsiderate then it’s fine to get angry. But you need to learn how to direct your anger in a more objective way.
Anger can be healthy when it’s used to kick you into action to resolve a problem or to assert yourself in a disagreement.
Assertion is ensuring your opinions and feelings are considered by others. Assertion is not threatening, being insulting or trying to shout the loudest. It’s being able to verbally negotiate to resolve problems in an objective manner that takes your needs and opinions into consideration.
Assertion is ensuring your needs and opinions are considered by others
When you sense the red mist descending try to take a deep breath, count to ten and allow yourself time to objectively assess the situation.
Rather than bawling and stamping your feet, you’ll get more of what you want out of situations if you use negotiation to resolve a problem. Effective negotiation comes from being able to empathise with the other person, seeing the world through their eyes and understanding what has caused them to behave in a manner that has got you annoyed.
When negotiating a solution point out your problem tactfully, empathise by agreeing with what they have to say, compliment them if necessary and then repeat your request firmly.
So for example:
You’re in a crowded restaurant. You’re starting to feel impatient at the time it’s taking to get served and think the waiters are ignoring you. Instead of getting angry, tactfully tell a waiter that you’ve been waiting a long time and would like to be served. If they say they’re busy, compliment them on how popular the restaurant is and then repeat your request politely but firmly. You’ll find that listening and sounding considerate will be a lot more effective than telling them what a useless job they’re doing.
Resolving a problem through assertive negotiation is obviously a much healthier outcome then trading verbal and physical blows.
Anger management can help you be assertive and boost your self esteem
Anger management is about learning to control your anger in a healthy way: through assessing situations objectively, thinking how to solve the problem and using negotiation to assert yourself.
Learning to be more flexible and using negotiation instead of getting mad takes a lot of practice. But the emotional growth from learning how to use your anger to resolve life’s frustrations in a healthy way will improve your relationships with the people around you, and boost your self esteem as a result.
[Cognitive behavioural therapy for social anxiety identifies the unhelpful thought processes that provoke unhealthy anger. It then provides more helpful, objective and realistic ways of thinking that enable you to channel your anger in a more healthy, problem solving way.]